Monday, March 15, 2010

Judith Baumann

Judith Baumann is the latest artist here on Life, the Universe and Art. Hailing from Buffalo, NY and currently residing in Olympia Washington, where she teaches Print Media at Evergreen State College. She is also the Gallery director at Northern: An Olympia All Ages Project, Olympia, Washington a non profit gallery that she helped open in May 2009. Judith's work uses digital and Serigraphy printmaking techniques to draw attention to pop and consumer culture through a lens of humor that juxtaposes a critical cultural critique with mass media. She has been the recipient of a grant for the Vermont Studio Center as well as Virginia Museum of Fine Art Professional Fellowship Grant Recipient. Her exhibitions include Washington Project for the Arts/ Corcoran, Washington, D.C., Stefan Stux Gallery,New York, Boston Museum School, Massachusetts, Delaware Center For the Contemporary Art as well as The Basement Gallery in Knoxville, TN.

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1. Your work, and in particular your body of work “When Appliances Attack” uses an overt and an almost slapstick humor. How do you see this functioning for your viewer? Is there a purpose for the humor for you? What tradition does this come from?

“When Appliances Attack” was the body of work I created for my graduate thesis show at Virginia Commonwealth University, so I think of it more now as a kind of reference point for my current work. Everyone loves humor and wielded well, humor and sarcasm are powerful weapons. The saturated colors in the majority of the work, with the exception of the more subtle washing and drying machine triptych, are inviting and fun. I can’t take credit for that – it’s contemporary industrial design… bright, shiny, plastic stuff. For me, humor makes work approachable. The series is critiquing the settling and taming of inhospitable tracts of land in the American Southwest. The environmental and ecological impact of essentially colonizing these arid areas, depleting water sources and solely relying on the transportation of all goods and services to the region is astounding and unsustainable. Using humor is the only way to address such a statement in a visual way without using a crowbar on your viewer’s head. Humor and satire have been a tradition of subversive artistic expression since before the printing press, although in more clandestine ways. I think satirical, funny art is inherently the people’s art.

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2. In “When Appliances Attack” you have massing of the objects that creates a unique aesthetic within the body of work. What was your methodology? And what was the ideology behind the massing?

The massing was meant to underscore the amount of variations in the same basic appliance for a given year. All of the images of vacuum cleaners, lawn mowers and washing and drying machines were collected from online retail websites between October 2004 and March 2005. How many options does an average vacuum cleaner really need to have? The formations of the appliances were influenced by vintage science fiction posters, The Lord of the Rings trilogy and my fascination with the act of collection and hoarding. The ubiquitous nature of the appliances – the exact same model can be purchased throughout the country – highlights the homogenization of America, the growing dichotomy between the nation’s upper and lower middle classes (not to mention between the truly rich and truly poor), and our fascination with stuff that may or may not have any value in our particular geological region (lawnmowers in the Southwest).


3. In your “Travels with John” body of work, you again employ humor to engage the viewer. However, the way the humor functions is very different than that in “When Appliances Attack”. What is this difference and how did this develop?

The “Travels with John” body of work, which is in perpetual development it seems, came out of a lonely, isolated stretch of time for me. During this time, I re-read John Steinbeck’s seminal “Travels with Charley,” in which the author travels the country with his standard poodle, Charley, in search of ‘real America’ and the people living there. Almost 50 years since the original publication date, the novel mirrored my growing concerns with the problems facing our country: the rapid development of land, depletion of natural resources, mass media’s influence over culture, the control of big government over the nation’s decision making bodies, and deforestation and its environmental impact, among many other political and social observations relevant still to the 21st century. Like Steinbeck, I have perpetual wanderlust and a great love of this country. I decided that I needed to start some sort of documentation on all my travels, weekend or otherwise. First, though, I needed a traveling partner. Since I don’t have a dog and I’m more of a solitary adventure seeker, I decided an imaginary roadside companion would be best. I thought of artists I admired and wanted to learn from, who I would want to imagine having long conversations in the car with, and who I could start to imagine seeing our travels through their eyes. John Baldessari was my first choice, his name also played nicely into the John Steinbeck reference. We did a test drive of course, to see how we would get along in my tiny hatchback Hyundai accent. We had a few quibbles but mostly it just felt… right. Therefore, the documents of my travels don’t simply reflect my humor, but the imaginary combination of my humor with John Baldessari’s.

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4. “Travels with John” plays with the idea of absence and presence in its aesthetic appearance. What was your methodology? Is the aesthetic informed by your content? And how do you think John Baldessari would respond to the work?

The whole series really delves into my over-active imagination, which of course is based on absence. “Travels with John” is the second in my “art fan art” series, the first of which was a copulation between Dave Hickey, Google and his theories surrounding art criticism. The images in “Travels with John” reference Baldessari’s graphic portraits and film stills in which he replaces recognizable characteristics and visual content with flats of varying bold colors. I apply John’s perceived aesthetic to the landscape in reference to time and physical space. In the deserts of New Mexico, horizon lines are obliterated by swaths of green, almost making sky and sand indistinguishable. On the wild coasts of Washington, haystack formations are blocked out of the landscape by reds and yellows, hinting at the eroded horizon line thousands of years from now. In Northern California, Redwoods are obliterated, wildlife is extinct and the tides deposit candy colored pollutants on the shores. All original images are taken in true snapshot fashion, altered later through digital imaging and screen-printing. Again, the tongue in cheek nature of this series (and its art-world reference) makes the political and environmental content digestible, if not immediately apparent.

I would hope that John would chuckle.

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5. You are trained as a printmaker and teach printmaking, but your work encompasses an extension into other media, specifically I am referring to your work “Blog-Thing Self Portrait”. What are the differences in how you approach printmaking and digital media in your work? Is there a place where prints and digital media meet ideologically, and methodologically? What are the differences for you as a maker, which is more fulfilling as an artist and why?

