On November 16, 2011 from 5-8pm This past summer’s artist-in-residence Mandy Greer pops back up in The Project Room with her project “Solstenen” for a night of community crocheting and investigating the artists who are inspiring and mentoring her new body of work.
At 5pm, Mandy is on hand to teach anyone willing to learn to crochet, contributing stitches to the Solstenen crocheting heading to Iceland in 2012.
As with the other Solstenen guest artists, join Mandy in an informal Q and A with these artists, as she picks their brains and finds out why they make things.
Saskia and Rodrigo both make subtly provocative work that highlights how the magic in the mundane can be captured and bloom in the medium of film. Their bodies of work both reveal the cinematic psychological tension and expansive capacity of the eyes to reveal a volcano of emotion… how we reveal when we try to hide. And both continue to encourage my fledgling pursuit of using film/movement to explore themes in the Solstenen project. I am thrilled to share their work, learn more about their projects with anyone willing to take a dip into the Solstenen project, while also basking in their encouragement for expanding into new media with my work.
“Like many games, sacred and secular, the Runes are meant to be played upon a field. The field represents the world that is always coming to be and passing away.”
– The Book of Runes, Ralph H Blum
Poet Sierra Nelson came by The Project Room yesterday to install a quiet but bracing installation of interactive poetry, theRune Library / Runasafn. She used the word ‘bracing’ to describe the effect that one can feel when reading the meaning of Runes, and I think it is a fitting word for her entire project. Going through the process she sets up for you, selecting a small volcanic stone out of a tattered black satin-covered box lined with purple velvet – found in an antique shop in Reykjavik Iceland – you catch a glimpse of your hand as it passes in front of a decaying mirror, like a disintegrating membrane between this world and another just behind the glass. Whether through chance or luck, fate or the sensual attraction of a particular shape of stone, you are selecting a poem that will be yours, that you then find in the library and sign out on the traditional library cards we no longer use, writing your name behind the others who share your poem. Then you have a few bracing moments with Sierra Nelson whispering in your ear, her voice coming back from a time she spent in Iceland as she interpreted longer voices coming through the Runic language, ideas that still resonate with our daily lives now.
I’ll be the caretaker of the Rune Library / Runasafn until I leave The Project Room on September 2. Please drop by and find your poem. Also Sierra will be back on Wednesday August 31, 2011 from 6 pm – 8-ish to share more of her work created in Iceland, talk about her experiences and just generally letting me pick her brain. We’ll start with an Icelandic pancake feast, cooked here at TPR, while Sierra roams the room asking you to fill out a survey she created in Iceland about the mythic and mundane activities of ‘sending and receiving’.
More about the Rune Library / Runasafn….
M: What inspired this piece for you?
S: I’ve always been interested and curious about runes, and while doing a residency at SIM in Iceland, it seemed like the perfect place to investigate and work with them … in a Nordic land where runes were once used, and where people still find it interesting.
I wanted to make my own set, so I began gathering stones, and many of the ones I used are small volcanic rocks from the Vatnajokull glacier.
I also was gathering notes during my stay in Reykjavik and while traveling to different parts of Iceland, images and ideas, the way I would for any kind of poem. Then when I sat down to write the rune poems, I culled these images while thinking about the different runes, to find which pieces would resonate together. As I was learning about the runes, a poem would emerge from these images coming together.
M: Your Rune Library in The Project Room has with it “The Book of Runes: A Handbook for the Use of an Ancient Oracle” by Ralph H. Blum. Did you have this book with you in Iceland?
S: I did, I had the book before I went. It’s from the 80’s and it does have a very different take on Runes, just as any book would that has to do with esoteric ideas, every era has its own perspective. But I really liked his approach to Runes; it’s a little bit more philosophical. A little less “This Will Happen to You,”and more describing a process that we are all in, that your life is always a cycle and this rune can help show you where you are in that cycle, and maybe offer some insight or advice for that state.
Blum uses a great deal of imagery from the natural world, which made a lot of sense to me, considering where runes are often used, often scratched or written into a stone or carved into a tree or wood. Each letter symbol has an individual meaning that was thought to have a symbolic power as well, and could be used as protection, to create a spell, for divination, or to give you some sort of strength during a process you are going through.
M: Have Runes always been used this way? To help people make choices or decisions?Or have they also been used to record narratives, as well?
S: They can come together to express words as an alphabet, so they can also be used to communicate ideas, as a means of expression. But they have also always had that connection with the power of the actual word itself, that symbol itself, as well as the tradition of writing the individual symbols on different pieces (stones, or pieces of wood cut from a branch) and them drawing them out individually, an act of chance or divination that could provide meaning. People could also carve them and carry them as a talisman, to invoke some sort of power that they needed to go through an experience.
M: So their function is to carry the power of the word in a physical form?
S: Yes, to me runes speak to the power of word itself. The action of creating the marks for the words brings something into being. Which is exciting! Especially in the world of poetry, when each word has quite a bit of weight…and you’re thinking about what is happening in that small space of the written poem, each sound and letter can have a resonant meaning as well. You can say Runes out loud or incant them, but the actual marks themselves carry weight and meaning. I enjoy the importance of their physicality.
M: So each poem in the Rune Library has to do with the rune symbol it’s associated with but also has to do with your own observations during your residency as you lived your daily life.
S: Yes…a bit of both. I was gathering imagery as I walked around Reykjavik and to excursions around the country. I was also gathering images from the traditional symbols and their meanings. So then as I sat down to write each poem, I’d read a bit about that particular rune and look back through my notebook and see what resonated from my experiences and what stood out in relation to the particular Rune. They are my own slant on the rune, but I really view them as gifts from Iceland, experiences that I was able to put into the poems.
M: I’ve only read two of the poems — the one I chose and the one that Hazel got — and they are remarkably like little windows onto an intimate experience of place; being in a new location for an extended period of time, once you are there for a certain period, you get to have a certain quality of daily life, an ‘ordinariness’ instead of a ‘specialness’ which actually leads to what feels like a deeper understanding of a place. I think I gasped when I read my poem! I really love the flip-flop between such a sense of history and permanence of the Rune – carved in stone – and that you could translate and record something so transitory as your lived experience of private moments into forms of an ancient language…
S: A lot of contemporary images were coming through the poetry from when I was gathering impressions from my experiences. But it seems like part of what the runes are as well, what they have always been used for – reflecting back your actual life, but you have to find what those connections are. What some of the symbols represent can be quite intense – ice, disruption – they have this bracing quality. When you find yourself in that moment, within a broad range of strong emotions, it’s really nice to have the reassurance of the runes that this is part of the natural cycle too, to have them reflect that back at you. The rune meanings give you a helpful framework to realize it is transitory, the intensity of emotion…you are a part of a much larger cycle.
M: I looked up the rune I chose in your Blum book and it did catch my breath, how the ancient meaning behind it was oh so pertinent. I chose ‘constraint’, it said ‘…the role of nauthiz is to identify our shadow, our dark or repressed side, places where growth has been stunted resulting in weaknesses that are often projected onto others’. And then in italics like I was suppose to really remember this…..‘don’t take this world personally’. It was, to use your word for it, bracing! I am so drawn into this work of yours right where it intersects with my own process in making art; I am always hunting, sometimes randomly, and usually by luck for those moments in mythologies or archetypes where I see my own life reflected back at me.
I wonder, what has it been like for people to choose a poem at random, by luck or chance and their reactions to the connection they find in ‘their’ poem? I guess that is a question I should answer (laughter)…..
S: I can speak to that somewhat…It was such a pleasure writing these poems because I didn’t feel like I was writing about me or just my own experiences — other than pulling images through my physical person. My intention behind each poem was thinking more about that person who might be pulling this rune, what they might need in that moment, what the poem might be useful for in their life. That is why I did not want the poems to live in a book — though they certainly could — I wanted to present them in a way that people could have some kind of active experience connecting with a particular poem. Being able to choose a poem through chance or fate, it becomes a more meaningful event because it came together in that way; it creates some energy and aliveness between the reader and the poem that doesn’t have to do with me.
M: This interactive quality seems important to you, both with your own work and what you have done with Rachel Kessler with Vis-à-vis Society and earlier with Typing Explosion. Putting things in flux…it seems very important to you for a long time now.
S: There just is something so great that happens during those interactive moments… Rachel and I both are very much interested in the public/private relationship. There are these kinds of moments we all have all the time, and Rachel and I aim to find ways to look closely at them. Our intention is in finding ways to reflect back those moments through the process of making art, like say, with the making a graph of data of private experiences. We try to find ways to facilitate and value the way people have a private moment of reflection, and yet we can create the opportunity for people to see their own private thoughts collectively through graphing and recording the patterns in everyone’s experience.
So it is an important private moment, choosing your rune stone from the box. But to also have to sign out the rune from the library functions as a public way to mark and record the larger patterns. The Rune Library records what is happening on any given day, and potentially providing a larger sense of where patterns might emerge. It’s a library of experiences. Were there certain rocks that people were drawn to on that particular day? Are there some runes that are pulled more frequently over time? Is there some pattern to these random meetings?
