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With a Bite: An Interview with Sofia Leiby

For the next few weeks, The Green Lantern Press is publishing interviews and articles with artists who have donated work for the 2016 fundraiser, New Age Now. In the following conversation, Sofia Leiby reflects on the myth of genius and mark making within her own painting practice. Leiby is an artist based in New York. Solo exhibitions include The Making of a Beyonder at Kimmerich (Berlin); Thinking Creatively With Pictures at Clifton Benevento (NYC); and abcdefghijklmnop at Michael Jon & Alan (Miami). Her work has been featured in Artforum, Modern Painters, PAPER and Rhizome.org. Her writing has been published in BOMB Magazine.

Caroline Picard: Can you talk a little bit about how you play with what an “authentic” mark of a painter is?

Sofia Leiby: I came to painting with such suspicion of it, that it carried this idea that there was some singular genius making the paintings, driving its appeal. Maybe I felt like I could never have that, or in my field of experience that kind of work was being done by men. I envied it, I was jealous of their easy confidence with mark-making. I feel like because of my own internalized misogyny I didn’t look at female heroes the same way. So I moved away from looking at so much Abstract Expressionism for inspiration and methodology and I started looking at drawings my little brother made in middle school and doodles on envelopes from my grandfather, as well as people whose work I incidentally saw on Instagram. I gathered up the material and photographed, copy and pasted, traced, collaged, drew and re-drew, until it became some kind of a soupy mix, converging with my own hand. This pursuit of the mix is what drives the work. I try to not just direct the needle towards ‘self taught’ artists or whatever, but instead try to focus on how standards of value regarding the mark are elastic.

CP:  Do you think of your approach as one of appropriation? Or quotation?

SL: Primarily it is a painterly approach that involves quotation.

CP: You mentioned that this paintingMyrtle Av #2 (2015) pulls marks made at the Blick store by (probably) Pratt students — what happens when you excavate those marks into a supposedly high art/finished art context? I almost want to pull in someone like Keith Haring as a point of reference…

SL: Keith Haring is interesting because his work pulled from street art contexts. I am thinking about the chance painterly mark, made by people who might be distracted or using a marking tool in a utilitarian way, like testing out a marker at the art supply store. To me the marker testing is a nuanced mark-making gesture, no matter who its author is. Often it is collaborative, with people unconsciously or consciously conversing using text and image with other people who have tested out pens. One time I found a friend’s full name and address in her handwriting on a Blick pad and she didn’t remember writing it.

CP: I’m also interested in this translation from the digital space of instagram into painting– 

SL: I do post my work on Instagram, and I had to get used to people looking at paintings at a two by two inch square size. You couldn’t even zoom in until recently. My focus is on works that are best experienced in person, but I’m sure having the app influences how I make work as it does every other artist who doesn’t have enough self control to keep their work off Instagram. At the risk of sounding cynical, IMHO, this is part of the reason why you see so many colorful and iconographic artworks and airbrush paintings with brushless strokes and tiny errors that evaporate in a photograph in shows and major collections right now, because they translate seamlessly from a large scale to a tiny scale and back again.

CP:  I’m also thinking about this because I listened to a recording you made for Lise Haller Baggesen’s recent Threewalls exhibition, Hatorade Retrograde,  where you read a self-composed text describing what it was like to be an older, gender-conscious painter. That text describes some of the difficulties of being a female painter. Do you feel like there is a connection between the “mark” of a painter and her body? 

SL: Yes. My bodied and lived experience is of course filtered through color and mark, choice of imagery, collage, ideas I choose to pursue, etc. I paint differently when I’m getting laid or not, freelancing, sleeping too much, sleeping too little, working a 9-5 job, living in NYC, living in Chicago, etc. Once, I made a blue and brown painting that accidentally ended up the exact two shades of a light blue bag with a brown coffee stain on it that had been hanging on the clothing rack across from my bed for months.  I like the idea of things filtering through some odd unintentional form of osmosis.