When printmaking and digital media collide, the term printmedia is conveniently conceived. That’s the realm I work in. I do not consider myself a ‘printmaker’ nor do I actively use traditional printmaking in my work. All methods of printmaking were created to disseminate information, from the earliest relief printing to typesetting, intaglio and lithography. As each of these commercial mediums were surpassed by another, artisans and artists adapted the techniques to create new, unique editions of art on paper, for the purpose of fine art alone. Digital printing and the advent of the Internet have now usurped traditional printmaking’s ideological role, questioning even the relevance of the term ‘edition.’ Traditional printmaking is extremely process oriented and technical in nature, which for me often hinders conceptual development in image making, unless that image directly relates to the process itself. When teaching, I often talk about ‘image appropriateness’ for the technique I’m giving instruction in. Intaglio has its own aesthetic, as does crayon drawn images on litho stones, and halftone images in serigraphy. That’s not to say that one cannot push the boundaries of those mediums, or even combine them but in general, highly detailed stencils just don’t look good as aquatints. In my work, I combine digital photographs, internet based imagery and graphic design standards. I compose on the computer (my ‘matrix’) and digitally output through high quality ink jet printers (my ‘press’) on traditional fine art rag papers (my ‘substrate’). Just as much technical skill and preparation go into my image-making as traditional printmaking, and I will argue with any die hard printmaker who questions the attention to detail, patience and problem solving ability that using digital inkjet printers entails. Currently, working in the digital realm just makes sense with the visual components and concepts I’m using as an artist.

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Top Ten list of Influences

1. Friends finding and fearlessly following their own life’s trip.
2. The DIY ethos
3. “Walden” by Henry David Thoreau
4. My students, when they work hard, make mistakes and learn from them.
5. All the radical, feminist women in Olympia, Washington
6. Andy Warhol
7. Summer in the Pacific Northwest
8. “The Americans” by Robert Frank
9. Growing up in Buffalo, NY
10. Joel Sternfeld’s “American Prospects,” Alec Soth’s “Sleeping By The Mississippi” and Bill Owen’s “Suburbia.”

What are your current projects?

My current project includes abstract CMYK serigraphs of famous explosions on film post 9-11 and hand drawn halftone-pattern landscapes. John and I will also be traveling to The Spiral Jetty over spring break. John read a post on Craigslist’s rideshare that Robert Smithson needs a lift to Olympia.

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List of works
1. Descent of the Lawnmowers! No. 3, Giclee Print, 30" x 44", 2005
2. Invasion of the Washing and Drying Machines! No.1, Giclee Print, 30" x 44", 2005
3. Baldessari Staring at the Shore, No.1, Digital Print and Serigraph, 19" x 13", 2007-09
4. Baldessari Lost in the desert, No.1, Digital Print and Serigraph, 19" x 13", 2007-09
5. Blog Things Self Portrait No. 2, Digital Print, 13" x 19", 2006
6. Blog Things Self Portrait No. 1, Digital Print, 13" x 19", 2009
7. Baldessari Camping at the Coast, No.1, Digital Print and Serigraph, 19" x 13", 2007-09

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Will Luers

Will Luers is the latest artist here on Life, the Universe and Art. Currently residing with his wife and kids in Portland, Oregon, Will is a native of Washington DC. He received his MFA in Film from Columbia University, and his undergrad from the university of Pennyslvania. He recently finished an artist-in-residency at the Digital, Technology and Culture program at Washington State University Vancouver. Will's exhibitions include the Media Arts show at the Electronic Literature Organization as well as Pixelodeon. His extensive teaching record includes Parson's School of Design, Hunter College, Portland State University, Pacific University. Will's work explores the materiality of cinema as it intersects with the internet through spatial montage, asynchronous loops, seriality, hyperlinking and locative media.

To view the videos, click on the picture. This will navigate you to the videos. To return back to Life, click on your return button.

1. You situate your work as net cinema poetics. What does this definition involve? How does this concept inform the way you create work? What constitutes the ideology behind net cinema poetics?

“Net cinema”, rather than just “online video”, is net art that draws on the basic elements of cinematic language: duration, montage and framed space. The network opens up all these other possibilities: spatial montage, the non-linearity of the database, generative montage, loops and short durations (5-10 seconds).

The poetics of net cinema is what I have decided to explore with my writing and video work on I think of this blog as a brain gym, to keep alive my cinematic thinking muscles. Just like the real gym, I have to constantly argue with myself to go workout, but I always feel much better when I do. I think my “ideology” is that cinema history has given us - all of us - a powerful and universal tool to express, think, play and share on a global stage. Before we rush to find the new show business models on the internet, lets see what else can be done. There may be many new forms of cinema art waiting to be invented. And even new ways to monetize those forms.

2. Alot of your work, in particular Foliage and Steam, Light, Grid has a finely developed aesthetic that exposes the materiality of the digital. What does the material manifestation, the form and function of the digital, conceptually construct within your work? How does this affect your process of creating works?

I should say that what gets me working productively is when my intentions get out of the way. With Foliage, I was walking in a forest with my kids on an exceptionally clear Fall day. I started collecting video of the light playing on the leaves. It was many weeks later that I brought everything into Final Cut and started playing around with the materiality of the images. It struck me that the pixelate effect did three things to the image of the autumn leaves. It separated the colors into very clean abstract panels that pulsated with light. It created a natural grid with which to layer images. And it gave me an easy digital metaphor for what happens to a leaf’s color when it breaks down on a cellular level. So all of this was a discovery. With Steam, Light Grid, it was a similar process of discovery. It is only in the final post-production stages that I really know what I am doing. The surprise is what keeps me interested all the way through.

3. Steam, Light, Grid and The Walking Man, both employ scenes of the everyday, juxtaposed and interspersed in fragments. How do the everyday fragments conceptually operate within your work? How do these visual fragments function for your viewer? And how doe they relate to the digital materiality of your work?

A feature production will spend a lot of money on creating an illusion of everyday. When there is no budget, as is the case with most videobloggers, one’s microcosm becomes the subject of the work. And what a rich subject. I have spent over fifteen years as a struggling screenwriter. I enjoy writing dramatic stories for the “big” screen, but you have to rely on your own mind for source material. Inside the everyday there is an endless field of potential images. It is still a struggle to get outside of abstractions and really see what is in front of you, but as a way to collect material for post-production, the everyday is extremely generous.

I feel the need to run the material through a digital grinder and see what forms come out the other end. One of those grinders is spatial montage, juxtaposing multiple frames within a single larger frame. I guess fragmenting the images in this way keeps me from identifying to easily with their everydayness. Art wants to make the familiar, unfamiliar.

4. Rhythmic sound drives the structure of your works, especially in West Loop and Strange loop. How did you develop the sound for these pieces and how does the sound create and affect the form of the piece?