Directions for Rune Library / Runasafn
1. Choose (or select at random) a rune stone from the container.
2. Find the corresponding symbol on the library card envelope.
3. Write your name and the date on the card.
4. Find the corresponding poem to the symbol and rune name.
5. The poem is yours to keep.
6. Return the rune stone to the container.
On August 27th, Saturday: Guest Artist and Lo-Fi Arts Festival curator Anne Blackburn gave an Artist Talk and hands-on demo of book-carving for her environmental installations. She also shared photos and films from her two-year installation of human-made shelf fungus that has been installed at art mecca Smoke Farm. Anne’s particular focus for the evening was to ask everyone and herself….”when is this project done”?
Earlier this summer, just a week before I started Solstenen project, I had a small exciting adventure at Smoke Farm with Anne Blackburn. Smoke Farm has popped up its amazing acreage into my work before; I’ve walked all over the place, made a film, done photoshoots…but it continues to yield hidden places and surprises. Anne took me to one; her two year Shelf Fungus Project. I’d heard about it…seen some pictures floating around, and had missed it at the last Lo-Fi.
I always imagine Anne so immersed in her work — which also includes curating and organizing and gathering people together — that she doesn’t really do the full onslaught of ‘marketing’ that seems the norm for our age. And I’m glad…not really knowing all I wanted to know from the computer put me in the position to get Anne to take me on a hike to see her woman-made Shelf Fungus.
After a hike down a path I was familiar with, we took a sharp turn towards the mountain and under some evergreen boughs that opened up into a cathedral-like clearing where you can’t see the sky. The most striking element were the many very tall old-growth stumps, with the notches carved a century ago by lumbermen, tool marks still very much visible. Each stump now has a 50 year old ‘new’ tree sprouting out the top, creating this dense canopy, but also very much showing the process that Smoke Farm itself is undergoing; renewal in the form of decay. Once harnessed and used for human industry, the land, the trees, the water – through human care and the unceasing urge of nature to renew – are changing back (or changing forward) to a wild place….or a place that references the wild place it once was and can never truly be again. It was easy for me to see a time-lapse in my mind of the clearing of the land, the farm being built, the cows, the effort, the lives made and past.
I could see the trees head to the saw mill and go through a myriad of processes to become any number things to meet human needs, including books. Then in this little village of massive stumps, we see Anne’s human-made Shelf Fungus….made of books. Again, I can see another time-lapse of paper being made, books being bound, and used for half a century — law books about property rights, no less — then discarded when the weight of digesting information in that form became too cumbersome. They became trash.
Until Anne Blackburn takes them up, carves them like one would if they were wood (because they are…..) and makes them back into the image of something they once were, a flourishing opportunistic organism, an ecosystem. The tools marks remain, just as they do on the stumps in that old and new forest. Then she sets them back into the forest, to decay and renew at the same time; in private, the only audience the life that goes on around them, and sometimes with human visitors. Anne, an enthusiastic scholar of land art, science and the gathering of human effort, asks‘when is the work done’ ?
On hearing that the Fungus project was nearing an end (if there is one….), and that there were miles of unedited footage of days and nights passing before a little wildlife camera trained on the Fungus installed, and the incredible overlapping of cycles of destruction leading to creation, leading to destruction leading to creation…some by human industry and need and some by the ever-pervasive natural cycle, I really wanted to learn all I could about this work where the edges seem to bleed over, and share it with everyone through my time at The Project Room.
Thanks to all who joined Anne and me in conversation, as we looked over images, and artifacts, actual pieces removed from the forest (as books always are anyway…) and explored ideas about when anything made ever really ends. I’ll turn our idea session into a Solstenen Artist Profile and add one more layer to how ‘work’ evolves and lives on….when it inspires. Thank you everyone and Anne!
On August 29th, Monday, Guest Artist Wood Sculptor/Jeweler and sweets enthusiast Julia Harrison, did a mini-residency at TPR, sharing with me some techniques to carve wood shoes! Then later that evening we had a long conversation about where she comes from (which seems to always tie very closely to why people make things), and the connections between her work as a maker and her studies in anthropology and conservation. I look forward to going back over our talk and creating a Solstenen Guest Artist Profile.
When I began working with the idea of ‘A Stone Woman’ in mind for inspiration…a jumping off point, my mind went to Julia Harrison‘s incredibly detailed life-like carvings of elements of women’s bodies (and an assortment of other recurring forms that seem to have a connecting thread, a Julia-logic of sensuality). She seems to do the opposite of my heroine in the A.S. Byatt story, rather than flesh turning into natural materials, Julia seemingly reveals flesh below the surfaces of wood…revealing a wood woman.
I am also drawn to Julia’s work because my roots for being an artist grow out of craft, namely the notion of craft objects having an intimate relationship with both maker and user, such as the engagement between lips and edges of ceramic tea bowls. The sterility of art objects in cases or pedestals, or white walls has never been a part of my life, at least not by choice. Julia’s work is worn and warmed by the body, experienced through touch just as clothes and fabric are. I feel shameless lust when I see the things she makes.
She is an insightful wit, eager to push her work into unknown territory through research, travel and writing, and share what she knows through teaching. She also delves into our complex relationship to ingesting beautiful things, and has researched into the history of the Kashigata, a Japanese sugar mold, as well as writing about her own obsession with unusual treats. Hearing Julia talk about how she strings all of this together (carefully and with great attention and skill…like her carved wood chain) was fascinating and gave me a deeper understanding of her work! I’m also really chomping at the bit to go get a set of carving tools, find some green Alder wood and try my hand at carving wood!
The Solstenen project residency at The Project Room has a little less than two weeks to go before I take Solstenen to the privacy of my own studio. So why not pack these last two weeks with events and terrific people! Here’s a list of the newest events scheduled.
* August 25th, Thursday – 31st, Wednesday, Guest Artist Installation, on-going – please drop by; Vis-a-Vis Society’s Sierra Nelson, Interactive Rune Poetry installation “Runasafn / Rune Library”. Poems written during a residency in Iceland, Sierra shares them by having you choose a rune stone which corresponds to a poem, you fill out a library card and take your poem home.
* August 27th, Saturday: Guest Artist Event, 6 – 9pm; Artist and Lo-Fi Festival curator Anne Blackburn Artist Talk and hands-on demo of book-carving for her environmental installations. Photos and films from her two-year installation of human-made shelf fungus.
* August 29th, Monday, Guest Artist Event, 11 am – 2pm; Mini-residency with Wood Sculptor/Jeweler and sweets enthusiast Julia Harrison, sharing with me some techniques to carve wood shoes! Then at 5 – 6:30pm; Julia does a show and tell of works-in-process, images and conversation…and special treats!
* August 31, Wednesday, Guest Artist Event, 6 – 8 pm; Poet, text-based artist and ‘data-Dadaist’ Sierra Nelson comes in for ‘show and tell’ and conversation about her own journey to Iceland for the SIMS artist residency. She’ll share her interactive surveys on ‘sending and receiving’ and photography of forgotten intimate spaces of Reykjavic. And we’ll be making Icelandic pancakes!
“Artists who Interview” Round-Table Discussion (with pie!), August 7th, 2011
Early August at The Project Room, I had the chance to interview five incredible multi-taskers as part of my Solstenen project series of artist interviews — artist/art blogger personality Joey Veltkamp, artist/writer and adventurer Tessa Hulls, artist/curator/writer Amanda Manitach, artist/writer and LxWxH founder Sharon Arnold, and performance artist, musician and filmmaker Saskia Delores. Joined by other members of the community — lured in by pie, I suspect – we had a sparkling conversation about connecting with other makers and those beyond the ‘art world’, breaking rules, obsessions, feasts and famines….all through the lens of ‘the interview’.
As part of my 7-week residency at The Project Room, I’m using my time here to invite other artists in I want to learn from, to learn something that will influence my year-long Solstenen project, and share these learning moments with anyone who wants to join the discussion.
The five of you who I’ve invited in are artists who do interviews [Joey Veltkamp, Tessa Hulls, Amanda Manitach, Sharon Arnold, and Saskia Delores] — who have taken on that role as well as well as being makers, and I’ve asked you here because I want to know why you do it, when just being an artist is kind of a slog enough as it is! (laughter) I’m a novice to interviewing and I want to get pointers.
So, you five — and other artists in Seattle — have created something together, in a way, unintentionally. You’re working together in this community, even though you didn’t intend to work together, and have created this net — this kind of platform celebrating the activity that is happening in this city right now. For me, looking at your interview work, you’ve created these deeper, more personal, channels of understanding of this particular time period and archived the creative life that’s going on in Seattle. I’ve been really inspired by this, and it’s a huge reason why I’ve been drawn to incorporate the interviewing of other makers into the process of my Solstenen project, to record a process of growth in myself and the connections made between people through the making of new artwork.
There have been discussions before in Seattle about ‘artists writing’, like at gallerist Scott Lawrimore’s Klatch from 2009, when it was viewed in relationship to the declining presence of the traditional media outlets for arts writing.
But what I really wanted to get at are your personal motivations for doing this. I want to know how did this start for you all, how did this practice begin? It’s hard enough to have time just to be an artist, so it must do something for you, it must feed you in some way and I want to learn about that today. I want to know your process behind it too — how you prepare, how you think about it, is it a consistent thing you do or do you just wait for someone’s work to grab you. And do you have periods where it’s just too much, where you decide I’m focusing on this other thing right now. I think that’s important to talk about, as well.
