Artist Talk: Nadia Hironaka and Matthew Suib

This week we met with our first collaborative duo of the class, Nadia Hironaka and Matthew Suib! Originally working in separate artistic practices though in the same realm of video art, the romantic couple eventually had decided to collaborate, and ever since most if not all of their work is made together. Before this I haven’t been very familiar with video art, but their practice successfully fuses elements of fictional film and documentary film into shorter videos that offer a “parallel-reality”. Their works feel almost like magical realism, often drawing on reality and history to create something that exaggerates these realities. The best examples of this would be their installation and video “Unsung”, which is inspired by the history of prostition and the red light district in Philadelphia, featuring a haunting and surreal video of singers projected onto the wall of an out-of-commision railway tunnel surrounded by fog, aiming to give a voice to these women. 

Unsung. 2016.

Another great example is their more recent project “Moon Viewing Platform”, featuring a narrative short film divided by the 8 lunar phases, each represented by a different “gardener” played by real artists, activists, and even their daughter. What I enjoy about their work and this project especially is their sense of ambiguity and nuance, in that they don’t tell the viewer how to feel and leave room for interpretation. This is done primarily through a lack of dialogue, at least in “Moon Viewing Platform”, as well as original ambient music and enigmatic imagery. This project was created just last year in a time of political unease (that has only gotten worse), but the duo didn’t want to do the obvious thing and comment directly on these anxieties and modern politics, instead opting to create a piece about healing and “respite from our troubles and troubling world”, which I think is beautiful and a reminder of art’s therapeutic nature. 

Moon Viewing Platform. 2019.

And while their works are obviously collaborative in nature, I love that they extend beyond just the couple and incorporate other artists, performers, actors, musicians, the local community, etc. Many of their works are installation based such as the “Moon Viewing Platform”, and for the few weeks that the video and accompanying garden were up, multiple performances by other artists and musicians were presented at the site. For another project “Ghosts of Philadelphia Industry”, a video about the city’s industrial past projected onto the side of a building in downtown Philadelphia, the duo had local high schoolers act in segments of the film as workers. Oftentimes I think that the nature of video art requires multiple participants for technical help, actors, etc., but you can tell that collaboration is something Nadia and Matthew value beyond what is needed and enjoy working with others, especially in strengthening community ties. After listening to their talk, I feel very inspired by their collaborative processes and I want to attempt making art together with friends. While they were honest saying that collaboration isn’t always easy, resulting in squabbles and compromise, seeing their finished products proves that it’s worth it in the end. 

The 21st-Century’s Answer to Pop Art: Claudia Bitran

Even before our meeting with Claudia Bitran, I was extremely excited about her work and eager to hear her elaborate on her ideas and practice. Bitran, a multimedia artist working with painting, animation, installation and video, primarily makes work dealing with popular culture and how she and the general public consumes it. While she isn’t the first to bridge the gap between high-brow and low-brow art, with Andy Warhol and the Pop Art movement bringing popular culture into a fine art context, I think Bitran’s work is a natural progression from her precursors and she has a lot to say about the increasingly escalated, virulent relationship between our culture and celebrity worship that Warhol hinted at decades ago. 

Dramatic Holidays, 2009, 500 paintings of a road trip, oil on canvas on wood

Soon after this massive painting project, Claudia auditioned to be a Britney Spears impersonator on a reality TV show out of her earnest love for the star, at the time not really considering this to be part of her larger artistic practice. I found this extremely fascinating and to be a completely unexpected background for a fine artist, but meeting with Bitran, she does exude a lot of energy and a star-like quality, so it does actually make sense. I also really appreciate her earnest love for popular culture, whereas a lot of art about popular culture seems to hide behind a layer of irony and detachment. Bitran isn’t blind to the problems of popular culture and celebrity worship and definitely includes these critiques in her work, but like her I think there is a lot of joy and value to be extracted from popular culture and mainstream media. For example, there’s a lot of pushback on pop music such as Britney Spears’ for being “manufactured”, and while some of these critiques may have bits of truth to them, this doesn’t cancel the fact that people can find joy and solace in it, and that there is a real living person creating these works. Claudia actually later incorporated Britney into her artistic practice when she went to RISD, recreating Spear’s music videos with cardboard shoe box sets and inserting videos of herself dancing Britney’s choreographs, perhaps in part commenting on the star’s autonomy that was constantly breached by the media.