I want to work at integrating sound earlier in the process. Right now, sound is an afterthought. In the loops you mentioned, I simply searched my iTunes library for fragments that might fit. I then threw these into the timeline, slowed things down, sped things up, etc. A very similar process to how I work with the images. These loops were also remixed fragments of old movies, so I was thinking of appropriate sounds for particularly movie genres.

5. In The Walking Man, you collaborated with Joel Sugerman. This piece is strucured in nine phases, how does each phase function? The sound of the piece utilizes a distinct digital material voice contrasted with human fragments, how does the sound function in relation to the image for you? Also, how has this collaboration informed your practice? How was this different from your solo work? What were the benefits of this artistic collaboration? What were the difficulties of this collaboration?

Joel Sugerman is a very talented (and funny) actor who was staying with me for a month. I always wanted to do a project with him, but I didn’t have any clear idea. So he and I created a character who was a wide-eyed tourist visiting Portland. We would go out into the city and I would take video with my pocket camera of him interacting with the locations. Sometimes I had him do things, but mostly it was me documenting his improvisations.

I had recently read quite a lot about psychogeography and surrealist urban walks for a workshop on locative art, so I was headed in that direction. I think our ambition was to reinvent 1920’s slapstck as a net art form. That naturally led to playing with speed and changing the video to high contrast black and white. Then the multiple panels produced some interesting effects. That is when I started to write the digital voice as a commentary on walking in the city – a smooth textbook voice trying to explain and control how we experience the world. I was trying to provide some narrative unity to something quite random. In contrast to the voice, the multiple images stutter and jolt in a way that is more like life, even though as representation it is very artificial. In a way, the series became about the process of making it: the futile attempt to manage experience with technology. I am mostly pleased with it, because it gives me a path for creating stories that don’t rely on the traditional narrative shooting/cutting methods. I am very much looking forward to working with actors (especially with Joel) again.

6. How has the employment of locative technologies in your work informed your practice? Has it changed the way you create and think about the work of art? Because your work, tends to talk not only about poetics but also about the materiality of the digital, how how the use of locational technologies manifested with these two conceptual veins in your work? How does the definition of a narrative walk affect the process of making, as opposed to the poetics of your work?

Mobile applications will make it very easy to plant video in space, like you would a geocache. I am intrigued by the idea of having to walk to get to a new chapter or episode in a series. The problem is the story (or game) has to be pretty compelling. I think we might see geotagged video be a part of larger cross-platform works, like Alternate Reality Games. But then again, for anyone who has ever geocached, it is not the treasure so much as the hunt that is so gratifying. One of the challenges of net cinema in a world of sensory overload is how to reinvent the visible. One way is through fragmentation, collage, and remixing. Locative cinema offers another way by integrating screen space with movement in real space.

Top Ten List
In no particular order:

1. The community of video-art bloggers (too many to name) – we encourage each other to make things and share them
2. Raul Ruiz (esp. Poetics of Cinema 1 & 2) – combinatory cinema, pluralizing narrative sequences
3. Jacques Rivette (everything) – a cinema of being
4. Laura Riding Jackson (Progress of Stories) – stories about the stories about being
5. Samuel Beckett (short works for television) – condensed messy dramas, repetition, clarity of image
6. Eija-Liisa Ahtila – condensed dramas with spatial montage
7. Roy Ascott (Telematic Embrace) – generative art, “fields of meaning”
8. Bill Viola (esp. I Do Not Know What It Is I Am Like) – video as a tool of perception
9. Adrian Miles (vog manifesto) – pioneer thinker about networked video
10. Mark Amerika (Professor VJ, Meta/Data) - net art as life practice, remixology

7. What are your current projects?

I have five or six projects I am working on. One or two will arrive someplace interesting. I am designing some small walk projects. A series made of 12 second episodes. The same old “new media” question keeps nagging me: how are we going to tell stories/create experiences that combine text, images, video, audio and now spatial co-ordinates? I am working on more narrative ideas, but that still explore the non-linearity of database structure. It’s very hard because storytelling is about control, and the database is about giving up control. It is the tension that I wake with every morning – how much to plan, how much to leave to chance.

List of Works
1. Still from Foliage, 2008
2. Still from Steam, Light, Grid,2008
3. Still from Westward,2008
4. Still from Walking Man, 2009
5. Picture from Narrative Walks, 2008
6. Picture from The Father Divine Project, 2008

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Blake Carrington

Blake Carrington is the latest artist here on Life, the Universe and Art. A native of Indiana, Blake is currently finishing up an MFA at Syracuse University in Transmedia. Blake's work explores the intersections between cultural/physical geography, and human/digital perceptual systems. His extensive exhibition record includes Solvent Space, Richmond VA, Canal Autor, Madrid Spain, Rochester Contemporary Art Center, Rochester NY, The Lab, San Francisco CA, Atlantic Center for the Arts, New Smyrna Beach FL, NeMe Independent Museum of Contemporary Art, Cyprus, and University of Toronto Blackwood Gallery amongst many others. Blake is also one third of the artist collective Avalanche Collective, whose most recent exhibition was at the University of Georgia. Here, Blake talks about some of his recent work, it's performative aspect and his influences in this latest interview.

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1. Within your work, and I am thinking of particularly of Sky and Wires (At Home and Homeless) it seems as though you are taking the language of audio, that of composition, and allowing that to establish your visuals. How has this developed within your work? How do the visual and audio interplay with each other in your process?

I often think about a statement made by R. Murray Schafer in his 1977 book “The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World”. He encouraged awareness of the fact that all visual projections of sound are arbitrary and fictitious. This fact is even truer today, as transcoding from audio to video and vice versa is accomplished quite easily with programs such as Max/MSP/Jitter. Extrapolating from a conversation strictly about data-conversion, I believe this element of the arbitrary is echoed in our own perceptual faculties. Though our visual and aural faculties process sensory input in very different ways, they both lead to a heavily filtered image or sound in consciousness that may have very little in common with the external terrain. Because that external terrain is neither visual nor aural, our consciousness of it as such is a fiction.

Specifically concerning the relationship between sound and image in my work, I draw an analogy of two opposing riverbanks, existing independently but in parallel. These parallel trajectories connect at intervals via some kind of bridge. In general the sound and image have rhythms and flows of their own, which relate to the other in a way not unlike classical counterpoint.

