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An Interview with the Edmonton Arts Council– Portraits in String

This past April the Edmonton Arts Council did a blog feature about my string portrait project and ‘making Dallas’ video, which you can read here!

I am ever grateful to them for supporting, and sharing my work through the grant and the short article they wrote. Before it was published, the writer sent me a series of questions which provided a nice opportunity for reflection about last year, my art,  and the project itself. A few snippets were featured in the write-up, but I thought I would share the full interview here , too. For anyone curious, enjoy:

Why do you prefer to work in non-traditional materials?


I see it as an opportunity for connecting the artwork back out with the real world. When someone works in paint or pastel, the primary association with that is in the artistic field. But when I include something like a piece of garbage or outdated medical supply or a children’s craft object in my art, suddenly there are all these layers of associations and connections by virtue of that choice alone. You really see this in the work of artists like Vik Muniz & Brian Jungen, whose choices of material inform the message of their art immensely.


There is something special about objects that are cheap/found/mass-produced/designed for children. Somehow, when working with such seemingly valueless and common items, I get a sense that there is a stripping down of the sanctity of Fine Art. This appeals to me because I fundamentally believe that the arts should bring people in, not push them away. When there is a piece that incorporates wax crayon, for instance, there is something largely relatable for people as this is a creative tool given to children. And as all children are artists, perhaps nodding to this shared nostalgia creates some kind of common ground.


In you application, you spoke of the physical properties of string and how it reflects the messiness of life. Is there anything personally that drew you to this medium?


There is definitely an element of nostalgia for me working with string. Someone once told me that you can tell a lot about where an artist grew up simply by the colours to which they gravitate. I’m not sure whether or not that is true but I would agree that nostalgia and sense of place can be huge factors when someone is “tapping in” creatively, whatever that looks like. I grew up in a household where my mother quilted. Textiles, embroidery and fine craft adorned the walls. And although I don’t sew, knit, crochet, or seem to have any kind of crafting skills or aptitudes, I am instinctively drawn to fibre.


I love the richness of texture that can be created with fibre, and a lot of this has to do with the fact that it catches and tangles. It makes a beautiful metaphor for relationships in that I think there is beauty in the complex, vulnerable imperfect web of interactions that draw people together and make us who we are.


You created the work during your residency at the University of Alberta, how do you think this affected your wok compared to creating in your own studio?


My residency at the UofA had pros and cons but all in all I think it was a learning experience for me.  The program is not used to hosting visual artists and is not well set up to accommodate visual arts production unless it happens to be small, tidy, and self-contained. Unfortunately that is not how I tend to operate in the studio. It didn’t feel like my space, or a safe space for creative work. As a result, I got very little done in terms of creation.

What the residency did give me, however, was the opportunity to really delve into research- I read, reflected and wrote a lot– about my process, about other artists, and especially about portraiture as it relates to the social sciences. I spent lots of time reading theories on identity,  human interaction, and the mind and then connecting them back to my creative practice and artwork itself.


How did you find your workshops: where they well received / did they inspire your own work?


I absolutely loved the opportunity to facilitate workshops and invite people into the arts-based research studio. For example, in my workshop on creating imagery in mixed media I invited people into the method of working with string that I’ve honed over a number of years. What the participants came up with using that as a starting point was so inspiring and fascinating. Everyone- from the 9 year old participant to the university staff who dropped in, found their own voice & people came up with new ways of interacting with the materials that I had never even thought of myself.


I also enjoyed the weekly drop in art studio because it was relaxed, casual and diverse. We had people working on everything from building a model airplane to working on a piece of choreography en pointe. There was this great energy of being ‘alone together’, but there were also opportunities to bounce ideas around. It felt almost like being in some kind of creative crock-pot.


Where there any unexpected outcomes from this project?


One of the unexpected outcomes actually came into being during the open studio  at the ABRS. I was working on one of my string portraits and one of the participants casually mentioned how cool they thought it would be to see its creation from start to finish. Another person who happened to be in the studio that day, Marc Moreau, is a real techy clever  guy. After hearing the comment, Marc piped up that he had experience setting up time-lapse videos and would be happy to help me do that.


Suddenly, between me getting used to having creative company and the spatial requirements of a time-lapse set up, my little closet-sized basement studio was not going to do. We found a small garage, converted it into a sort of white-box theatre space, and started taking many many pictures. So that is how the video happened- It’s not something I had planned on doing, but it turned out to be an engaging pursuit in the end.


When I moved out of the garage space my friend and fellow artist Shawn Zinyk & I, painted a space-dinosaur-robot mural on the wall as a thank you so that was another unexpected outcome.


What is the future of this work?


I would love to expand into colour, as well as figure out ways of incorporating interviews and more interactive components into my future portraits. For now, though, I think the main thing is finding exhibition opportunities for this series. I’ve been holed up in the studio for a while now and it’s been wonderful- but I’d love to share my work with others as well in a more public setting.

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