Describe your work for us.
For the last fifteen years, I have focused on deconstructing historical and cultural displays found in institutions such as the MET, MoMA, British Museum, etc. Though this process I’m searching for the opinions, fantasies, or other cultural constructions that are placed on what is being displayed within an exhibit of historical objects – so I often read catalogs, speak to curators, historians, and cross-reference this with concepts found within cultural and linguistic anthropology. For instance, when doing my research, I often consider the idea of reflexivity, which refers to a critical awareness of an anthropologist’s relationship with his or her research subject in the midst of fieldwork – or intersubjectivity, a perspective that states that a person's thoughts are often a negotiation between personal and universal views about a subject. I then turn my research into art objects. Sometimes they are drawings, sculptures, videos, or installations. Over time I started to make a fictional museum to house all my work.
Tell us about your process.
Well, my methods jump around, so a lot of my time is spent playing with materials. One day I am working with liquid plastic for a sculpture and the next I am mixing mud that I will apply to paper. Not long ago, I spent months building a series of wooden and Plexiglas sculptures to house live crickets and fish. I spent most of this time researching and experimenting with ways to keep the animals safe and comfortable through the course of an exhibition. Sometimes, I will be working on a cut paper or graphite drawing project where I will spend my time on a repetitive task – this I find very relaxing.
From where do you draw inspiration?
My inspiration is sourced from all over, though the most significant comes from conversations. I’m fortunate to have a position teaching at East Tennessee State University where there are experts in all sorts of fields that relate to my interests. My colleagues have been an essential resource for dialog and collaboration. Otherwise, I go to museums, visit historical sites, and read.
Why is the idea of the museum so important to you?
I spent my youth in NYC, and there were a lot of artists in my family. Everyone loved to spend time in museums. It left a big impression on me, and I kept coming back as a way to connect with my childhood. Eventually, when working as an artist Atlanta in 2002, a couple of artist friends and I started a collective called Dos Pestañeos. That year we developed an exhibition in our studios titled "Use Your Illusion." Each artist fabricated something fictitious for the show. I was already working with themes surrounding natural history museums, so my contribution to the exhibit was a faux museum display outlining the habits of the Cassowary bird found in the Southwest Pacific. Since then, my fictive museum has grown and evolved. It has allowed me to research and respond to any subject – it’s a way to house all my interests, questions, and criticisms.
What would you like viewers to get from your work?
I hope that my work inspires people to look at museums a little differently. We can go to a museum to learn about other people or places, but within the exhibit, we can also examine how our imaginations and limitations affect what we see – what we are bringing into that place.
How would you characterize the significance of the use of silhouettes in your work?
I like to relate my silhouettes to shadow puppets. I always loved how through a little suspension of disbelief a paper theater allows for a playful engagement in all sorts of topics. Also, the human silhouette is relatively anonymous so the viewer can imagine himself or herself as the figure.
Animals are a recurring thread in your work. Do you see their behavior as offering a contrast to human society? Could you talk about the use of living animals in your work?
Yes, I find animals act as an excellent contrast to society – maybe because one can look at society as a symbolic construction and animals can operate outside of this system. For instance, when I use an image of an animal, that image automatically becomes a piece of symbolism – a part of our social construction. Differently, the living animal acts as a contrast to our constructions, a being free of allegory; its living existence resists representation. This none symbolic state of being is inaccessible to us. I find this so compelling and humbling..
How long have you been working as an artist?
I have been exhibiting my work for about 16 years.
How has your practice evolved?
The materials I use have changed, and I’m reading different books now. I’m not as eager to get my ideas out there quickly. I used to make something and immediately want to exhibit it. Now I hang on to things longer and let them change in the studio. As for the future, I’m starting to research the history of Asian and Persian art. I hope to make some related work in the near future.