So…my first real question (laughter) is how did you each begin this project of interviewing in a sustained way. You’re not employed journalists, you’re not getting paid to do this, so it has to fit into your whole practice in some way….
Saskia Delores: So I isolate a lot, I’m a recluse, but I love people—I just really like being in my home, ideally working — and my project Shut Up Dream Crusher is leveraging something like a ten year creative block / performance anxiety. Facebook—hopefully this doesn’t sound sad! —but Facebook has made a huge difference in my life; because I’d isolated so much to the point that the communities I was a part of before my block had disintegrated massively and I didn’t know how to recreate that. Plus I was feeling really blocked. I didn’t want to go to parties and talk to people about what I wasn’t doing, and see all their awesome projects — which might seem a bit selfish – but it was just too painful, when I realized I wasn’t working. The thing that really set it off for me was the artists’ grants that Greg Lundgren had done, the Arbitrary Art Grants. That was really awesome! It was simple, I didn’t have to take it seriously and I think I got involved in the community really through that. And then I started gleaning the events pages—maybe you’re not supposed to do this! —and looking at who actually showed up and who said they were going to and I started collecting artist friends that way. Then I was just reading what people were up to on Facebook, and I made a lot of good friends through it. I’m particularly interested in what people want to do with their lives, what are their passions, and Shut Up Dream Crusher grew out of this. Interviewing is a great way for me to connect with people very deeply, quickly, to learn about what they’re doing, and have it be really meaningful. So even if I haven’t seen them in six months, I really feel connected to that person. And since I’m a bit of an outsider artist and don’t have that formal education, it’s really educational for me. I feel like I’m learning so much. Then I also get to promote them, and I love that.
Arbitrary Art Grant for Performance, 2009
Mandy: I don’t know who’s familiar with whose work, but Saskia is filming interviews and then—in the ones I’ve watched—it’s almost like you’re a persona in the interview in some way. And they really pull at my heart – there is this very intimate exposure of the very vulnerable process of being an artist and being very determined. Just the title, Shut Up Dream Crusher is all about that — we all have to do that all the time, push out the internal and external naysayers. It seems like with all the interviewing that all of you are doing, there’s this sort of intention ‘to support’ happening.
And the Facebook topic is funny to bring up because I feel like it’s such a similar process for me. When I started the community crocheting project with the Mater Matrix Mother and Medium in 2009, I suddenly saw Facebook as a tool to connect with people for the project and joined up — And that really is how I met everyone here! Right when I realized what Facebook was and what it could do, it exposed me to Joey Veltkamp’s blog and I was thinking ‘who is this guy, what is he doing?”, in regards to your interviews and show listings.
Joey, Love by Steven Miller
I realized there was all this stuff happening I had no clue about. It was right after I completed Dare alla Luce at BAM in 2008 and I had been buried in making this massive artwork for 16 months with almost no outside contact, raising a toddler. Finding Joey’s blog, it was like this beautiful blooming flower and window onto all this activity. I continue to go back to it, like a touchstone, to get a feel for what’s happening, when I’m totally buried in work.
Amanda Manitach: I think it’s interesting because of all of us here, Rodrigo Valenzuela and Saskia are the only ones who do filmed interviews and the rest of us pretty much work just textually or with correspondence. I’m curious to hear how everyone does that because I generally conduct my interviews through email, but video is a much more spontaneous way of interviewing that seems really foreign to me.
Joey Veltkamp: I know, scary! I couldn’t do it that way! (laughter)
Saskia: It’s all about the editing! (laughter)
Mandy: I’m curious about the differences, too, between live and the written interview. Like right now, this is live and … my voice is shaking! But there is this other process like… “Amanda I’ll send you these questions later…” and that gives us time to digest and think about things. I always appreciate that when I get interviewed, having that opportunity to make sure I can really clarify something instead of just what spewed out of my mouth!
Amanda: It’s like looking for two different kinds of results.
Joey Veltkamp: Exactly.
Tessa Hulls: There is also such a huge difference between interviews that are just Q&A. I’ve always been more interested in trying to weave my interviews into a narrative, because I think the reason I like to interview is that I’m an extremely inquisitive person and I’m really drawn to the obsessive part of art-making. I’d say with the people I’m drawn to, that is the connecting thread: there is something about their work that makes me wonder what obsessive personal part of them creates it. And that’s always what I want to get to in my interviews, is for them to tell me where this started inside and where it fits into their overarching themes. I like us to go off on tangents as much as possible!
Amanda: In that article you did about Mandy Greer, is that pretty representative of your style of interview, because I thought that was very interesting. You’d made a text out of it and it wasn’t at all like a back and forth like here’s you’re question, here’s the answer.
Tessa: That’s what’s interesting to me, trying to really hear an artist’s voice and articulate it in a combined way that doesn’t put words in their mouth.
Mandy: You did an amazing job with that. And you did a good job of painting the context of where we were and — sometimes it drives me nuts when someone’s writing about an artist and they try to describe what they’re wearing or something like that! — I think the writer is trying to create that context, but it doesn’t work, it feels superficial. But you created a fuller picture of that context — this is where we are, this is what’s happening and this is what’s influencing the words that are being shared. That was so wonderful, you shared details that are usually overlooked. How do you do that?
Tessa: I think that’s the reason I like to do interviews in an artist’s workspace because it’s so telling of their process and because…well, every interview has its awkward moments and its lulls when you wonder, ‘what should we talk about now’, and you can always say, ‘oh! … what’s the story about that little stuffed giraffe sitting on that log over there?’ And it just gives you a way to keep the conversation going. I find that often transitions into stories that you wouldn’t get to hear if you’d just brought in a list of questions. So I think studios definitely allow the conversations to be a little bit more natural.
Tessa Hulls and pie
Mandy: But you also do a lot of research beforehand, right?
Tessa: I’m always curious to know what other people have come up with to interview the artist I’m about to go talk to and I think that’s what I’m saying about my love of tangents: I’m always trying to make it my goal to talk about something that hasn’t come up about someone’s work before.
Sharon Arnold: I like that little breakthrough when you can get past what artists have prepared…what they already tell everybody. There are sorts of questions that everyone will ask an artist and you can kind of push past what people are used to seeing, to get to a little bit more of a vulnerable, raw space that’s unrehearsed. For me I just like to get inside people’s heads, you know… ‘what’s that, what’s that, how does that work? where does this come from? where do you come from?’ Those are really interesting questions to me. I think that learning how other artists work informs my own practice, so I think that I’m constantly pushing to discover what people are up to and what’s going on mentally, emotionally, or just the history of their life. Maybe it’s a mirror or window into something else.
Sharon Arnold, LxWxH founder
Mandy: How do you choose the people who you interview? Is it an intuitive thing, where you’re drawn to this person and you want to know more, or is it more structured, such that because of your own practice you’re interested in investigating people who do this or that?
Sharon: It could be both or it could just be someone that I don’t know much about and I want to learn more about somebody I hadn’t heard of or whose work I wasn’t familiar with, and because you do all that research before you interview them you’re forced to find out who they are.
Mandy: I get this sense, too, from Amanda and your work, Sharon, that both of you feel an urgency that this information needs to be out there, that people need to be knowing more about this artist’s work….
Amanda: I think in both of our cases our interviews stem from things we had curated, so we already had a vested interest in the artists. And for me it’d be interesting because either the artist produced really different work than they were used to doing, and at that point crafting questions is almost too easy because you want to ask what is going on, why this? But it’s much more difficult and much more interesting to come up with new questions that haven’t been asked and try to draw stuff out that’s not in their statement. But the research involved in that is the hardest part.
Rodrigo Valenzuela (filmmaker): When I interviewed you, you were kind of shy about it, you know, it took us like an hour of conversation with you…
Amanda: To get, like, fifteen seconds!
Rodrigo: How did it changed for you, mentally, because you’re still formulating questions based on my questions in your head…it’s this thought process of verbalizing your own questions so you can get to an answer. So how much changes for you when you interview artists, when you talk…you know it’s like, when I see other filmmakers I think oh no, you don’t grab the camera like that! (laughter) So how was that process of being interviewed for you, because you were anxious….
Amanda: That was really hard! Mostly because it was on camera and audio and I’m just not super used to that, and I’m like oh my god, I gotta look smart *and* sound smart?….because, you know, we’re all egotistical and vain a little… (laughter) …because we’re artists! But I also don’t conduct interviews that way, I tend to form questions that are text-based and expect that exchange, so film is a little out of my depth.
Rodrigo: It’s interesting filming documentaries with artists…it’s interesting to have both the audio recording and film because it becomes this almost endless collection of material…and it can be really interesting to just worry about either/or. When editing, sometimes I just go through just the images and sometimes I just listen to the audio, and I don’t always try to sync it to the image because then you get a more pure connection…
Mandy: You’re actually recording body language, which, if you’re conducting a written interview is hard to even process while doing it.
Rodrigo: That’s why I’ve done videos—they’re not for profit—but they’re videos of people not talking, just their faces while I’m asking the question, so it’s just a compilation of faces. It’s interesting to see personality come through that way, and it sometimes reveals things that could never come across in a written interview. It gives you access to information: you see that there is something in them that they didn’t ever want to talk about; it could be revealed in a single gesture.