An artist told me once that he could “always tell when a woman had made a painting.” That made me seethe with anger but I also realized my anger conflicted with my own ideas about my gender and my work. I am trying to shrug off my distrust of the idea of each person having a personalized mark, because it is quite hard to make paintings whilst having this feeling—this divorcing of subjectivity from art making. I like silkscreen because it distances my hand from the canvas. I don’t have an answer or resolution here, besides I do not usually address my gender in my work; although I would say I would like it to operate in a feminist way, with a bite, because that is where my personal politics lie, and my work is an extension of me.

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Alchemical Processes: An Interview with Aay Preston-Myint

For the next few weeks, The Green Lantern Press is publishing interviews with artists who have donated work for our 2016 fundraiser, New Age Now. The following excerpted article was originally published in Bad at Sports in 2011.

Caroline Picard: You’ve been in Chicago for a number of years and have continued to work with different organizations I was thinking as far back as Diamonds/Texas Ballroom for instance, No Coast of course and many others I was wondering if you could talk about your participation in those different organizations; how your role has varied? Do you feel like your participation in different communal structures has impacted your visual work?

Aay Preston-Myint: Well, Diamonds and Texas were two iterations/sections of the same artists collective in warehouse space in Bridgeport, back in the day. We all did our share of programming and running events, mostly art shows and music, and let’s not forget parties. No Coast was a similar collective/consensus structure but centered around the concept and physical space of a bookstore, shared studio space, in addition to an open community workshop. When I look at these and other organizations I’ve been involved with (the online curatorial project Monsters and Dust, the experimental cultural center Mess Hall, and the microgrant/queer dance party called Chances), the difference is not so much in work or ‘roles,’ but the content of each project itself. These are ventures that have all been run by consensus to serve a specific audience or community. As such, roles can shift depending on interest, ability, and the needs of our contingents. I think the impact on my own work has been that I have a desire to engage, entertain, and encourage dialogue through my practice. I enjoy using color, a richness in materials, humor, mystery/seduction, and participation to engage the viewer. Creating a gravitational pull, drawing people into an active space that’s what all the organizations I work with have done.

CP: Do you categorize different aspects of your art practice?

APM: In a way those divisions (solo work, collaborations, and design/commissions) are often a matter of convenience an easy way of categorizing, but the nature of the work is different too. I think my solo work has more of a clear narrative, using conceptual, material, and stylistic threads that weave in and out of the work. Collaborations of course deal with similar concepts and interests. However that work tends to take on forms, processes, or issues that I don’t always deal with on my own because of the influence of my partners each collaboration tends to stand apart. The design work, while perhaps more aesthetically my own, is a whole other beast, often because it’s not used in an art context, and also because the content is decided by the client and maybe even pushed to the background. I think each category exhibits a different kind of development over time, and it can be interesting to compare how they are disparate but also influence one another. From the subject matter of my solo work, to the clients I choose to design for: there are connections that become apparent when you zoom out.

“Untitled (Habitat) rope, neon lights, oak, enamel and latex paint, satin, sports mesh, thread, flies, shellac, wig-infused rum 10′ x 14′ x 5′
2011

CP: Will you talk a little bit about your relationship to materials?

APM: Responding to materials have always been a key part of my work. For a while, when I drew it was almost like I had an issue with attention span; I needed something to respond or anchor myself to, a fabric, wallpaper, a photograph I disliked drawing on a blank surfaces. Now it’s more about responding to the social, historical, or affective associations with an object or material rope, a flag, hair, light, even scent. I think in a body of work like mine which is so about embodiment the choice of materials is really key when interpreting form.

CP: I’m also really curious about your Hybrid Moments Project can you talk about that a little?

