A Studio's Interior as an Artist's Home

I did two projects for my senior year.  Each project contained multiple pieces but it was more about the whole than the individual pieces.  A common idea in Installation Art.  I did a lot of reading that lead me up to this point.  At first I just wanted to have an environment with paintings and text, but then as i read more this idea evolved.  Books by Marshal McLuhan and Claire Bishop gave me a larger frame of reference on what was possible.  Honestly I probably had too many ideas for my senior year, but i felt like my last year within the safety of an institution wasn't the time to play it safe.  So I chased after some really crazy big ideas.

This is my first project titled "A Studio's Interior as an Artist's Home"

Marshal McLuhan's "Medium is the Message" was the book that got me over the idea of trying to cram text into paintings.  More getting me onto the idea that what medium you choose is half the story.  Trying to do everything in paint is restrictive.  It's something that people told me before but i'm a stubborn learner and it's not until it hits me in the face that i start to adapt.  So with this in mind I started playing with the idea of an epistolary story.  A story that's told through multiple documents like diary entries or letters to friends.  "Dracula" by Bram Stroker was an epistolary novel, though when i tried to use this as an example to explain what epistolary meant i was frustrated to find that no one has read "Dracula".  In my case there would be paintings and posters that were 'documents' and together they would tell a story.

The more I played with this idea the more i realized that I trying to make installation art. Which is where "Installation Art a Critical History" by Claire Bishop came in.  I had read an essay by Claire Bishop titled "Relational Aesthetics and Antagonism" where she touches on the problems of disciplines that have multiple mediums, such as installation art.  She explained that installation art lacks self reflectivity because there is no common ground (no shared medium) among pieces.  An example of self reflectivity would be a painter who's painting then sees what his/her peers are painting and from that he/she can react and improve.  They can do this because they share a medium and it's easy to identify improvements.  however, among installation artists where no shared medium this is hard to accomplished.  (example being that one installation could be made entirely out of cardboard, and another one could be made mostly out of ready-made art)  They lack a common ground.  So Claire proposed that the common ground amongst installation artists was the viewer.  In order to improve you don't look at how other people are manipulating the materials you look at how they are treating the viewer and learn from that.  This was a revelation for me because for the most part I had been told that art should act autonomous and not concern itself with the viewer, but here was this idea that the viewer was the key to all progression.  To me this was sort of the green light i had been waiting for.  I now had ideas written down in ink that i had been thinking to myself for a while.

It wasn't until my second semester senior year that I was able to digest most of this information.  So I changed my adviser and ran forward to try to accomplish my ambitions.  There are many ideas with this piece and I'm having trouble deciding how i'm going to describe it.  I guess i'll just start by listing out the things that I did.

I had 7 license plate paintings.  One was sold at an auction so all I had was a photograph of the painting.  4 were the size of actual license plates and were rather abstract.  The last two were on panels with lots of abstract space around the license plate.  A big theme with this entire project was talking about my home.  I'm from Edgewood, Kentucky originally and part of this project was trying to figure out for myself how i feel about being this far from home.  I went to college far from home for a reason (Montserrat College of Art is located in Beverly Massachusetts) but i didn't know what the consequences of that decision were going to be.  so a lot of this is me figuring out what those consequences were.  The license plates were my first attempts at making art about this idea.  The original idea being one of nostalgia about not seeing Kentucky license plates in Massachusetts anywhere.  The idea grew and i stayed latched on to it because i thought the license plates were a strong symbol for home.  Another theme that is touched on a lot is transportation.  Back home is the only time I drive, because in Massachusetts I live in walking distance of most things and have public transportation for anything else.  There is also the fact that Kentucky has changed their license plate 6 times and so there was a lot of material to look at when doing these paintings. The name Kentucky carries associations and I was interested in using that name to imbue paintings with those associations.  For me it meant home but others it could mean southern state/ignorance or whatever.  Maybe it was just about my fears of what people thought of Kentucky.