Amanda: I have to say the style of your interviewing is excellent, it’s completely conversational, which is the opposite of my style, which is to do so much research, trying to craft these questions that are very specific but also trying to open up vast depths of information, and here Rodrigo is, just like, well, what do you feel about that? And suddenly you forget you’re in an interview…except that, you know, there’s a camera on you. (laughter)
Mandy: I had this revealing experience the other day: one of The Project Room advisers (Sarah Novotny) brought in Dale Dougherty, who is the founder of Make Magazine and Maker Faire, and when she told me that he was going to come in I just thought ‘how am I going to talk to him, how am I going to connect to this guy?’ I just didn’t know, and made assumptions about us having different perspectives (which was very wrong). So I did absolutely no preparation whatsoever and decided I was just going to sit and listen, and it was actually so good because when you’re in a room together sitting there, you have to find some sort of connection. At one point we ended up talking about county fairs and how that related to what he’s doing with Maker Faire and also an element of my community projects, and I realized that I’d had this idea that I needed to do all this preparation to have a dialog, but that maybe sometimes it’s better to be in the hot seat, uncomfortable….I feel like I walked away with a different understanding of his work that was more personal rather than what every other media outlet has described.
Jenifer Ward (Associate Provost at Cornish College of the Arts, Seattle, TPR Adviser): I think there has to be a stance of vulnerability when you go into it. In other words, if it’s not a conversation, if it’s not an exchange and not a mutual relinquishing of power in how this is going to unfold, then you might as well ask an artist to give you an artist statement and publish it, right?
Sharon: You have to leave holes for unpredictability for sure, for unexpected things to come up. I was thinking about how an interview can serve as a bridge. You can purposefully go out and find someone with whom you have nothing in common and find where that common ground is.
Mandy: That reminds me of a project Tessa was involved in; when she was interviewed by journalist Gaby Dunn as part of her ‘100 Interviews’ project. Gaby made a list of a hundred types of people that she had never met before and purposefully sought out and interviewed those people, to find those unnoticed connections, because I guarantee that we all have them…
Tessa: Her list had some really random, specific things on it: she had someone who’s picketed outside an abortion clinic, someone who was left at the altar, a one-hit wonder, an airline pilot, and—I don’t even know how I ended up as her someone who’s showing at a gallery. It was really interesting because she has zero art background so she was interviewing me as this person who was like I’m inquisitive, I’m a journalist, I don’t know anything about art, let’s see where this goes.So the questions were interesting because they were not what I was used to answering at all, just because she was asking as someone without any frame of reference about what it’s like to make things. And that’s something I wanted to ask you guys: do you think you can be someone who interviews artists if you’re not an artist yourself? Because for me that’s what draws me in, having a mutual fascination and finding the parallels between myself and the people I talk to.
Rodrigo: Also, with the Maysles brothers and the concept of cinéma vérité, we’ve learned that anybody has the capacity to become interesting in front of a camera…you just have to spend enough time with them. They’ve made some great documents of crazy ladies in ‘Grey Gardens’, of really simple or really annoying people that become very interesting…
Mandy: Everybody’s interesting in some way.
Sharon: And I would like to see more non-artists writing about art. I think it would engage people outside the art world more—and I think all the press coverage around Mad Homes exhibition in Seattle proved that people are willing and interested and open—so the more people that are asking about art from a different perspective, the more it makes us think as artists in different ways about what we’re doing. I feel like there’s danger of becoming really circular, insular; there’s this language that we use that could become only ours, which other people don’t have access to or understand necessarily. So if someone comes and they’re asking us things in ways that we’re not really thinking about it, I think that’s an opportunity to grow.
Mandy: And also realize that the artwork you’re doing has many different layers of accessibility, that it can function on the academic level but also can communicate the similar experiences we all have, that allows us to find that connection with whomever. The other day a friend was telling me “I was in Montana showing some guys, these hunters, your slaughtered deer piece (Small but Mighty Wandering Pearl, 2006) and they thought it was really cool!” and I thought, yeah, they know much more about the visceral quality of killing an animal and I don’t, but I wanted to use that imagery to convey my own experiences. I love that moment when you realize that your own artwork can have all these cerebral elements to it but then there are many different ways to connect to people through it, without getting rid of anything or dumbing something down, or trying to appeal to a particular audience.
Saskia: It’s funny because when I was 30 I lost my job of twelve years and I realized I didn’t know anything about managing finances at all, so I started doing research on Internet marketing. One of the reasons that I do the Shut Up Dream Crusher project is there’s this thing called a marketing funnel, and basically you take from all the different communities in your life and you channel them into a funnel, and the large end is where the communities are and the small end is where you want to funnel that into your business, into your living that you’re making as an artist. I like the idea of my interviews being mutual marketing funnels, essentially, for both myself and the artists that are featured. But I always feel dumb when I’m interviewing, because I don’t have that formal interview background, and I’m tempted to research. But I’m lazy! (laughter) And busy. So I do a little bit of research, I go in, and I just field them. But most people like talking about themselves and sharing and so I just try to communicate with them authentically and by the end of it I feel smarter. And I’m glad I don’t go in knowing too much, because then we avoid seeming pretentious, hopefully. I don’t have to use fancy words. I just really like that human-to-human contact, and I actually want to get out of doing just artists for Shut Up Dream Crusher; I want to do anybody with a dream because, I mean, dreams take creativity, and so everybody’s creative.
Saskia Delores by John E Hollingsworth
Sharon: There’s this exposure element that I think is really important in an interview — having non-artists exposed to the fact that it’s really hard work to be an artist and it’s a process that takes development and time and mistakes, and hopefully people reading the interviews will starting thinking about what they do outside of work. There has got to be some kind of relationship to people who live outside the art world, and we’re exposing the meat and the bones and the sweat and the non-magical way of art making….
Mandy: Like, as artists one is crafting a whole life for oneself and it translates into an infinite variety of contexts, where people are trying to carve out their own place in the world for themselves. And while you were talking, Sharon, I was thinking that one of the people I really want to interview is a woman who’s a farmer down near Olympia. She’s from Iceland, and I came across her farm because I need to get some Icelandic wool that is a bit still in the raw, and she raises Icelandic sheep down there. On her website she’s like “I was raised a city girl, originally I didn’t know anything about farming but I had this deep desire and this vision that I wanted to be a farmer and so I made it happen” and I was floored by how that’s exactly the same way I talk and think about wanting to make art. And this is all about The Project Room curatorial question for this year, why do we make things? It isn’t at all just about making art or making objects but is about truly making a life. That’s what I get really inspired by.
Bone Dry Ridge Farm
Sometimes making art is just really shitty, it can just be really demoralizing, you get can crapped on by so many different directions, and it makes you ask what is this all about? I’ve had to decide that making a life for myself on my own terms is what it’s about, where it’s about being in the moment, being engaged, being a human being, making a little boat that I ride in to do that, but other people ride in other boats, like being a farmer, and that’s what I want to know about and what I find inspiring…the boats!
Jenifer: I want to comment on the notion of it being a conversation and an exchange and not just a one-way thing where you hand them a microphone and say tell me what you know…. The interviews that I love the most are the ones where the interviewer is so clearly in it, where I can read that person as well. And there are so many things in me that say as a scholar your voice is not supposed to be visible, as an interviewer we really want to know about this person you’re interviewing and not about you and I think that’s bogus. I really want to know what the process of that exchange was and how the interviewer is changed by the interviewee and vice versa. I don’t really know how to get around that in terms of what we expect an interview to be.
Mandy: I butted up against that idea in the very first interview I ever did, which was with Shoplifter – the NY-based Icelandic artist who did the work on Bjork’s Medula album — who was in town curating the Nordic Fashion Biennale at the Nordic Heritage Museum, and Jess Van Nostrand set up a little talk with us. I crafted all these questions and the hard part was that a lot of the questions I really, really wanted to ask had so much to do with my own projects and were along the lines of I was working on this stuff and you don’t know anything about me and how do I quickly explain that my husband and I have recently been working on this project and that I’m connecting to this image of you and your husband…? and I wondered if it was inappropriate for me to bring myself into it so much. I never quite resolved it, because I didn’t have a personal relationship with her.
Sharon: That’s how you can get one! Maybe part of the interview process is building a personal relationship with someone. That’s how I started writing; I wanted to be more a part of the Seattle art scene that I just moved back to, and writing a blog was a way of engaging people I’d never met. I think if you look at it as this is a conversation I’m having with another artist AS an artist which I’m going to share with everyone else then I have no obligation to the reader.
Mandy: I went and read everything anyone had ever written about her, and I found this picture of her, her husband, and her two very young children and I thoughtno one mentioned anything about these kids! And instantly that was all I wanted to know about: how the hell do you do all this with these two kids? Because I do that too and I’m often struggling and feeling like I’m failing and feeling like everyone else has their shit together and how do you do that? And that was all we talked about, and I wondered if it was too private.
Shoppy Family Portrait 2007 by Silja Magg
Saskia: I don’t think the same rules apply anymore. That code of ethics was for journalists covering current events. And that’s why I do video and podcasts: they’re automatically syndicated, picked up by readers who distribute them, and with video there are no rules anymore. It’s really exciting.