APM: Hmm, yes as you can tell from the text banner series that I made a couple years ago, I like to use pop songs as titles and content sometimes. After I made the first series of screenprints, Hybrid Moments seemed to be the right phrase to contain my work at the time I think of the title more as a container than the name of a single “project.” I think it still works for the prints and maybe some of the discrete/smaller sculptures, but not so much for the larger sculptures anymore. But in general, it’s the body of work I’m engaged with now. The works make propositions of what mutating, unpredictable forms that community, identity, and the environment both built and natural may take on in an unspecified future moment all through the lens of a critical queerness.

CP: Do you have a static, projected future point that your work is speaking to? Or does that future-vision shift, depending on what your working on?

APM: The future I depict is definitely mutable and unpredictable, that’s kind of the crux of my whole viewpoint. I think part of the criticality of my work is that our projections of the future never match up to what we imagine I use mutation as a metaphor or allegory for that unpredictability. As soon as one struggle is overcome, new power relations form in place of old ones. Often abuses and rivalries emerge instead of coalitions. The future I imagine is always out of reach.

“It Gets Worse,” open edition of digital/offset prints dimensions variable 2011-ongoing

CP: It makes me want to ask the same question about your lens. Is your lens of critical queerness also static? Do you apply that lens to the present as well? Or is it solely intended as a future-looking tool?

APM: Going off my last answer, the lens definitely applies to the present. Our current struggles are direct results of what we desire or imagine our future to be. I think the It Gets Worse series points to those connections/disconnections. Is marriage a queer issue? Or are supermax prisons and police states a queer issue? Both? Is one more urgent than the other? Why? The national discourse is really far behind with regard to what’s actually being said, thought, and done in queer communities across class, race, and trans/gender lines. How can we make the definition of queer issues and following that, queer identity more fluid and open in order to more successfully meet the challenges of the future?

 

Read the rest of this interview here.

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Institutional Garbage on The Conversant

For the next few weeks, The Green Lantern Press is publishing interviews with artists who have donated work  (or are otherwise participating in the festivities) for our 2016 fundraiser, New Age Now. The following excerpted conversation between Caroline Picard and Lara Schoorl was originally published on The Conversant this November.

This interview is part of an ongoing conversation between two writers, Caroline Picard and Lara Schoorl, centering on their web-based curatorial project, Institutional Garbage. The online exhibition collects the trash and administrative residue from an idealized institution—whether a museum, asylum, or academy—featuring imaginary syllabi, fabricated archival recordings that document marginalized histories, check out girl manifestoes, scanned book excerpts, and posters from exhibitions that never took place, all produced by various artists, writers, and curators. The resulting conversation reflects upon that project and some of the works it contains, while refracting through what the future of museums might be, or how shifting geographic locations affect one’s thinking. Institutional Garbage was an imaginary space Schoorl and Picard set out to create; it developed from there, growing into itself through the array of others’ contributions. Like many conversations between friends, the transcribed discussion is another repository for ephemeral thinking. Another kind of trash, Frankensteined together via email correspondences, with whole passages forgotten and lost to flooded inboxes. Despite those many absences, relationships between work space and private space, curator and artist, friend and colleague, a city and rats unfold in discussion.

Caroline Picard: How did we start working on Institutional Garbage?

Lara Schoorl: To a certain degree, the collaboration comes from working together on your last curatorial project, Imperceptibly and Slowly Opening. That was the first project I helped you with, and both the process of installation and the fact that the exhibit populated the gallery with plants and plant-based works opened up certain spaces within our “work environment” that influenced our relationship. We didn’t know each other very well when I first came to Sector 2337, not personally or professionally.

CP: I like that our conversation about Institutional Garbage starts with a question of friendship. How do you trace the slip between professional and personal spheres?

LS: I remember a few moments specifically where we transitioned between work and personal space. The first time was while walking Wilfredo Prieto’s plant installation, Walk (2012), around Logan Square in a wheelbarrow; you and I talked about the Imperceptibly show, but also had a chance to let go of all the bureaucratic things that needed to be done for the exhibition, thinking instead in the moment about where the plant would like to go.