I did a portrait of my 16 year old self  as depicted on my old driver license.  I had grown up a lot since then. I use to have long hair and weighed more, so there was a lot of contrast between my 16 year old self and now.  I was interested in playing with that viewer's idea of who the artist was.  There being two self portraits, whether or not they be seen as the same person or two different people. Without titles would they be seen as self portraits at all? Once again there was the association with driving. It also plays off the clown self portrait in a number of ways that are pretty gratifying.  The painted frown compared to a smile for a camera, the registered identity compared to a mask, and the colors themselves play off each other nicely.

The clown self portrait was a late addition that wasn't orignally intended to be apart of the project. I had taken it out to touch it up and submit it to a contest, but when I got it into my studio and started working on it, i slowly convinced myself to bring it into the project.  The clincher was the addition of the quote "been a stranger in a strange land" which was a reference to the sci fi novel "Stranger in a strange land". I thought it added a nice sense of displacement and slight alienation. There was also the fact that it looked amazing on the black door.

The last painting was one about marriage.  Looking at all of these pieces as a whole this feels like it comes out of left field. there are connections though.  If you read the short story which talks about an old friend getting married working on their second kid, and another friend hoping that her current boyfriend would pop the question soon. There was a part of me that was wondering  whether or not i would of been getting married or if I had been more open to it if I had stayed closer to home.  Because currently looking into the future I saw no plans to get married at all. I was scared of that commitment. So I wanted to do a painting about that anxiety. Part of this project was looking back at my past but also it was looking out to after college. This painting is based off of a photograph of my parents wedding but i wanted it to be anonymous so that it would be more about the idea of marriage and less about my parents, (who are divorced) so that's why the faces are wiped. During installation I didn't want to leave the painting just by itself on a white wall, so I thought it would be interesting to put a lamp in front of the painting. This was to interrupt the viewing and remind the viewer that this wasn't a gallery. The painting was also very shiny and so the light did interesting things when it was this close. I had a lot of ideas on lighting but i'll touch on that later. I like this painting but if I redo this project in the future there will be more paintings that have to do with life choices, so that this painting doesn't feel as isolated. There was also the interesting discovery, while setting up for this painting, that artists throughout history don't really touch on this subject. If there is a female subject matter, she is usually idealized and not paired with anyone in the painting.  The models were usually mistresses to the painters and i had to do some serious research to find paintings that talked about love.

Besides painting I also made my first at more interactive pieces of art. One of them would be the white board. Before I go into the white board though, I should talk about some rules i set up for myself.  One of the rules was any notes or additions others that were posted in my studio I wouldn't remove and they would become apart of the installation.  I wasn't going to tell anyone about this fact but anything that appeared in my studio i didn't remove. (The note pictured above was from Jordan Elquist.)  With this in mind the white board presented a problem.  I wanted it in my studio but I knew if I left it on ground level there was going to be a lot of graffiti on it.  So in hopes of avoiding that, the white board was placed fairly high up.  If someone wanted to put graffiti on it they would have to be very determined.  I told myself if any showed up i wasn't going to remove it, but fortunately none ever did show up.  This also meant taht changing messages on the whiteboard myself required a ladder.

The rule mentioned before is also the reason why during the show Jensina Ohly did a performance piece in the studio space.  She sat in my studio chair and worked on a painting of hers and did her best to ignore the public which was walking through the space.  She only did this during the reception.  She had given the suggestion and me feeling bound by the rule agreed.  It actually worked out fairly well.  It was a common sight to see Jensina Ohly in my studio during the school year while i was else where, so her being there during the reception was sort of the norm  Her ignoring the public also added to the sense that the viewer prying into something private.

I used the white board as a sort of billboard where i would broadcast ideas i was thinking about throughout the year. Jordan Elquist said I just posted axioms that I believed which might be true. I didn't think of it but I should of documented each message. It was sort of investigating what sort of community was at the senior studios. I used it sort of like a real life version of facebook/twitter, and it was interesting the conversations that it produced. During the actual show I erased the board. This was because the white board was used to talk to my classmates about ideas i had been thinking about, and when my show was up the school year was mostly wrapped up and in some ways it symbolized that cut in communication that would happen once school was over.

Also pictured above is probably one of my best posters.  It features a quote that I felt was relevant to the project with text that was painted by free hand.  Even though it obviously is copied off of an electronic font, when you get up close you start to see the errors of the human hand and i was interested in that relationship.  in retrospect I wish that all of the typography of the show had been this clean but because of time restraints the rest of the text takes a sharp dive in quality. If i redo this project another text that is more neutral that allows the environment to influence it would be ideal, rather than a sloppy style that sort of pushes influence onto the environment.