2. Performances of electronic media techniques is prevalent in your work. How does working with digital technologies inform the performative aspect of your work? Is the performance composed prior, or do you let it develop in the moment?

I generally work within a pre-composed structure that allows for some amount of improvisation. Working with electronic technologies and performance one must consider two issues. The first concerns the performer’s interface with the instrument. The second concerns the performer’s interface with the audience. These points are only problematic in that they require a different approach and reception than one used by acoustic performers and audiences. In the first case, where a cellist has a sensual connection with the sounds emanating from the cello, a laptop musician is sensually detached from the synthesis of sound. In the second case, where a guitarist can energize a stadium with extravagant windmills and banging-of-the-head, a laptop musician may appear to be checking his email.

As a remedy for this lack of an intuitive interface between instrument, performer and audience some artists have focused on creating systems with custom hardware and software Taeji Sawai’s spotlight interface and Jean Michel Jarre’s “Laser Harp” are two examples that come to mind. These tools allow a greater amount of improvisation, and give the audience a more visceral connection between the performer’s body and the sound generated. I experimented with this approach with “ATS01: Wisp”, where I used light sensor input from a desk lamp to control a projected visual synthesis, while placing myself in front and center of the audience. However, with “You Would Do As Well Never Moving From Here” I felt the amount of information being transmitted by audio and video would already be reaching the audience’s bandwidth capacity. To also draw attention to my body would cause an overload of information. In general I try to find an optimum balance of information density between sound, image and body.

3. You have a very developed aesthetics in your work that causes the viewer to question perceptibility; this is especially prevalent in your piece ATS01:WISP. How has your aesthetic practice developed?

Ideas relating to cultural and physical geography, human and digital perceptual systems, and noise and signal combine to form the basis of my aesthetic and conceptual decisions. As I mentioned above, this questioning of perception can be correlated to a questioning of the geographic spaces we inhabit. Along this line, one can draw an analogy between the information processing that takes place in perceptual and geographic systems. A human being takes in sensory data from the environment, the ultimate HD system. From the start this data is filtered by our sensory faculties. We can see only a narrow band of electromagnetic radiation, and we can only hear frequencies in the range of 20Hz to 20kHz. Our brain then processes this manifold of sensory data, and filters it down to an even smaller trickle that it deems important to present to our consciousness. Comparing this journey to that of creating a topographic map, one sees similarities. Again we start with the environment, the ultimate HD system. From the outset certain factors are selected to be included in the map. Is this map meant to convey physical, social, economic or political information? Let’s say it is meant to be a road map. Therefore, the cartographer may discard any data relating to the people living in the area. Furthermore, a map may not represent perfectly all elements within a given area. Even if one were to make a map on a 1:1 scale, as Lewis Carroll and Jorge Luis Borges have written about, one is still discarding information by converting a three-dimensional terrain to a two-dimensional representation. At any given scale the cartographer must decide what elements will be represented and what elements will be condemned to empty white space. In both human perception and in the construction of topographic maps, the fundamental process at play is the discarding of information.

Noise and signal are present at all stages of this analogy. The noise of the external environment is systematically filtered down to a signal of consciousness, or a signal of meaning. These processes inform my aesthetic practice, and provide a wealth of potential to draw metaphors from one field to the other.

4. Within your piece Progress Filter Decay, there is a tension between chance operations and a constructed environment, which also reflects back to the performative in your work. How important is the tension between chance and the constructed? What does that tension enable with your process?

In Progress Filter Decay that tension acts as a stand-in for ideas about order/entropy and progress/no-progress. The six audio tracks feature more or less intelligent human beings speaking about different kinds of progress, while an organism that hasn’t evolved significantly in 400 million years, the hissing cockroach, controls volume levels with seemingly arbitrary movement. The work was an experiment for me in setting up a system independent of myself and letting it run.

5. In You Would Do, the viewer is confronted with performance of four men, singing in barbershop style, and then with a video and audio performative piece that creates an intriguing dichotomy. This dichotomy seems very important to the conceptual base of your work. Where is this piece and its presentation situated conceptually? How has your work evolved conceptually? Is the conceptual in your influenced by the media in which it is created?

A phrase from Italo Calvino’s novel “Invisible Cities” provided the foundation for this work. In the novel, Marco Polo speaks with the aging Mongol emperor Kublai Khan, describing each of the cities of the Khan’s kingdom. Kublai, vexed by Marco’s fantastic descriptions of impossible spaces, responds, “My gaze is that of a man meditating, lost in thought --- I admit it. But yours? You cross archipelagos, tundras, mountain ranges. You would do as well never moving from here.”

I am intrigued by Calvino’s treatment of these impossible spaces, and with this work I attempted to create a synthetic topology of my own, using sound as a raw material. The raw material is localized in the first 20 seconds, as the vocal quartet sings the line. The rest of the performance then is a stretching out of this single phrase. With the extreme amount of stretching I performed on the recording, small pauses seem like wide valleys, and intricate harmonics shift gradually. Over the course of 20 minutes, a listener may oscillate back and forth between recognition of the source recording and immersion in the soundscape.

Regarding the influence that media have on my conceptual decisions, I feel that there is a constantly cycling feedback loop between the two. I work with audiovisual signals because that medium naturally suits my aesthetic and conceptual worldview, yet that worldview is shaped in large part by my interactions with technology.

6. You also work with the collaborative group Avalanche. How has working collaboratively informed your own practice?

Working with Christopher Gianunzio and Colin Todd as Avalanche Collective has forced me to think more socially about all of these issues। Where my own work exists in a realm of perception, our collaborative work exists in the cultural landscape. Our best ideas tend to come out of play, which is quite refreshing.

Top Ten List of Influences

In no particular order…

1. Italo Calvino, esp. “Invisible Cities”
2. Jorge Luis Borges, esp. “Library of Babel” and “On Exactitude in Science”
3. Tor Norretranders, “The User Illusion: Cutting Consciousness Down to Size”
4. Francis Alÿs
5. Carsten Nicolai a.k.a. Alva Noto
6. Curatorial work of Nato Thompson
7. Steve Reich
8. LaMonte Young
9. Topographic maps
10. Cultural geographers: Denis Cosgrove, Don Mitchell, James Duncan, Nancy Fraser

What are your current projects?