Bitran impersonating Spears on reality TV

Bitran very recently revisited this idea of women’s autonomy being infringed upon by media and society in her newest works, creating animations of women being filmed while drunk and at times, near-death from alcohol poisoning. She’s removing these videos from their original context, in which they were likely posted on social media as humorous, and forcing the viewer to examine our relationship with these videos and see the disturbing underside of them in which these young women are being harmed as we passively watch. She also talked about her ambitious project to recreate every scene from the Titanic but with set rules, such as using different mediums and actors for each scene, and not spending money. While she hasn’t finished this project yet, everything I’ve seen so far is extremely inventive and brings out touching and human themes that may have been glossed over in the big-budget movie. In all, talking with Bitran has genuinely inspired me in terms of art-making and general philosophies about life, and I’m super excited to keep track of her future works. 

Frenzy, 2020.

Artist Talk: Jessica Stockholder

This week, our class met with artist Jessica Stockholder! Stockholder is primarily an installation artist, creating sculptural pieces made of found objects that are often attached to the architecture of the gallery space or installation site. While it may not be immediately apparent as her works are made from these mass-produced, synthetic materials, there’s something touchingly human about many of her pieces as the objects often rely on each other for support such as in her “assist” pieces. In these works, objects may be tied or attached to one another in extremely fragile setups, providing a symbiotic relationship where they support each other, but if one object is moved the entire work falls apart. Through these cold, detached objects, her works speak to me about the complex relationships between humans, in which we need each other and prop one another up, but these relationships can always teeter on destruction.

Jessica Stockholder, Assist #3: A Chord, 2015. Painted metal, ratchet clamp with yellow webbing, felt (if needed), some kind of found sup- port to clamp the work to. 74 x 90 x 48 inches.

Before we actually met with Stockholder, I read in an interview her thoughts on beauty, which these works embody: “I don’t worry about defining it; I experience it. And it shifts. For me, it has something to do with struggle. Things that are beautiful are beautiful because they are difficult. It has something to do with stretching and expanding what I know.” I think the word “struggle” perfectly summarizes what beauty should mean. Even something as cliche as a rose, a widely-recognized symbol of beauty, can contain many conflicting ideas such as life versus death and the ephemeral nature of beauty itself. 

As for the meeting itself, Stockholder was well-spoken and provided very interesting responses to the questions. She was brutally honest (not in a rude way!) and almost shot down some of the questions asked. She didn’t specifically say this, but I think it could be her way of challenging misconceptions about her artwork. One of the biggest shocks and takeaways from this meeting was her need to supplement her art practices with teaching. This in itself is normal for many artists, but it was surprising to hear and in some ways disheartening that such a big player in the art world, with many accolades and shows, can also have problems making money in the art world. I’m also a bit surprised that many artists with teaching jobs that we’ve met with such as herself and Kenny didn’t go into the field with education in mind. Without having taken classes with them obviously, I think they would all make great professors, but I suppose I always had a misconception that most professors/teachers go into education because of want rather than need. 

Lastly, our class got into an interesting discussion about her use of plastics and non-biodegradable materials. Some were upset, seeing this as a contribution to the large-scale pollution and degradation of the environment, while she saw her works as partly a commentary on the inescapable nature of these materials in our daily lives. While I definitely see why people could be upset by this, I saw her works as at least recycling these materials rather than releasing them into the environment as they undoubtedly otherwise would have been. Not only this, but I agree that plastics and similar materials are almost impossible to avoid, especially to the working class, and the blame should be shifted from individuals to the large corporations producing these materials.

Artist Talk: Keith Allyn Spencer

This week’s virtual talk began rather unexpectedly, with our visiting artist, Keith Allyn Spencer, explaining to us the definition of a “meme”, then continuing to sing us the entirety of The Star-Spangled Banner. This however isn’t a criticism as Spencer was a breath of fresh air, being able to be silly then extremely thoughtful and eloquent at the flip of a switch. Spencer himself is a multimedia artist living and teaching in Ohio, whose works come in a wide array of mediums such as painting (on canvas and three-dimensional sculptures), animation, site-specific installations, and much more.

Misleading Experts, oils on woods panels. Size: XS. 2020

He first showed us a slideshow presenting his works as well as giving a studio tour located at the school he teaches at. This gave us the opportunity to see some recent and in progress works of his, such as painted, sculptural works of abstract forms, digital animations, and my personal favorite being a series of observational paintings of objects and landscapes. While he wasn’t sure how to feel about these recent paintings, feeling as though they were boring, they were technically very skillfully made and the inclusion of painted car covers on top of a car within these paintings felt very meta and flattened the forms in a really interesting way. He then explained that his more abstract works, a mode he tends to work more in than these naturalistic paintings, feel as if they are “cartoons of paintings” and that he way “maybe laughing or scoffing at modernism” and the discipline of painting, which allowed me to his works in a new light. 