Joey Veltkamp: Absolutely.
Mandy: Yes, that was one of my questions! Are there any rules, and do you think about them?
Saskia: I think about them, and I get freaked out, and I break ‘em! (laughter)
Joey Veltkamp: That’s my whole thing, coming from an untrained point of view, frequently people will tell me that’s not how you do it and I think, well, it’s too late now! (laughter) Eventually I started to psyche myself out though. At first I was like, I don’t care! But eventually I found myself caring and less frequently talking about myself when talking to other artists. Then my family was like your blog sucks now! And I was like it’s not for you anymore! (laughter)
Mandy: It’s almost like you have to work to retain the outsider point of view, to hang on to that.
Sharon: You’re always negotiating what you want to know and how much you want of the person you’re asking questions of and who you’re talking to when you’re writing: is it entirely for you, is it entirely for the art world, are you trying to reach other people? It’s not that you should really focus on any one of those things more than the others, but those things are constantly rotating in your head. You’re not beholden to anyone.
Mandy: Exactly. I always have to remind myself I’m only beholden to myself. Sometimes a situation needs to be formal and sometimes it needs to be informal…I have to remind myself that it can be done many different ways. I don’t have to find a style and stick with it.
Tessa: If you’re open to where the conversation’s going to go, I find that the easiest interviews often write themselves because interviewees are usually very strong, opinionated people and you just kind of have to put yourself in the mindset of going where they’ll take you.
Mandy: Yeah, during Shoppy’s interview I asked one question and I never really needed to go any further, the conversation just took off.
Amanda: I first got interested in doing interviews after reading Hans Ulrich Obrist’s books, and his style of interviewing is so broad: his philosophy of interviewing is I’m going to continue talking to people throughout their lives and it’s going to be an ongoing conversation. He sets up a camera and records the conversation and edits them into texts for books….which brings up editing. I’m interested in how everyone approaches editing their content.
Jenifer: The interviews I’ve always done have been for scholarly journals or for scholarly books and in that context you still always have to follow the rules.
Amanda: In the third person…you don’t exist!
Jenifer: Yes, which is a real problem for me, and Mandy and I have been talking about this quite a lot. You have these beautiful, beautiful conversations, these experiences that are vast and random and absolutely lovely and challenging and scary and then I have to edit it down to this cold back-and-forth. But in some ways it’s like I get a twofer: it’s like I get a scholarly thing, but then I also get this thing that’s mine, that’s for me and the person I talked to. And that’s the thing that leads to the relationship with the person.
Mandy: I’ve been thinking so much about that with artwork…for instance, John Grade is going to be working in The Project Room after me as well, and his work has this huge, temporary element to it, and I’ve been thinking about that a lot, about the transitory nature of things. In your [Joey Veltkamp's] interviews there’s a sense of real pleasure, of you really loving the artwork, and it’s like that pleasure—you try to grasp it and record it in interviews and conversations, but you can’t really capture experience that way, you just have to have it while being in the moment.
I’ve been thinking about that so much with the artwork I make, that I’m only responsible to myself and my life that I’m going to travel. I’m going to do what is pleasurable, and trying to make those connections through the interviewing process is really pleasurable to me, even if it doesn’t get down on paper.
Jenifer: Yeah, that’s why I want a patron!
Mandy: A patron?
Jenifer: Because then I can just have pleasure! I can just pursue pleasure in these conversations and it will be valued!
Mandy: Well, it is valued right now, even if you haven’t managed to write it down.
Jenifer: Yes, I just mean that my landlady is less interested in this than in receiving her payment!
Sharon: Erin, you’ve interviewed people. You should speak up!
Mandy: Why do you do studio visits?
Erin Shafkind: I think I like to go into people’s creative spaces, and I think one of the first ones was Joey’s and it was just visiting his studio. I ended up writing about it in my blog and eventually City Arts Magazine came to me and I did get paid to do it, which is kind of cool! (laughter) But I’m fascinated by the creative energy of people’s spaces. Growing up in a creative household, I never thought I couldn’t draw. But now that I’m an art teacher in Seattle public schools, I have kids that are like I can’t! and there’s something to that thing of what happened to us, because little kids are like I can draw, then something happens in the fifth or sixth grade where all the sudden kids aren’t able to access that. So I guess I’m a little Polly-anna-istic that somehow if we can tap into that thing as we get older, we’ll just be more content people. So getting into artists’ studios is a way to find that thing, to tap into that energy.
Joey Veltkamp: Has anyone ever used your interviews to make connections…like to interview your art crushes?
Tessa: I feel like I only interview art crushes! I’m a really outgoing person normally and not at all shy, but the only time I get nervous is talking to someone whose work I really like!
Joey Bates: I’ve used my artwork to actually connect with musicians I like by taking pictures with them. Part of my process is kind of like interviewing: having a conversation while taking a crap load of pictures of them for portraits, so I’ve met some musicians who I listen to, whose whole discographies I own.
Joey Veltkamp: Joey, I don’t want to put you on the spot, but your interview with Chris Crites was the longest interview I’ve ever read and I loved it! Was it exhausting? Because you haven’t done another one that length since then, right?
Joey Bates: I…got caught up in my own artwork!
Joey Veltkamp: Perfect! It was just such a fantastic interview.
Joey Bates: One of the things I want to do with that blog and the interviews is have more conversations between artists-on-artists, and make it all about them. Because it is all about them. Chris Crites and I have a very similar level we work on. We’re both OCD pretty big time, we’re good friends, too, so it was a pretty smooth talk, but it’s also nice to talk about things that do not work. I’ve found that a lot of interviews end up being really congratulatory and I kind of wanted to move away from that. I’m not sure that I did that all that well, but the next one I’ve got planned is with David Kane. Tim Marsden and I are going to go to his studio and just record a conversation between the three of us.
Mandy: Can you explain what you mean by ‘congratulatory’?
Joey Bates: Sometimes you’ll read interviews where people just kind of dote on the person they’re interviewing, and the artist has a whole body of work but the interviewer only focuses on what does work, and I think we learn a lot from what doesn’t work. It’s interesting to look at artists and relate and talk to them about what does not work, because you end up learning more.
Amanda [to Saskia]: That’s kind of your style, isn’t it? To approach artists about what doesn’t work?
Saskia: Not really. I totally dote on them because I love to worship people, and especially the first time I meet people I’m just like oh my god, you’re so amazing at what you do and I fall in love. But then I edit myself out. I tried in the first couple interviews to treat it like a vlog and it was awkward, I don’t feel like that VJ personality. Maybe I could train myself, but it’s not natural for me, so it’s much more natural for me to cut myself out of the interview and sometimes phrases are sacrificed, you know, that seem really obvious, but I spend a couple of hours at their houses, so there’s always going to be good material for me to grab from. But sometimes they do talk about what doesn’t work…but I definitely am a doter. And I’m not going to stop either!
Joey Veltkamp: I think I fall into that congratulatory camp! I think that nowadays you have tons of avenues for expressing yourself, but historically it seems like you get an artist statement but everything else about the artist is driven by an external agenda pushing at artists: like the review is not necessarily what the artist wants to present. So the intent for my interviews is always to have a platform for artists to have a bunch of good questions, nothing complicated that’s going to put them on the spot; I’ve always wanted it to read as a piece they’re really proud of. So sometimes I’ll get an artist who is like this is kind of weird and I’ll remove it, because I don’t want them to not be happy with it. But to my knowledge it’s very congratulatory…very “two paws up.”
Mandy: I love the differences.
Joey Veltkamp: Me, too. The more people who are writing or interviewing, the better!
Amanda: Ultimately everyone’s going to have a different thing they want to get out of it. What can you get out of an interview that you can’t get out of a statement that you can’t get out of other forms? And everyone has a slightly different twist on that, but obviously there’s a reason you’re interviewing a living breathing person, and not just reviewing and not writing an essay….
Saskia: Yeah, I think it’s that awkwardness we mentioned before, that kind of vulnerability, I think sometimes it’s better if I ask somebody on Tuesday and I do the interview on Wednesday than if I ask them on Tuesday and then I do it three weeks later.
Amanda: Don’t give them time to think about it!
Saskia: Yes, that’s dangerous! But again, I want to create comfort. My goal is for them to be proud of what they see, that they feel it’s really representative, and not like a puff piece, but like yeah, this is totally what I’m thinking about, this is what drives me, maybe I said something that was vulnerable but ultimately I feel stronger for it, it represents my work! But I think I do as much as possible to make that clear for the people while the camera is on them, because one of the things I do is I’ve literally sat there before for two hours holding my Flip like this [arm trembling], just shaking, steadying the arm…it’s painful! But because it’s so small, it’s less imposing than a big camera in their face, because I really want it to be conversational.
Mandy: I hate the big camera! Tessa, I was thinking about something you brought up with me a while ago about quirky things that you always ask, like what are the OCD things that people do in their studios to get themselves ready to work. Do any of you have any pet things that aren’t necessarily about the interviewee’s work that you ask?
Joey Veltkamp: I don’t.
Amanda: I love that kind of interview, too, like the Proust Questionnaire when the questions are always exactly the same, it’s interesting to see how the answers differ.
Mandy: That reminds me of the Vis-à-Vis Society (“Poetic Analysis of the Everyday”) They sort of do that with questionnaires in a performative interactive way, coaxing some very interesting answers out of the general public.