I’m currently working on a few things…a permanent outdoor sound installation for The Redhouse Art Center in Syracuse titled “Topoextension”, an audiovisual performance deriving sound from the architectural plans of medieval cathedrals titled “Cathedral Scan”, and a descendent of “ATS01: Wisp” that will produce real-time synthetic topologies derived from a feedback between sound and image.

For higher quality videos and more information on Blake visit his website.

List of Works
1. Still of performance You Would Do
2. Sky and Wires (At Home and Homeless), Video. 9m31s
3. Still from Sky and Wires (At Home and Homeless), Video. 9m31s
3. Still from AST01Wisp
4. AST01Wisp, Video documentation of performance, 6m08s
5. Video Documentation from Installation, Progress Filter Decay 2m39s
6. Still documentation from Installation, Progress Filter Decay
7. Still documentation from Installation, Progress Filter Decay
8. Video documentation from Performance, You Would Do, 3m33s
9. Still documentation from Performance, You Would Do
10.Still documentation from Performance, You Would Do
11. Video documentation, Avalanche Collective. Broad St. Gallery, University of Georgia, 1m59s
12. Still documentation, Avalanche Collective. Broad St. Gallery, University of Georgia
13. Still documentation from Performance, You Would
14. Still from performance AST01Wisp

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Deb Whistler

Deb Whistler is the latest artist here on life. Deb is currently Associate Professor and Chair of Art and Art History at Hanover College in Indiana. A Midwest native, Deb graduate from the University of Cincinnati with her MFA. Her work explores notions of existence and self-reflection through materiality and the artist mark. Her exhibitions include Coker College,B erea College, The Carnegie Visual and Performing Arts Center, South Bend Regional Museum of Art, as well as Suzanna Terrill Gallery , the Vizivarosi Gallery, Budapest, Hungary and the Vincent Price Museum in LA. Recently Deb was named artist of the year by the Southern Arts Council for 2007/08. Deb talks about her process and the meanings within her art here on Life, the Universe and Art..

1.Your work seems to talk about the transformation of materials; thin paper becomes something beyond a flat surface, has a mass and texture that is other than paper. How does the transformation of your materials inform the aesthetics of your work?

Transformation is a good word to describe my work and my use of paper. Many of my pieces contain a quiet history of a past life. The overall image is captured in a state of becoming something beyond what is expected. It peels back from the wall, it explodes from the light source or it spills out from above.

I have always been interested in what lies behind the façade. The mask that hides the truth, the potential of something to become or pretend to be something that it is not, and the length that we will go to fool, deceive and hide our true selves and our objectives.
The overall images and the way I use paper in my work, support this idea of camouflage. Paper masquerades as steel, rubber, smoke, thread, water, or cobwebs. I like that it is the material itself and not the image drawn on the paper that creates this illusion. My favorite response from the viewer is the surprise when discovering that it is only paper pretending to be something grand.

2.Within this body of work, the subtly with which you infer your imagery is intriguing. It is as though you are creating your own mythology. How have you developed this intricate mythology And what are your influences for that mythology?

Wow…that’s a great question… it hits right to the core.

As a child I struggled to make sense out of the world I lived in. I remember my childhood as silence; no one explained anything to me. This freed me to investigate my own explanations. There were two events during my early childhood that have affected my work and my search for what lies behind the curtain. The death of JFK, and the film The Wizard of OZ were experiences that lead me to question my own trust in what I perceived as truth and threatened my sense of security. I had no idea what a president was, but I assumed he was a GOD or the great and powerful OZ, someone who was an invincible ultimate power. I began to search for answers in order to regain my sense of security by combining pieces of information I had gathered from Sunday school lessons, fairy tales, observations from nature, Native American stories and Greek mythology that my grandmother had read to me. I found similarities in all of these stories and began to combine this information to create my own understanding of the structure of the world I lived in. These similarities included the notion that everything is not as it seems, you must take responsibility for your actions, evil is often disguised as goodness, goodness is often hidden or silent, beware of the shortcut, and the man behind the curtain is only a fictional safety net.

My current work continues to combine images taken from a variety of belief systems in hopes that the viewer will begin to find global connections. Most recently I have combined images from last judgment paintings, Chinese scrolls, Greek mythology, and nature to create my works.

3. You have a very distinct aesthetic that is almost meditative, that is the viewer must really look intently at it in order to fully see the delicate details of the work. How have you developed this? And what do you want the viewer to take from the experience of your work?

My usual flippant response to this question is my inability to commit to anything, but in reality I work very intentionally to entice the viewer to search and discover. This activity of searching in order to discover the truth supports the notion of creating an opinion based on a collection of information. I want my work to encompass the mysteries, the every changing, the complex and the overlooked. I use visual seduction as a way to mask the truth and also to encourage an intimate visual experience. The seduction of the work is intended to draw the viewer in close as they become lost in the details and seemingly random patterns. It is within these patterns that images are revealed and with each viewing, new interpretations or discoveries are made.

4. This body of work interacts with the environment around it, creating shadows, and reflections. In a sense the work is extended and becomes part of the environment. How have you developed this, and what does it create for you conceptually?

Peter Pan’s shadow had an independence that helped reveal his true character. I love the idea of a cast shadow and object being dependent on each other. There is a playful engagement between the two, as the cast shadow changes and distorts the original form. The cast shadow often becomes more interesting than its origin and causes you to compare the object to its counter part. The passive and the active roles wrestle for visual attention an ultimately define the object.
I also use reflection in a similar way. The mirror is used to reveal an inverted image of the object, offering the viewer a new perspective. This new perspective reveals visual information that would normally be hidden.

The object, shadow, reflection and placement become visually fused together and it is only when the viewer considers form in space that the whole is understood. I enjoy that the exterior forces of our surroundings can bring our attention to an otherwise invisible object and the objects existence is dependent on the space it occupies.

5. Your work has an adherence to the craft as well as the concept. How does the process of creating the work, the craftsmanship affect the aesthetics of the work? How have you developed your craftsmanship?

The craft and concept are dependent on each other. My process of making visually refers to purely decorative crafts such as crochet or lace. It is the complexity of my process that visually seduces the viewer to move in closer. The craft of my work is the visual hook, it is the familiar, something the viewer recognizes. I feel I am successful when the viewer moves from questioning how it was made, to questioning what it is. When the viewer begins to question, the complexity of the meaning is revealed.