Another interactive piece that I did was this bookcase.  I had meant for it to be interactive but it never really happened. I wanted to create a library that people could share.  Playing off of the idea of a community at the senior studios.  However, it ended up just being a place where I kept my books that I was currently reading.  I liked this idea because I was fascinated by the idea that within an art project would be a bookshelf that contained all the literature that inspired the piece.  there was also the sad fact that most of the books I read were library books themselves so they were only temporarily inside my studio.  At the final show I put all of the empty medicine bottles that i had been collecting, because i had been collecting the energy drink cans, felt showing the refuse from the medicine was also pertinent.  There was a print from Jake Cassevoy there playing off the community once again and a painting by Andrew Marathas that I felt talked about anxiety.  There was also a copy "Borges and I" by Jorge Luis Borges that I felt touched on similar anxieties about self.  I also had all of the notebooks that I had used during the year place here.  Containing all of my notes ideas and theories on how to put on this show among other things. This was included in a weird sense of having transparency where all the thoughts about the show were up for consumption if you picked it up, but of course no one did flip through it so it hardly matters.

The flag is made out of painting rags and was a fun idea that sort of came together just from collecting things.  The case here would be the large number of painting rags i had collected over the years. I saw it as a powerful symbol of pride i had in my new environment. It also adds to the growing sense of slap togetherness that runs through the piece.  Part of this was intentional another happened as time was running out.  I've always had a fascination of things that are just barely holding together. Also featured in this photograph is the blue tape i put over the exit sign.  it turned out interesting because the red lights shown through the blue tape, so you simultaneously see the words "exit" and "home."  the E not fitting on the sign was regrettable but i like it anyways.  Both of these had to be taken down because they were considered fire hazards but at least I got this fuzzy photo for document.

The label here was provided by Jordan Elquist and was a fortunate happenstance.  During the beginning of my senior year i had shoes that were basically dead.  they had holes on the soles that I tried to tape up with duct tape.  this duct tape would eventually have holes of it's own where I would tape up again with more duct tape.  I eventually got new shoes but before i threw away my old shoes i cut off the duct tape.  The inside of which had an interesting texture so i pinned it up on my wall.  Jordan came in later and put the title on the piece.  I liked it so much taht i kept it up till the end of the year.  I felt it fit with ways of movement.  Driving for back home walking with in Massachusetts.  I also left shoes in the studio at the foot of the door.

As i mentioned before I started collecting things during the year.  one of the things that I started collecting was trash from things i ate while in the studio.  I spent a lot of time in the studio and ate a lot of food there.  whether it be the pizzeria across the street or the late night binges of candy bars and energy drinks.  So by the end of the year I had quite the pile.  This was also spurned by a friend stacking a number of energy drinks that i had left in my studio.  I latched onto the idea and ran with it.  Then i put a golden easel with a blank panel on top of it all.  This came about because of the things i collected but also its a comment on a lot of wasted nights where i didn't get a lot done.  Here is all of this energy spent and what i have to show for it is... nothing.  or its a comment on potential.  That before you put that first mark down it can be anything.  I think there is something very powerful about a blank canvas.  The quote on the wall reads "So then you're getting a BFA or whatever?  What are you going to do with that?  After school I mean?"  It was taken from one of the short stories i wrote (more about that later), but also it's a question that I think a lot of art students face quite often, when they go home for breaks and they have to talk to friends or relatives.  So it's an ominous question hanging over this temporary haven that I'd created while in the safety of college.

One of the last things i did was make this large label for the project. During the year I had a lot of conversations about art factories and who gets credit at the end of the day.  I wanted to do the opposite of that where I basically give everyone else credit.  So I made this long list where I thanked everyone who had helped me throughout the year.  Also mentioning shows and books that inspired me.  Sort doing my best to undercut the lone artistic genius idea by showing all of the people that helped me get to where I am now.  I glued this directly to the wall which was funny because it didn't come down until they knocked wall down when they made the new studios.  I also misspelled some names.