Tessa: This is a bit of a tangent, but we were talking about the cross-germination of influences. I came across this amazing book a couple of years ago, and I can’t remember what it’s called but it’s a coffee table photo book of somebody who contacted all their friends who were authors and asked what strange things do you keep in your writing space that inspire you and why and then a photograph of whatever the object was and an essay from the writer about how it fit into their process. It’s something too that can really translate over to visual artists. There’s one example I always remember: one writer said that she had a photograph of a rhinoceros being pulled from a flooded zoo and that it was blindfolded so that it wouldn’t get nervous because of the fact it was hanging in the air. She compared her creative process to that, and it’s a whole book of amazing things like that. I think that’s why that became a part of my interview question, part of my repertoire, in that I found that so fascinating. I think every interview I’ve ever done, if you ask that of an artist or a musician or a writer, they can identify something quickly and will say yes, that is my strange thing, that is my totem and I always want to know what that is.
Mandy: And those are things that we all do, they’re so buried and they’re so hidden away sometimes…the opportunity to say this is really special to me, I’m slightly embarrassed about this, this isn’t deemed important by the cultural viewing of my artwork is really fascinating to me.
Joey Veltkamp: I know I think that’s probably why a lot of us do written interviews, because it requires so much editing, because I need lots of time to think about questions. I have to put so much thought into it, it takes a surprisingly long time, like even an easy post will take me about an hour and often I don’t do the interviews anymore because it’s like a day’s worth of preparation just to do one interview….
Sharon: There’s that other element of hidden work, when you’re interviewing for a blog, the referencing the information online that people are talking about so you can link it, there’s all this hyperlinking going on in a blog post when you start digging into what your interviewee is talking about, so that you can send people there, bring your reader with you, since we don’t have footnotes.
Mandy: Yeah, I love that process, personally. I love finding the hidden references and linking them…I love hyperlinking! It is a huge amount of effort, and again it goes back to wearing the dual hats that all of us are wearing. Because sometimes it’s like I just need to make my work!
Sharon: I think we all used to write more in the past, but because of Facebook we’ve fallen off. We have the immediacy of conversation and are able to break that down into more frequent communication, questions, and interactivity, so writing on the blog hasn’t been as gratifying for me because it’s more a one-sided platform than a conversation, which I can get on Facebook. And then I have a conversation with one of you online and then I see you in the real world later, it forces me to say, hey, how are you doing, whereas before we didn’t have to do that, but it’s sort of pulling all these people together in different ways now. Blog posts are just so much work and so littler return in a lot of ways.
Saskia: The only difference I see there is the difference between the interaction and the archiving, because there’s something about cultivating that material for both yourself and the artist. I think that’s one of the things in the interview that I’m trying to do is archive. You had mentioned in the beginning of this about Tessa’s interview capturing a moment in time….
Mandy: Yeah. I spent some time studying everyone’s interview work a little bit to prepare for today, so I was reading the interviews Joey had done back in 2008 and I was realizing there are slightly different things happening right now than were happening in 2008 and I hadn’t really named that until then. But it’s archived and because you did all that work, Joey, it’s still there. It’s like with the Matthew Offenbacher interview in 2008 where a certain something new and special was happening in the Seattle art culture right at that moment, and we don’t notice the subtle shifts sometimes in our community, so it’s worth it!
Amanda: I would guess that all of us have an interest in documentation, archiving, and memory.
Mandy: Yes! [lifts camera]
Jenifer: And I also feel—and maybe it’s because I’m old (laughter)—I do feel this kind of responsibility to archive and document, and I’m from a generation that started out hammering things out on typewriter with duplicate carbon, and now the very things that have made my life so incredibly rich because of digital immediacy are also the things that make me think it’s all going away! It’s fleeting! So to me it feels like there is a responsibility to say this happened.
Jenifer: I was here!
Mandy: Can we talk about the workload again? Balancing it…like, why? It’s kind of ridiculous! Writing, curating, interviewing, making art….
Saskia: So when I started the series last year—it was April or March—I said ok, I’m going to do interviews five days a week—
Joey Veltkamp: My god!
Saskia: —and I had never done any interviews before! I had done a few, but, I mean, not like that. What I didn’t know is that I wouldn’t be sleeping for the next fourteen days! I miss it though, I miss having it out there and I miss making it and I’ve been gradually getting back into it, but I think when we’re thinking about archiving, we try to figure out how to do this in a way that’s sustainable, for us as artists specifically.
Joey Veltkamp: Doesn’t it end up just being like feast or famine? Sometimes you’re into it and then when you’re not, you’re out.
Mandy: I have to remember sometimes that I have my own speed and it’s different from the world’s speed. Like, I think Saskia interviewed me in January and I’m not at all like “where is it?!” Because I myself am always like….I’m a glacier…!
Joey Bates: So you’re not on a boat? (laughter)
Mandy: When I’m trying to balance everything I have to remember that I am going to do it and I’m going to do it at my pace and try to forget the people who are likeI need you to do this now! Because, you know, you need to keep what’s important with you, too. So if you’re working on what is most valuable to you at your own pace, it’s not going to happen at the fast, artificial pace that external forces expect. Like this (Solstenen) process blog I’m trying to do, I feel like I haven’t even written about anything I’ve made or thought about while I’ve been here doing the residency, but I’m just trying to remind myself that there are different paces, and I have to stay centered in my own pace, and if I’m not doing this super fast, it doesn’t mean that it’s unimportant to me.
Saskia: I always try to edit my interviews so that they’re timeless. So it’s not like what are you doing for this specific show. That’s one of the things I have to remind myself when I’m feeling guilty!
Joey Veltkamp: I struggle with that because sometimes I like to capture a specific moment and I’m really interested in a specific show, but then you go back and read the interviews and I feel like I wish I’d asked them more general questions so that it does feel more timeless.
Amanda: I think it would be interesting for you to go back and do repeated interviews over time, because there are some people you’ve interviewed years ago when they’re about to go off to grad school or whatever…to go back and revisit….
Joey Veltkamp: Yeah, it would be interesting.
Tessa: I feel like I come from an interesting outsider perspective in terms of balancing the workload and my style of interviewing because I moved to Seattle a little over two years ago for an ex that was a neuroscientist. My entire life I’ve been the only artist surrounded by scientists. This has been the first time when that ratio has finally started to balance out and I feel so much happier.
For me, I had no real connection to the Seattle art world, I hadn’t gone to school here, I knew nobody that made anything. So I started interviewing because I thought I was going slowly crazy, because I had no one I could discuss process with, no dialogue; So for me I saw it as a completely mandatory thing, and I would always come back from interviews and be giddy for days because I’d finally gotten to talk shop with somebody! I’m not just this isolated little thing making really intensive brushstrokes in the basement. So for me, it’s always been a gift—what I get out of it is always so much more than the time constraints. I also think that’s one of the reasons I like to do so much research… up until the last six months there wasn’t much feeding me, so I really enjoyed getting to have this voyeuristic preparation before the interview.
Mandy: Very cool! I’m done with all my questions. I went through everything…
Amanda: It’s like a meta interview!!!
Mandy: I know…I started writing my questions by noting: It’s a little bizarre thinking of questions to ask about asking questions!
Thank you everybody!
Transcribed by Amanda Manitach. Edited by Jenifer Ward and Mandy Greer
Tomorrow, Friday 8/19, from 4pm – 5:30 pm, please join me at The Project Room for a chat (with treats) with multi-media, movement and dance artist Keely Isaak Meehan, founding artistic director of Manifold Motion. We’ll be talking about her work, including watching some of her favorite films of her performances, as well as talking about her work as a Certified Movement Analyst.
I asked Keely to come in and talk with me for a few reasons, first and foremost as part of my artist interview series for Solstenen project, talking with people I want to learn something from. And with Keely there are definitely several things I want to pick her brain about!
I met Keely in 2008 while I was working on the film/live performance The Silvering Path, with Haruko Nishimura and Ian Lucero. Haruko had invited DAE supporters to a series of crochet parties we held to generate some of the raw material for my Slug Princess wearable, and Keely was one of those people who returned again and again.
It wasn’t until the performance that I really realized she too was a performer and spearheaded Manifold Motion, when she and her husband media artist Mike McCracken began telling me about a massive production in the works all about a forest of fabric. Having just made a forest of fabric, I was intrigued!
A few months later, Keely and I began this very funny meet-up of each hunting for yarn colors at thrift-stores for our respective projects and trading with each other what we had found, a bit like addicts of some sort. And then many months later, seeing “Wool Gatherer”, I was, yes, drawn into the environment they had created, but was more drawn in by the precise yet fluid movements of Keely’s choreography. I feel like I have always wanted to know more about her, and also how she manages to wrangle all that is involved in running her own performance company. I have always been impressed with the scope and professionalism of MM, and their very well thought out fund-raising efforts and showcases, so their performers can eat.
Then an email from Keely in 2010 opened up something else. She was enthusiastically letting everyone know she was now Certified Movement Analyst in Laban Movement Analysis and Bartenieff Fundamentals.