The paper cutting process I use came directly from my wood cut process. I use the same mark in both mediums and I refer to my process as paper carving. Even though I dislike labels, I do consider myself a printmaker.

The manner in which I work has been described as obsessive, although I prefer the term focused. My works were once described as being Rococo with a purpose. This comment made me laugh, since the Rococo style is my least favorite. Although I cringe at the thought of linking my work to the Rococo style, it was however, an insightful observation.

Top Ten Influences
What is not there: negative space, silence
-Fictional characters: the bogie man, Peter Pan, OZ, Mr. Darcy
-Nature: spider webs, cocoons, the solar eclipse, shadows from trees, fog, wood-grain, onions, the changing seasons
-Authors: Virginia Wolf, Ian McEwan, Kafka, Orhan Pamuk
-Craft: Islamic rugs, lace, stain glass windows, shadow puppets
-Artists: Marco Maggi (transforming material), Eva Hesse& Kiki Smith (the combination of fragility and strength), Rembrandt (for what is revealed in the darkness),
-Simultaneous contrast
-The stain glass in San Chapel on a partially sunny day.
-Chinese scrolls

6. What are you currently working on?
I am currently working on an installation that revolves around the idea of search and destroy, and the impact of winning at all cost.

List of Works
1. Falling Angels, paper, steel, glass
2. Detail of Falling Angels, paper, steel, glass
3. Detail of cast shadow, The Dumping of Pandora's Box
4. The Dumping of Pandora's Box
5. Detail of Abyss, paper, graphite
6. Detail of Abyss side view, paper, graphite
7. The Reflection of Medusa
8. Detail of mirror view, The Reflection of Medusa
9. Last Breathe
10. Detail, Last Breathe
11. The Voila Machine
12. Detail of the Voila Machine

Monday, March 24, 2008


Amze Emmons is the latest artist here in Life, the Universe and Art. A University of Iowa grad, Amze is Assistant Professor Print and Drawing at Muhlenberg College, outside Philadelphia. Amze has an extensive exhibition history including, Painted Bride, Philadelphia, PA, Transmission Gallery, Richmond, VA, Works on Paper Gallery, Philadelphia, PA and Scuola Internationale Di Graphica, Venice, Italy. Awards include Individual Creative Artist Fellowship, Pennsylvania Arts Council Grant, The MacDowell Colony, and a Key Holder Residency, Lower Eastside Printshop, New York, NY. Amze talks about his latest body of work, Refugee Architecture, which deals with the architecture of displacement, here on Life.

1. This body of work seems very much about alienation and the urban environment. It almost feels post- apocalyptic, but with a wry wit to it. How did this recent series come to in being? What was your conceptual base for it?

Your description touches on most of my main conceits; it’s great to hear that it comes through to the audience.

Only in retrospect does this work really appear to emerge from a fairly logical trajectory. I had finished a large body of work investigating modernist architecture, mostly vague office spaces and bleak waiting rooms; that work was intended as a kind of critique of institutional space. It was beginning to feel played out and I wanted to head in a new direction. The civil war in Iraq was just beginning to explode, and imagery of the people being displaced and all the car bombings was overtaking my attention; these events seemed too important to not speak about but I had no interest in making polemic imagery. So I just started working and asymmetrically I found subject matter that suited my vocabulary: refugee architecture, abandoned inhabited spaces, and decimated urban landscapes. Initially I set the constraint that I would only harvest source material from the New York Times. There was something odd and quiet about the grey black and white halftones when compared with the streaming video TV or the cheap digital images of carnage found on the web. Eventually I settled on a process of only working from documentary sources: newspaper clippings, news media imagery, documents and images from the UNHCR, Doctors without Borders… This led me to a broader investigation into global displacement. In a sense this body of work is really about this moment in time as seen through my various filters and procedures. It’s interesting to me that people often refer to it as post-apocalyptic. It’s just a collage of all the information we are fed on a daily basis but we’ve become numb to it.

2. You have a very distinct aesthetic, where your environs have a sense of accumulation, almost an all-overness, if you will, and yet there is a distinct visual quietness. How did you develop that?

I think the aesthetic sensibility in the work comes out of the process of making it and has been developing since I started this project three years ago. From the start I knew that this work needed to be pared-down in broad visual terms. The content and source material are overwhelming to me and needed to be filtered. Also I wanted to bring more of what I was really enjoying in my print work into this drawing/painting space. In my prints I was trying to exploit the anonymity that one finds in architectural drawings, printed matter and vintage comics. They clearly speak about the artist’s hand but also have a removed ‘age of mechanical reproduction’ quality to them. It seemed somehow important at an intuitive level to combine this pared-down, minimal realism with this interest in print language. I’m glad it reads as visual quietness--I would see that as a kind of success.

3. Your sense of balance between what is depicted in your imagery and what is not is really sophisticated. It seems to give just enough to allude to a particular narrative, but not enough to spoon-feed your audience. How have you developed that tension? And how do you see your audience relating to this narrative device?

This work starts out with all of these layers of source material--articles and newspaper clippings, found text, etc.--all of it seems important. I spend a lot of time drawing and erasing, but mostly erasing. I’m trying to find the essential elements that resonate inside of all the noise, intuitively editing and paring the image down to what seems most true. I’m interested in how the voids that are left can occupy space, both formally and conceptually.

The question of narrative is an interesting one. I don’t really intend these images as narrative works. From my point of view these images exists as artifacts of my process, fragmentary like a film still. I think the reason the images allude to narrative are because of what the audience brings to them. The shelters, blast walls and discarded water bottles are embedded in our visual culture; we remember them from images of Katrina’s aftermath or of sectarian conflicts in Baghdad. I’m very interested in how these assemblages, made up of architecture and evidence of displacement, can pose questions of narrative to the audience. It’s like a piece of isolated footage, composed of these discrete symbols that can be decoded in many different ways. I like the idea that an image can be a place of discovery for everyone involved.

4. Within your environs, you use these really rich moments of color, which act as a sort of punctum. How do you balance the color with your forms? How has this aesthetic device come into your work?