For this project I also wrote about 5 short strories mostly talking about visits back home and the sense of displacement that I felt.  Much of it touched on relationships that I had establish before I had moved and how the relationships had changed after being away for so long.  In the end only one of the stories was good as is, the rest were gutted to make posters for the space.  I had been conflicted about how I wanted to distribute my short story.  Because it's sort of a long read I wanted to make a take home prints, so you weren't force to try to read all of it while you were in the space.  I originally wanted to make a book.  Time ran out though and I had to be happy with a plain print out and a website that contained the full text.  Because it was just a plain print out I think many people thought taht the story was just an obnoxiously long artist statement, and not many people read it. I have since become self conscious about the story and have taken it down.  I'll put it back up later probably when I have tuned it again and i feel confident in it once more.  

I also collected poems that i thought touched on the theme of this project, which eventually became mostly about distance and displacement.  three of them were made by me that I had written that year, the other three came from Grant Archer (a fellow classmate), Jared Paul (who was giving lessons on spoken word that year at MCA) and Buddy Wakefield who's work I admired and I e-mailed for permission to use.  This sort of plays into the idea that it's not about the individual but the show as a whole.

Many of my decisions came together when it came time to install.  Because I was using a shared space I only had a limited amount of time to have this space put together.  Wasn't till the weekend before my show taht I was able to put up the wall that fully closed off my area. Many of the posters didn't weren't made till that weekend.  I had a strong urge to try and isolate the area from the rest of the studio space.  This came from inspiration from Invasive Kandie where they had turned the lights out in front of their gallery, so before you entered their space there was this period of intense dark and then you'd walk into their space and it was like you had been transported.  I thought it was great and I wanted to try to recreate that sense of isolation.  My first attempt was to put up black paper above the studio walls so that the light from the rest of the studios didn't come in and also gave taht sense of isolation.  you can see examples of this in the first photograph.  By the end of the weekend I was told that it was a fire hazard and I had to take it down.  My next attempt was to turn off the lights in the area to make it feel separate, but then I felt taht it was too dark.  So I ran and got painting lamps to add sources of light. This was how I left it till it had to be taken down. In retrospect it was silly to try to attempt any of this because my studio was 3 feet from the front door and no matter what i did light from there entered the space.  Overall I think it's vital that installation art be set up longer than a weekend before being opened to the public.  I felt i needed more time to react to what i had assembled.  one of my chief problems was that the space was theoretical for so long.  It was in my head and it wasn't until the last week or two of school that I was able to set it up and see how it actually looked.  This also made  getting critiques hard since when I showed it to teachers it wasn't fully assembled, and my words did a poor job to make them understand.

Another big mistake was that i scattered the CDs (which contained the poetry) around the studio.  I feel by this point I was over thinking things too much.  Something I was scared of was people walking through the space sort of like a museum.  I'm not really sure why I had this fear.  there were a couple of pieces that had an aspect public participation but none of them ever took off. Another thing was that i had read "Inside the White Cube" by Brian O'Doherty.  This book had me worked up into a fervor of not wanting to work within a white wall gallery system.  So one of the aspects that I wanted was touching. I had spread the CDs across the space in hopes that the viewer would pick them up then play them at teh CD Player.  In retrospect this was silly and i should of just had the CDs by the Cd player with maybe signs telling them to play the CDs and read the short story.  Instead both were mostly ignored except for people that i had told.

A hope with this project was that I could make longer content.  What I mean by that is after the viewer has taken a quick glance at everything i wanted there to be enough loose connections that the viewer could linger and try to put together a sense of a visual narrative.  I wanted the pieces to add up to tell a story.  While many would say that a good painting unfolds the longer you look at it, i wanted there to be more an incentive to stay longer and try to puzzle out how said paintings interacted with their environment  Did I accomplish taht?  Well I feel like its more of a scattershot than I would like it to be.  It needed more structure, to be less worried about viewer participation, and to stop getting in the way of the viewer.  There were some ideas that I feel like I had to get out of my system, I had to see them fail before i could move on, which is often the case for me.  I would love to get another space where i could recreate this project and improve upon the mistakes i had made here.

any thoughts you have about this project feel free to post them in the comments below.  Would love to hear some feedback.

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