CP: It does feel like there is something important about not having a purpose when you’re becoming friends.

LS: Another moment was when we were stuck in traffic after a studio visit in Hyde Park. We’d just been talking to Tina Tahir—

CP: About what it would be like to have her installation crawl across the background of the entire IG show, like an ongoing piece that would creep around and grow like vines…it’s funny to think about that piece in relation to traffic.

LS: Traffic interests me because time is out of your hands in traffic. The car is always an in-between space, bringing you from one place to another—even without a destiny it will still bring you somewhere. You and I talked about friendship and how sometimes we choose a moment alone over seeing a friend, even if we’re visiting a place where friends live. We talked about work relationships also.

CP: Because my curatorial work started in my own apartment gallery, that private vs. public slip has always interested me. I always felt like public and private spheres pressured one another, but when I lived in the gallery, it was nevertheless impossible for me to draw real boundaries between the two. Maybe that’s one of the things that I fantasize about institutional spaces—those distinctions would be made clearer, I imagine. At the same time, I feel like Nam Chi Nguyễn’s Checkout Girl Manifesto emphasizes how sometimes the institution of a supermarket, for instance, falsely depersonalizes public encounters…

LS: Do you remember that time we made pizzas in your apartment after Magalie Guérin’s opening? That night I experienced moving between personal and professional space very consciously. The kitchen is a specific kind of space on its own with many associations, but that evening it was kind of a safe space for me where I could withdraw—even though it is an open kitchen and was right there where everyone else was. I didn’t have to engage with the party, but instead made pizzas with you. It became an intimate, non-work space just for the two of us, because we were cooking together and making up pizza baking techniques while everyone else was “at the opening” still.

CP: I like the idea that people can be inhabiting the same physical space, while nevertheless being in different modes. It happens all the time in the world—again, one person is buying groceries while the other is selling them; but maybe there is something peculiar about when two people come to be in the same mind-space (making pizza in a kitchen) while everyone else inhabits another mind-space. Maybe that’s how friends discover one another. Everyone hanging out at the after party still felt like they were at the opening, but you and I were in a different mode…that also seems to describe a nice slip between public and private.

LS: Yes, this flexibility of perception of space is what perhaps I like about smaller institutions because it allows for or invites other institutions inside them. Like Laurie Palmer’s Lichen Museum at Sector 2337 last year, or Jeanine Hofland’s A Petite Fair or all the platforms that make up The Volta.

CP: Yes, that’s nice…I think of how sometimes 501c3’s will operate as umbrellas for non-501c3 artist collectives so that they can get funding without official nonprofit status.

LS: That leads me to a question I have for you: Institutional Garbage is the title of our exhibition, but it also isthe institution. It is a concept and a name and a space. What kind of space do you think Institutional Garbage has become?

CP: Ha! I don’t know. A repository? There is something that feels very different to me about curating a show on-line. Usually when I’m a week away from the opening, I have a good sense for what a show will feel like. I can look at the works in space and see the intuitive connections growing concrete. I didn’t have that feeling with Institutional Garbage. I could think a relationship between, say, Naqeeb Stevens’ film in which he builds a wall, or the scanned excerpts from Suzanne Scanlon’s novel, Promising Young Women (Dorothy, 2012),but I couldn’t see the relationship in the same way. But maybe that also is a way of answering your question, because if Institutional Garbage is an institution, then it is hard to grab onto. On the one hand the works collected together evidence the institution behind them; on the other hand, it’s a little difficult to have a clear overview of the whole digital space in which the exhibition occurs. I always loved that it becomes an archive for something that never existed in the first place but nevertheless nests in an imaginary past and future. That reminds me of the curatorial posters that we included, featuring imaginary exhibitions that curators proposed in 140 characters or less. I wonder how those increase one’s sense that Institutional Garbage is an institution?