The short answer is that a lot of what happens in the studio is an intuitive process; the longer answer is that I have always had a keen interest in color and shape as formal elements to be manipulated. I spent a good deal of my time as a student looking really closely at Renaissance heavy-hitters like Giotto; I was always taken with his use of color. Later in my education I really tried to focus on learning formally how to manipulate composition, I guess coming out of an interest in the Bauhaus artists. I suppose it’s probably not really cool to suggest that I am a formalist inspired by Renaissance painters but that time spent studying their work is essential to how I construct these images today. But I should add that my pallet is strongly informed by my everyday activities. I carry a camera with me almost all the time; you never know what you might see in Chinatown or Target that will inspire you. I went to graduate school with some really great color theorists/practitioners; Gianna Commito and Nate Haenlein both taught me a lot about ways to deploy color.

5. There is an absolute adherence to craft and a sense of detail in your work. What is your drawing methodology and how do you think that methodology affect the aesthetics?

I think my over-arching method comes out of an interest in finding the image through the activity of drawing. I try to lay down a lot of information, rapidly, proceeding without expectations or emphasis. The forms are conjured out of this mess. Then I spend a lot of time erasing/editing until I find what is essential to the image. This willingness to really rework the image as if nothing is sacred comes out of my time spent making etchings and scraping plates. I think the surface becomes a kind of palimpsest. The images are very sharp but if you look closely all the history of erasing and re-drawing is there in the surface. I really like the way the drawn marks and painted shapes serve to act as foils to each other.

Top Ten list of Influences

After re-reading this list, It seems to have turned into more a list of things that entertain me right now. And I only came up with seven items. What does that say about how I’m influenced or my long term memory? I don’t know.

Podcasts- It’s hard to remember what I did in the studio before I started listening to these. I have a full list of my current favorites on my website.

Books- I read a lot and at times with haphazard taste. I’ve realized only lately how generative text is to my work. Recent titles worth mentioning- City of Glass by Paul Auster, Spook Country by William Gibson, Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon, The Road by Cormac McCarthy, The Places In Between by Rory Stewart.

The Wire- It’s almost cliché at this point but this is really good TV. Up with complexity!

Comic Books- It seems to me that my aesthetic decisions are very informed by all the years of my youth spent looking at kinetic, brightly colored bursts of energy trapped in fading newsprint. I recently ‘discovered’ this indie, artist-writer, Anders Nilsen. He’s really, really great. I feel like our work is somehow in conversation. I have a total comic crush on him.

Food that comes in it’s own container- Bananas, hard boiled eggs, burritos.. the list goes on. It’s natures’ own mysterious symmetry at work.

Kiosk- is a store in NYC whose owners comb the world over looking for small odd items that are in themselves beautifully designed or packaged everyday objects. I’m sure I’m not doing justice to the items in their collection.

Portable Architecture- The future is coming at it’s on wheels! Check out the archive of images of portable architecture at Temporary Services, --If you aren’t familiar they are a very cool art collective out of Chicago.

What are your current projects?

Besides just continuing this body of work and few upcoming shows, I have several other more collaborative projects in the works.

HUSH, a Dance Theater X production
HUSH is a multi-layered Dance collaboration under the direction of the choreographer Charles Anderson. I will be working as a visual designer on the piece.

I am contributing a section of text and imagery to Refuge/Refugee, a Chain Links series
Book. This interdisciplinary text will explore the plight and nature of refugees and refuge
from several distinct vantage points।

List of Works
Portrait of the Artist
Technical Oversightt, Paper, 18.5x24” 2007
Secret Writing, Paper, 18.5x24” 2007
How to Run, Paper, 18.5x24” 2007
Disruptive Technology, Panel, 20x24” 2007
Being Cheerful Starts Now, Panel, 20x24” 2008
Pidgin Satellite, Paper, 18.5x24” 2007
Protective Clothing, Paper, 18.5x24” 2007

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Jenn Figg

Jenn Figg is the latest artist here on Life. A California native whose sculptures investigate boundaries and the space in between, Jenn currently resides in Richmond Va, where she is a PhD student at Virginia Commonwealth Universities Media Art and Text Program. Jenn's work had been in numerous exhibitions including Santa Barbara Contemporary Art Forum, Santa Barbara,The Arts Center, Carpinteria, CA, Gallery 25, Fresno, Silah Gallery, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara among numerous other venues. Jenn talks about her sculptures as well as her investigations into new media and boundary spaces in the latest interview.

1. Your work transforms the materials, which include jellybeans, salt, and a lot of other unexpected things. Why have you chosen to utilize these seemingly mundane things in your sculpture and what do they impart to the viewer for you?

My work stems from an intuitive process, so when I have an idea of what the whole might look like, I need to find its constitutive parts. A lot of time is spent photographing objects or prowling in hardware, secondhand, or candy stores. There is an element of surprise in the transformed material, the vacillations between the subject / object function to bring new associations. Weed whacker cord is seen as sour candy rope, yarn becomes a trifle, and tarred monofilament translates as grass. The physicality of the object goes beyond surface and form.
The material always already has symbolic and metaphoric allusions (associated narrative) that are both inherent and imposed. Through juxtaposing and configuring various of these known objects, I have the means to explore some of the boundaries of these common understandings. Not only am I interested in the boundaries of our common understanding; I am enchanted by the conceptual place between the boundaries.
This space I call the purlieu. The word was originally used in old English Forest Law and coined by John Manwood in 1665. It is the place between the forest and the city, which is neither forest nor city – a place without a designator. The purlieu was thus a borderland, a social space of overlapping and conflicting jurisdiction. The purlieu, which came to derogatorily denote any of a place’s outlying parts, is the hidden—existing at the point of overlap, being neither one thing nor another—nor not one thing nor another। Until the purlieu becomes a center of designation, it remains hidden. And that’s the place I’m hooked on – I keep seeing it. My latest work aims to draw attention to these conceptual boundaries, crossings, demilitarized zones, even an area of zombies…

2. There is a meticulous attention to detail in your work. How does the process and methods in your work relate to the final piece?