“I have found the past two years of study to be hugely transformative. I have learned so much about myself and the world around me, and gained clarity, precision, and ease in my movement and communication. In my final research and presentation I focused primarily on applying LMA/BF to neuromuscular re-patterning for integrated, functional movement.”
As an artist, with the intensely labor intensive work that I do, I am always wrestling with pain, and knowingly perform damaging repetitive movements to get the massive installations done. Sometimes it feel like a war between my own stamina and the images my mind comes up with. I try my best to remember my body in the process of making, but when push comes to shove for a deadline, I will work through deep pain. I know it isn’t good, and somewhere somehow, I will need to (or be forced to) find balance. I have deep relationships with chiropractic, acupuncture, yoga and any number of patches and ointments, but what it comes down to is, what I do is punishing my body. Keely spoke with such enthusiasm about her new work, I was so curious about what she had to offer, particularly in terms of seeking a balance, and because I am not at all familiar with Laban.
“I bring together my training in movement analysis with my background in dance and other somatic movement practices to identify, understand, and help re-pattern tension holding and movement habits. “
“…we will find ways to more balanced cycles between Stability/Mobility, Exertion/Recuperation, Inner/Outer, and Function/Expression.”
But time and life have sped by and we have not yet explored anything together.
With my new work I am beginning with Solstenen project, my body and my relationship to physical and psychosomatic gravity are at the center of it, as well as ‘punishing/penance’ as themes. It seems time to seek out new and other ways of examining my body, and come to terms with the idea of creation and punishment I seem to hold in my bones. So it is time for me to discover some ideas about Keely’s skills as a performer, maker and movement analysis. Please join us for an informal conversation, if you are curious too. I’m so looking forward to learning things I don’t even know I don’t know….. I hope this can begin to help me unpack some of my deeply felt identification with A.S. Byatt’s character in the story “A Stone Woman”.
Just a quick reminder…it’s Tuesday again, August 16th. It’s time for another afternoon/evening of Community Crochet. It’s also a day for me to celebrate being a mother for 7 years (my son’s birthday!), so this crochet party is a bit short, ending at 6pm. Please stop in and unwind for a bit. And Amanda will be working till 5pm…
The Generosity of the Adorned Surfaces of Amanda Manitach
This week, August 15th – 20th, Guest Artist Working, Amanda Manitach will be working in the studio with me, using The Project Room’s large lovely walls for drawing, and other things!
Amanda’s hours in the space: M, T, Th, Fr, S; 12 -5 pm
I adore Amanda Manitach’s work. In some ways, it is so divergent from my own work, yet, I feel like our brains and eyes flit across baroque surfaces, seeking similar heightened sensations. I also sense a kinship in what I feel is her practice of probing the abject body from a care-taking stance. Whether she is painstakingly sewing onyx beads onto a lamb’s tongue, meticulously recording and inventing the convoluted ruffled forms of disease and erotic cavities in graphite, gilding a pig’s head, dissecting the ways words expel from the body and mind, there is always care, love and reflection…and even temperance.
Amanda also brings a generosity to the way she interacts with the creative community of this region; she curates, she writes, she analyzes and researches, she gathers people together. She shows up and participates, and contributes; not to shine a light on her own efforts, but to celebrate the works of those that she find invigorating.
Initially, I asked Amanda to come work with me at The Project Room on a simple impulse. We both spend, long, long, long hours doing tiny movements, she with graphite on paper and me with stitches and loops. Especially with the palette of my new work of silvers and grays, I thought there would be this curious tension between an austerity and the desire to accumulate to the point of excess in both our practices. One week of work for either of us is a drop of water in a sea of labor….what happens when we put a microscope on that drop.
As par for her course, Amanda has contributed so much already to my time here at The Project Room, and to TPR’s mission in general. She was a guest artist at the Defornament talk, and a contributor to the “Artist’s Who Interview” roundtable (including transcribing the conversation, helping me to create a record of that lively discussion soon to publish!) Watch out very soon on The Project Room’s literary journal ‘Off-Paper’ for some of her own deeper analysis of what it means to wear the multiple hats of artist and writer. I am so looking forward to spending this week, looking further into the generosity and furrowed planes of Amanda Manitach.
I’ll be writing more about this in a bit, but just a heads up…we will also be joined on Friday from 4pm – 5:30-ish, for a Guest Artist Conversation by multi-media, movement and dance artist Keely Isaak Meehan, artistic director of ‘Manifold Motion’.
We’ll be talking about her work as well as her own practice as a Certified Movement Analyst using Laban/Bartenieff & Somatic Studies, and how this may help me unravel some of my impulses to use my own body (as well as my husband’s) to explore this new work in Solstenen. Please join is in conversation, and some light refreshments.
I am SO thrilled to be getting out of the city and taking Solstenen project up to the Lo-Fi Arts Festival-”Not to Scale”, at Smoke Farm, Arlington Washington!
Smoke Farm is a truly transformative place, itself a metamorphosis from wilderness to farmland and now back to salmon habitat and a space to creatively engage with the land. I have had the privilege of getting to do a few residencies at Smoke Farm, and the site has changed me; the massive slugs that crawl out at dusk were the beginning of my Slug Princess for The Silvering Path film I co-created in 2008 (shot on location at Smoke Farm), and my photographs from my recent show “Honey and Lightening” were all shot at various places at this incredible site. Please come experience it for yourself, August 13th, Saturday, All-day, Join Solstenen off-site for Community Crochet!
You still have time to get tickets before you come, camp or just stay for the day.
ADVANCE TICKETS: Gates open at 12 noon on Saturday August 13. Tickets are available online at Brown Paper Tickets: http://www.brownpaperticks.com/event/171964
From the Facebook Invite:
The 2011 Lo-Fi Arts Festival *Not to Scale features site-specific work in all visual and performance media and happens at Smoke Farm on August 13, 2011.
The Lo-Fi Festival Vision: A 24 hour exploration of installation, performance, and interaction with the Farm which seeks to seed the Farm with narrative and inquiry about place and our use of landscape; providing an unusual opportunity for artists to work in expansive ways within a specific site.
Lo-Fi Artists: Aaron Loveitt, Alexandra Baybutt, Amy Billharz, flatchestedmama, Anne Blackburn, The Lonely Coast, Arne Pihl, Interrupture, Chris McMullen and Steve Withycombe, Daryle Conners, “Awesome”, South Meadow Cabaret, dk pan/NKO, Doug Nufer, ticktock with Sculpture by Miguel Edwards, Ellen Welcker, Eric John Olson, Dr. Calamari and Acrophelia, Greg Bem, ilvs strauss, Jennifer Law and Toby Cohen, Jenna Bean Veatch, Jodee Adams-Moore, John Boylan, Josh Peterson, Kate Fernandez, Fruition Productions, Kathleen Skeels, Keely Isaak Meehan, Kelly Igoe, Ken Turner, Kristin Tollefson, Laura Becker and Evan Blackwell, Mandy Greer, Maridee Slater, Meg Hartwig, Mike Katell, Mike McCracken, soikowski research/performance, Rick Araluce, Robb Kunz, Sara Edwards, Sarah DeWeerdt, Sarah Ferreter and Katherine Wimble, Sarah Kavage and Adria Garcia, Saskia Delores, Vis-a-Vis Society, Stephen Roxborough, Steve Leroux, Bear and Beaster, Susan Balshor, Valet Design, Titanium Sporkesta, Tom de Beauchamp
Food: Regional food trucks and produce vendors will be on hand, so bring your cash! We will also provide grills and charcoal to cook your own.
CAMPING: BYO gear!
Tickets: Gates open at 12 noon on Saturday August 13. Tickets are available online at Brown Paper Tickets: http://www.brownpaperticks.com/event/171964
Parking is limited – carpooling is recommended.
DISCOUNT OPTION: Bike to the farm and pay only $15! Available only at the gate with bike! (Be sweaty..)
The Smoke Farm Venue: As the Farm is invested in conservation and habitat restoration as part of its mission, a lo-tech or no-tech; pack it in, pack it out ethos is central to our approach to the land. A 360 acre former dairy farm in a serene river valley situated outside Arlington, WA; Smoke Farm focuses on supporting art, science, and philosophy through creative engagement and community work as a project of the Rubicon Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization.
Just a reminder, if you are out and about during Capital Hill’s art walk, please stop into The Project Room and visit from 5 pm – 8 pm for some Community Crocheting!
At 6 pm join artist Cameron Anne Mason for a talk on the how and why she creates pattern in fabric, as she returns to TPR after her dyeing demo this past weekend
EVERY last crochet event I have held through the last several years of projects has had a slightly or radically different sense of group dynamics, I can’t help but notice it, sometimes it’s striking. Some people naturally and effortlessly and generously make other people comfortable. I can’t say exactly that I have that skill, but it seemed like last weeks crochet party on August 2nd was a magnet for people who quietly yet energetically like to get to know about others around them. It was wonderful to watch unfold. So thank you, you congenial bunch! And I know I’ll see you again, because you all told me you’d be back and I take you at your words!
Anyone wanting to learn to crochet, or learn to crochet more intuitively, or learn about the ever-unfolding spirit of human community, please stop in tomorrow, August 9th from 3:30 – 7:30. And join in!
And just a note, though I haven’t changed it on the Calendar of Events yet, I am cutting next week’s crochet party on August 16th short, just till 6pm, because it’s my son’s birthday and we are going on a date. Thanks for understanding the change.