What I found most invigorating about this week’s visit was Spencer’s relaxed attitude towards artmaking and life. While he takes his practice very seriously, he places a lot of importance on enjoying life outside of the art field as well and spending time with loved ones. This trickled into his artwork with many works being collaborative processes with his family, such as his son providing beatboxing audio for a digital animation, and his wife suggesting he paint a car onto a car cover, prompting him to do exactly that. He also tries to work from home when he can so that he can take breaks from his work and play with his children, cook, etc. This honestly made me reconsider my own philosophies on artmaking, as I think spending time with others while creating and partaking in collaborations could inject new life into any creative endeavors, and sometimes making art can be very lonely and insular. And while he recognizes he’s privileged in having a secure job, something that can be rare in the art field, he doesn’t have many qualms about one day maybe leaving Ohio and his teaching job to move back home where his relatives and roots are located. Not just in the art field, but I think in general there are unhealthy expectations placed on workers in regards to a work-life balance and a pervasive culture of extreme careerism, and I’m happy to see someone challenge that, even if that isn’t his direct intention. Anyhow, this has been one of, if not my favorite artist visit, and I really wish I could take one of Spencer’s painting classes!

Sarah Crowner and the Importance of Mystery

This week, our class had another virtual artist talk, this time with Sarah Crowner! Crowner is a multimedia artist that primarily works in painting, though employing a unique approach to the hard-edge painting style of the mid-century by sewing canvas together, as well as ceramics and installation art. We were given the opportunity to take a look into Crowner’s studio as well, giving us a better understanding of what her art-making process is actually like. Not to stray too off topic, but her studio is absolutely gorgeous. Not only does Crowner have a huge amount of space needed for her large canvases, but the combination of natural light from skylights and windows as well as very strong artificial lights was incredible. The environment artists work in, even if it is not visually reflected in the works they make (such as Crowner who is not making observational works), definitely can affect an artist’s workflow and headspace. I have a hard time creating art in poor lighting conditions as practically, I cannot properly see what I am doing, but a lack of sun or strong light worsens my mood and I can quickly lose focus, so I have a feeling Crowner’s lighting setup is working wonders for her. Sorry to ramble, at any rate we were able to take a look at the large-scale, industrial sewing machines Crowner uses to create her works as well. While she isn’t using sewing in terms of a fashion-oriented process, seeing it more as a means to an end, I love that Crowner is finding new ways to create paintings rather than layering paint in a traditional model. 

Crowner’s Studio

It was also fascinating to hear Crowner’s philosophies on art. What struck me most was her emphasization of mystery in art, as she described “instinct” as what guides her art, sometimes rather than a specific narrative. I personally think the academification of art has taken away a lot of the mystery of art, and I don’t think art is something that needs to be explained. Art, at least fine arts, is a visual experience, and a lot of art aims to represent what words cannot. As someone who doesn’t consider writing or talking their strong suit, I take refuge in art as a space where I should not have to explain myself, instead allowing what I create to do the talking. 

I also loved Sarah’s ideas on how one’s body should be engaged with art. She believes that art is best viewed in person, as one can move closer to the art, view it from different angles, realize the different textures and materials, and even touch it (maybe don’t do that in a museum or gallery however). She was once commissioned to create a large-scale painting installation and scenery for a ballet, set to sit behind the dancers as the ballet was performed. While the audience couldn’t move from their seats to view it closer or from different angles, she saw the painting as ephemeral as the lighting and the interaction with moving performers transformed the painting throughout the ballet. In addition to being physical works , I admire that her pieces not only cross medium boundaries, but entire fields such as dance. 

American Ballet Theatre: Sarah Crowner

Talking with Art World Insider Kenny Schachter

Before going into our meeting with dealer, artist, writer, and curator Kenny Schachter, I was initially intimidated. Prior to Kenny’s lecture, what I’ve read from him and about him paints him to be someone who likes to push buttons and be provocative, himself publishing articles slamming other professionals in the art world. However, at the risk of sounding trite, you should not judge a book by its cover as Schachter comes across as an extremely empathetic and warm person despite whatever reputation he may have garnered. Initially entering the art world as an outsider, having been involved with finance and having no formal art education, Schachter entered the field for his genuine interest and love of art before the art world became so characterized by art investment and backwards politics. From what I have gathered, I don’t think Schachter is deliberately attempting to come across as derisive in his writings, but is using his art world insider status for good and to expose the corruption within. While he is an expert on the financial aspects of the art market, he seemed more interested in talking about art for art’s sake, beaming when discussing how art enriches his life and the emotional connections art and artists can make.