Surface detail totally fascinates me, informed by my past textile design experience. I did and still wish to knit! Anyway, the ‘depth of surface’ – it is more than skin deep. That is where I want to go, so the materials I choose feed into that mode of thinking.
I consider surface as constituted of layers of texture, color, form, and object that make meaning. One of the questions I ask is, ‘Wherein the veneer resides the unexplored or unknown?’ In pulling attention to surface it is a recognition that the things that are hidden are not in the back of a closet or even in the darkest recesses of the mind…the things that are the most difficult to see are sitting right on the surface. I relate this to Poe’s classic, The Purloined Letter. People often look to others to tell them about themselves. One of the aims of my work is to draw attention to and highlight the surfaces of the ordinary, drawing out the mysteries there. A certain mystery for me is the perfection of a craft, and as I am inherently imperfect, well…how are things made?
There was a point when both the labor and the time involved to create the work became part of the overriding narrative informing the final piece – I am thinking specifically of Fashioning Eden (Sowing Machine)। Every individual strand was cut, rolled in tar and silicon carbide grit, and adhered to make the grass bed। That seemed important at the time. Currently I am deemphasizing fabrication. I used to think that I was process oriented…again relating to weaving (winding a warp and threading a loom, etc.) As my work has progressed and I have needed outside help to complete it, my hand is not the only one involved and the physicality of making seems processually less connected. So now, the layers of process and method within the piece relate only laterally.

3. There is this feeling to your work of play, and of whimsy. How did you develop that?

Whimsy is something that I do not purposefully try to achieve. With Fabulous Fibonacci I was aiming toward a craft aesthetic, blending bright yarn with candy and an obsessive counting, something that could go on and on infinitely. The counting, sorting, and stacking of the yarn balls was completely absorbing; they became little delicacies, needing lacy doilies. Relating back to your previous question of process and methods, the yarn mounds were a labor of love, and the time played an operative role in this work. The counting of hundreds of yarn balls and silver dragees reminded me of measuring ingredients when cooking, and the seeming endlessness of that endeavor. So I serve them up for visual consumption…
For some of the topographies, like those in the shelf series, the camera lens defines the point of entry, creating the geographic margins and forcing scale। A small shelf, seen through the mechanical eye, is established as a candy forest – where we meet the growths at eye level, and the whole becomes quite playful। Initially, my interest in seeing the details drove me, photographing purely as documentation – since so much of my work is made of ephemeral materials. Then it became something else altogether, more of an interest in the composition and object, a change from the mass to the singular. It needed a different take.

4. Your piece, Foundation, is changed by the viewer as they enter the space of the sculpture. How important to the piece is that interaction and what does it mean to you and for the viewer?

I assume that we are talking about people who are actually interested in experiencing the work in the first place? The viewer cannot be forced to do / see anything, but they can be guided.
Let me explain a bit. Within Foundation was a corridor, delineated by the mass of objects on either side. For a short time, people walked around the outside of the work, but a few walked through. Suddenly it became crowded, and then people began to slide underneath it. There was no way to control the viewpoint – people were walking through, lying underneath, and sitting inside it. After the opening it needed many repairs! I hadn’t expected that level of interaction.
When the viewer entered the work, Foundation ceased to be a discreet object – albeit a large object – situated in the center of the space. Instead it became a dynamic landscape, subtly altering the center of gravity, as the ‘ground’ had risen from the feet to the thigh. Also, the individual objects were barbed, and they caught on clothing, so when they released and swung back they would bump other pieces and set off a chain reaction. This brought to the viewer a body awareness, a sense of their own physicality in relationship to their surroundings. That mindfulness brings another level of meaning to the work. Foundation was never still because of air currents, but with people shifting within it the triggered kinetic motion was more exaggerated.
That sense of the self and the body moving through a space either physically or psychologically is important to me, but for this particular installation, it was not crucial। Fashioning Eden (Sowing Machine) was a work that is user-activated, with a hand crank, an absurdist piece of machinery. But there are enough clues, such as a kneeling pad and protective (if fanciful) gloves to imply that the handle could be turned and that the grass would move. If the viewer physically engages the work then they, in turn, become a performance for others, and this crosses some sort of passive audience boundary.

5. You have this very distinct aesthetic, which seems to employ chaos and control to create an environment. How did you develop that?

Much of my earlier work developed from a place of repetition of action and form। The making of the work was actually meditative for me, and I was told that others experienced a calm state of mind when watching the kinetic work from that time. Seed grew out of that space. It was placed in rows and spaced exactly, but since each strand bent differently, the sculpture rose up into a chaotic jumble, a total texture. Nature has an intrinsic order, and I was using plants as a departure point. I continue to depict nature, but with different sensibilities.

6. What are you working on now?

I am investigating garden spaces through substituted and pantomimed nature. These landscapes are in the form of digital collages at this point, a mixture of photographs of real life object and my sculptural work, which then is manipulated. I look at them as particular fictionlands – depicting a boundaried hovering between our first- and second- life, and hinting at those darker places that are quite ordinary.
This new work is exciting – I am venturing into a different type of dimensional representation, using digital effects for imaging and printing, and also using a paper-doll concept for the forms. My next project is to build small tableaux, using some projection and possibly peepholes to further guide the viewpoint within the composition. Much of my inspiration comes from contemporary gamescapes, and their theatricality. There is more of the hidden in there – what is offstage? I keep asking…

Top Ten Influences
My parents
My artist and philosopher friends. they always inspire me.
All those movies I saw when I was a kid, like the original Star Wars trilogy, Poltergeist (plus other scary ones like Hellraiser, the Freddie Series, and Aliens) Bladerunner, Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal, The Neverending Story, more recently, Werner Herzog's films, Pedro Almodovar's films, The Matrix...
The poets Pablo Neruda and Mary Oliver and Rainer Maria Rilke and Emily Dickinson
Eva Hesse, Roxy Paine, Tara Donovan, Judy Pfaff, Kiki Smith, Marnie Weber, Felix Gonzales-Torres
The authors Ian McEwan and Paul Auster and Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Margaret Atwood and Umberto Eco
The photographers Diane Arbus, Ansel Adams, Jeff Wall, Cindy Sherman
The designers Eero Saarinen and Charles and Ray Eames and Junichi Arai

List of Works
1. Candy Grass 2007, wood, monofilament, paint, adhesive, candy
2. Fashioning Eden, detail 2006, wood, monofilament, tar, silicon carbide grit, various metal parts
3. Fabulous Fibonacci, wood, yarn, candy, adhesive, paint, doilies, 2006
4. Foundation 2005, screening, silicon carbide grit, thread, adhesive, sand, salt
5. Foundation, detail 2005
6. Seed, monofilament, wax, wood, 2005
7. it's always winter outside Never-Never land, composite digital image, light box, 2008
8. Mold / Moulding, 2007, 'oops' paint