My ‘Guest Artist’ calendar of events continues to evolve, and I am realizing I can’t do everything I want to do, and visit with everyone that I want to share ideas with, just during this 7 weeks. The ‘guest artist’ idea came out of having this fantastic space available to me, and a platform to mess with ideas, but now I am seeing, it can and should and will continue beyond the limited time period of my residency at The Project Room. It takes away my sense of urgency when contacting people – (“I have this idea I want to develop with you, let’s make it happen NOW!!”) – to letting things develop as they need to. But despite that shift in thinking, I’m going to do as much, and share as much with whomever chooses to join in for the next month! So, I have a bevy of Calendar updates, some coming up very soon! And there will continue to be updates…!
- THIS SAT! August 6th, Solstenen Guest Artist Event, 11 am -3 pm : Join me in a Learning Demo in “low-tech/low water dyeing” from fabric artist and dyeing genius Cameron Anne Mason
- THIS SUN! August 7th, Solstenen Guest Artist Event, 1pm – 3 pm-ish: Join me in a ’round table’ chat (with pie) about “Artists Who Interview” with Joey Veltkamp, Saskia Delores, Tessa Hulls, Sharon Arnold and Amanda Manitach
- August 11th, Thursday, Solstenen Guest Artist Event and Community Crochet, 5 – 8pm; drop in during Blitz Capital Hill Arts Walk for crocheting, and at 6pm join artist Cameron Anne Mason for a follow-up talk after her demo on the how and why she creates pattern in fabric
- August 13th, Saturday, All-day, Join Solstenen off-site for Community Crochet at theLo-Fi Arts Festival-”Not to Scale”, Smoke Farm, Arlington Washington
- August 15th – 20th, Guest Artist Working, Amanda Manitach will be working in the studio with me, using The Project Room’s large lovely walls for drawing, and other things! Amanda’s hours: M, T, Th, Fr, S; 12 -5 pm
- August 24th, Wednesday, Guest Artist Event, 6pm – 10pm; MAN NIGHT Crochet! Hosted by Paul Margolis (who taught me to crochet for real), retired UW Ceramic Tech Master Dick Law, and gentleman fiber artist and art collector Robert Andrew Shavin . Men teaching men to not fear the hook, the needle, the yarn, the thread. Novices encouraged! Bringing your own projects encouraged as well!
Please join us all at The Project Room!
Man, lately the grant deadline schedule has run a steamroller through my available time and head space for blog writing and getting my thoughts down. I know the Solstenen residency at The Project Room is supposed to be about how these large things get made, and the grants are just part of it, but they eat and eat at the precious set-aside-hours for making, and I am chomping at the bit for that writing time, to translate my chicken scratch into something readable…The week has sped by.
It is time already for another crochet party, tomorrow, Tuesday August 2nd! Last week’s was so lively, with neighbors connecting, and an impromptu pot-luck spread, and past and new crocheters. Thank you, thank you to those folks who just keep coming, with fabric and yarn donations and an openess to just spending some time making. I hope to see you again tomorrow!
Kim is a speed demon with the crochet hook…
Katherine has been knitting, because that’s what suits her, and she kindly brought some homemade bread.
I am stunned that I have now been in residence at The Project Room for two full weeks, it has both been a flurry of activity on many levels and also sped by with me still trying to find a rhythm in all the roles I am trying to negotiate. I began a bit last week taking daily notes and quick snap-shots of what I was working on…I’m not sure if I will continue that but I will try (I still need to edit and examine…and log that stuff in here.)
There now seems to be a steady stream of visitors, people checking to see just what TPR is, and also a number of people curious about the sandwich board with ‘learn to crochet’. I get a thrill of pleasure telling people it’s free, and also convincing those few who are apprehensive that they can learn it! The Seattle Times mention brought in several people with the article snipped out of the paper (I love that practice, even with smart phones and whatever…clipping the paper still has a pull).
With just two weeks and three Community Crochet events past, the sense that people are returning again and again to join in is heartening. The flurry of activity will continue, I’ll try to do too much, but in September back in the quiet (sometimes) of my own studio, I am imagining the giant tangle of silver and gray I’ll have to bend to my will, made by friends old and new.
Dancer/aerialist Elizabeth Rose of ticktock dance dropped in with her cute date!
Writer/Artist/Adventurer Tessa Hulls will be painting in The Project Room for the next few days preparing for an upcoming show of her highly detailed gouache paintings inspired, in part, by her travels. If you have stopped in to TRP the last week, you might have seen her hard at work. Her show opens on August 5th at Evo’s Timesinfinity Gallery, at 122 Northwest 36th Street, Seattle from 6-9pm, so she will be working extra hard, because she is also preparing to head off to Antarctica to work in a research station kitchen. The ‘Adventurer’ title is no joke.
Tessa will also be a part of a round-table discussion I will be hosting very soon here at TPR about “Artists That Interview”, on August 8th at 4:30pm 7th at 1pm, along with Sharon Arnold, Saskia Delores, Joey Veltkamp and Amanda Manitach. Since I’m incorporating the interview format into my Solstenen project learning process, I want to pick these brains, and just hear about what brought them to incorporating interviewing into their art practice. Though I don’t have a broad understanding of this, it seems to me just one more example of creative people filling a void in the Seattle art/creative world that needed filling. We’ll find out more…
I met Tessa when she approached me about an interview for Redefine Magazine surrounding my recent show at Roq La Rue Gallery, ‘Honey and Lightening’. When she came to my studio, I was really almost taken aback at how much she had researched my work, and her attention to detail, and willingness to draw out some difficult things to articulate. Her article brings to the surface small details that are significant to me, but quite subtle and usually overlooked. It was a marked difference from some of the off-the cuff writing I have seen about myself in the press over the years in Seattle. I know that is a particular approach, to not research the artist, but the inaccuracies have been bizarre to read! So I want to know why and how she does this, and maintains her connection to her own work and a connection to a wandering life as a compulsive traveler. Each of the other artist/interviewers on the panel have a very different approach to the process of digging deeper into an artist’s work and process, so I am looking forward to stretching my own abilities as I begin to use this tool to learn about why others make what they do.
Anyhow, come visit Tessa as she works here during the open studio hours at TPR; M, W, Th, Fr. 10:30 am – 2:30 pm. Tessa usually is in around 11am…
My goodness, a full week in The Project Room, trying to settle into many roles in the Solstenen project, and I obviously must like the juggling, I seek it out in thing after thing! It has been a week full of the admin side of being an almost self-supporting maker, writing grants and following up email needs, and this and that and that and this. I also got to write and think about the work of the Defornament artists, and have bursts of excited chit chat about all that we seem to share in our practices as artists, and I look forward to a more in-depth written exchange between us all for my little interview project. It was a busy week, and I haven’t yet sorted through the flurry of documenting images of the last crochet party, and it’s already another one! Please join me this Tuesday the 26th, 3:30-7:30pm, as I try to unwind into the role of maker and teacher, with your help!
Please stop by The Project Room tonight from 6-9pm (you can get in around the CH Block Party!). Join us for a talk about ‘why/how they make things’ by the ‘Defornament’ artists – Amanda Manitach, Derrick Jefferies, Ellen Garvens - and a launch party for LxWxH, as well as a show-n-tell by Derrick Jefferies of his fascinating process. All the artists have installed new work, and in some incredibly gorgeous parings!
The Project Room and the Solstenen project opened last Thursday July 14th with a crush of warm feelings from supporters and people excited about the new energetic art space on Capital Hill. I saw many people I’ve met through my crochet parties from the past few years, many artist friends and art supporters, and some people just curious about the lively activity going on inside!
Thank you to everyone who stopped by, and for some really generous donations of new materials to work with (some very special handmade garments/linens I’m looking forward to dyeing and deconstructing and reconstructing!)
One thing I hadn’t realized until people started coming in and I was setting them in motion crocheting; usually at crochet parties I am a lot farther along in a project and I have an agenda/need (“need more thick ropes, need round parts, need ruffles”). This crochet party was essentially the very first stitch of this new work, literally. I was shrugging my shoulders, ‘the concepts are developing, so please just enjoy crocheting’, was about all I could say. Take pleasure in the materials, think of it as doodling or drawing, just play. Usually this messing around for me is done alone, in private. The first shrug of my shoulders, I felt a bit vulnerable, ‘shouldn’t I know?!’. No. It all starts this way, all generative work, not knowing. Especially with this work, I want to fend off the external and internal impetuous to ‘know’ everything, especially with the environmental installation component of the project to take place in Iceland. I want to respond intuitively to a place I find; yes, with thread and ropes of time spent where I came from, like the baggage we literally and figuratively drag everywhere. But still to push and push to stay in the moment of the environment.
So thank you everyone for just diving in; it seemed people were excited to just be with the process and be with each other.
Thank you Project Room family Van Nostrands and Smiths!
There is a subtext to many of my discussions about this project of mine, about blending daily life, family and a passion for ideas and making. I really feel quite privileged to get to watch Jess Van Nostrand kick ass at this delicate dance we do to carve out a place where we can do what we need to do feed our work.
Much gratitude! And please join me again on Tuesday July 19th, 3:30-7:30pm, as we do it all again!