While I can’t say I’m necessarily surprised, one of Kenny’s most fascinating divulgements was how the art world is very conservative despite its progressive veneer. Most people probably associate the art world with being radical and tolerant, but his experiences do not quite live up to these expectations. Schachter said that when entering the field he had the notion that “everybody was drinking absinthe and getting wasted and cutting their years off”, yet “sitting on the floor of the stock exchange or working in the law firm was a more radical environment to work in”, then going on to say that the art world was the most conservative field he has worked in. He then described how exclusionary of an environment the art world can be, himself being pigeon holed by his appearance into the lower rungs of the art world hierarchy. I think Kenny here proves that there is a disconnect in the art world between what it’s touted as, in being a progressive place with importance placed on marginalized identity, yet this is not mirrored in reality as it’s still a male and money dominated field. 

As mentioned before, Schachter came across as very sincere, which was very refreshing especially in terms of his curation and how he chooses art to purchase. Instead of picking art purely based on what the market might favor at the moment, Schachter chooses pieces by instinct and what he connects with on an emotional level. Most touching was his connection with Eva Beresin, a Hungarian artist he discovered on Instagram whose self portraits often deal with trauma caused by her parents whom she lost in the Holocaust, and whose works Schachter now curates. Relatively undiscovered at the time, Schachter reached out to her curious about her life and works, and the two ended up becoming close friends, Kenny saying “I basically changed her life as much as she changed mine”.

Never stand naked in front of a mirror and when that happens I close my eyes tight
Oil on cardboard
39.5 x 27.5 in.

With this said, Schachter is not interested in just making money, but deeply cares about art and establishing real connections with artists and people in the field. 

Artist Talk: Andrew Brischler

A Pointed Remark, Feuer/Mesler, NY
Installation view

This last Friday was our first video conference with a guest! While I’m disappointed our class can’t physically go to New York and visit artists and speakers in their studios, galleries, etc., I obviously realize that isn’t currently possible given the circumstances. While zoom fatigue may have set in for me long before this semester had begun, the switch from in-person to online video conferencing has worked surprisingly well for this class. While some physical elements of the artworks shown may be lost in translation as I cannot physically view and get up close and personal with brushstrokes or details, I thought the guest artist this week, Andrew Brischler, did a fantastic job of showing the class his studio setup and allowed us to view his work from close angles.

Andrew Brischler is a working, NYC-based artist who re-appropriates images found within popular culture through his worldview and style informed by graphic design and abstraction, translating them onto paper/canvas with primarily paints and colored pencils. Many of his works, especially recent ones, are text-based and feature words or phrases he pulls from a variety of sources whether it’s movies, song lyrics, or media found from scouring the depths of the internet.

 While I’m usually drawn to more figurative pieces of art, I really connected with Brischler’s body of works over our meeting with him as the conceptual frameworks of Brischler’s works as well as his process is so human despite their initial plastic veneer. His works at first look as if they could be created on photoshop or illustrator computer programs, with careful lines, typography, and bright saturated colors, but Brischler creates all of his work by hand with physical materials such as colored pencils. And when viewing the details of his works, the viewer realizes there are slight imperfections such as scuffs or rough edges that meet the white of the paper or canvas, and I really admire when artists are not afraid to break from precision as the quirks add so much character and humanity.

Punk & Faggotry (Patient Zero)
Colored pencil, marker, and graphite on paper
17 x 14 inches

Along these lines, the texts, imagery, and concepts found within Brischler’s works are drawn from popular culture but filtered through Brischler’s worldview to take on new personal meanings for himself, as well as to create works in which the viewer can project their own personal meanings. In the call, Brischler recounted how he had once sold an artwork containing the word “”stars” to some sort of straight, rich tech yuppie, unknowing that “stars” was re-appropriated from obscure gay pornography. This highlights how his work is often sourced from queer subcultures and his lived experiences but can mean anything to anyone, which he too welcomes. On more personal tangents, I related to Brischler’s process of searching for imagery and inspiration from in which he borrows from the media he consumes and goes through deep internet searches, as I am most inspired by popular culture and spend hours just searching the internet for films, songs, etc. to inform my drawings. I also deeply related to his love for horror films and why he might be so drawn to them, discussing how he as a queer person sees himself both as the villian (as the horror film cannon has a long history of queer-coded villians) as well as the victim. With this said, I found Brischler to be an engaging, relatable, talented, and fun guest artist and set a great footing for the semester.