LS: It took me a while to understand exactly how you envisioned the posters. In hindsight, I found it generally difficult to visualize this project because everything was so conceptual; even now, the most material understanding I have of its parts is through a computer screen.

Continue reading this conversation here.

The Lichen Museum: Installation View

Laurie Palmer, The Lichen Museum, 2015. Installation view, Sector 2337. Photo by Clare Britt.

Laurie Palmer, The Lichen Museum, 2015. Installation view, Sector 2337. Photo by Clare Britt.

 

Laurie Palmer, The Lichen Museum, 2015. Installation view, Sector 2337. Photo by Clare Britt.

Laurie Palmer, The Lichen Museum, 2015. Installation view, Sector 2337. Photo by Clare Britt.

 

Laurie Palmer, The Lichen Museum, 2015. Lichen walks. Photo by Clare Britt.

Laurie Palmer, The Lichen Museum, Lichen walks, 2015. Photo by Clare Britt.

 

Laurie Palmer, The Lichen Museum, Lichen walks, 2015. Photo by Clare Britt.

Laurie Palmer, The Lichen Museum, Lichen walks, 2015. Photo by Clare Britt.

 

Laurie Palmer, The Lichen Museum, Lichen walks, 2015. Photo by Clare Britt.

Laurie Palmer, The Lichen Museum, Lichen walks, 2015. Photo by Clare Britt.

 

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With An Ellipsis: An Interview with Rami George

For the next month, The Green Lantern Press is publishing interviews and articles with artists who have donated work for the 2016 fundraiser, New Age Now. In the following conversation, Rami George discusses the circulation of images and how he combines found materials to explore desire, change, and queer histories. George is an interdisciplinary artist based in Chicago. Completing their BFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2012, they have exhibited and screened internationally. They continue to be influenced and motivated by political struggles and missing narratives. George is currently included in The Green Lantern Press’ online exhibition, Institutional Garbage. They also exhibited in Sector’s 2014 exhibition, Tertiary Dimensions, curated by Alexandria Eregbu.

Caroline Picard: How do you find images? Or do you feel like they find you?

Rami George: The images I work with come from various sources, including shops that sell old pornography, markets/thrift stores, and the internet. I comb through these various sites to find photos that resonate with me and my practice. I feel like we are at a point where there are so many images already created that most of the time I can articulate my own thoughts and aesthetic through this pre-existing content. By the end I am creating another image (through selection, pairing, and manipulation), but through content that has already circulated.

CP: When you say that you are inspired by revolutionary energy, what do you mean? How does that play out in your aesthetic choices?

RG: The content that I gravitate towards is primarily political, social, and queer. I am interested in using imagery from these sources to speak towards present situations; to say something via language that has already been proposed — to continue a conversation (political or otherwise), or diverge to a different point.

CP: I feel like this happens in the juxtapositions that you create. For me, at least, that happens both in a formal sense—the way colors and textures intersect in a picture plane—but also the different associations your source materials bring with them. Maybe it helps to look at a concrete example—what drew you to the three images in Untitled (found)

RG:Throughout the years I’ve amassed a large collection of images and content, especially queer ones. These photos sit in piles and envelopes until I decide a need or use for them. Pieces like Untitled (found) often spring up out of studio play, sifting through images and placing them in different configurations. Sometimes these associations are intuitive and aesthetic, other times with more specific connections in mind. I’m especially drawn to imperfect images, such as the one on the right (blown out, hardly legible, printed incorrectly). I feel like these sorts of images can be more open-ended in ways, as if to finish with an ellipsis rather than a period.

CP: What is the difference to you between tumblr and a framed print?

RG: I try to be flexible with the images I choose and use, allowing them to come back into other projects or spaces (including digital ones) if it’s befitting. For years now I’ve kept a digital catalogue, via tumblr, where I post a mix of sketches, notes, and documentation of finished projects. To me it’s like a running stream of consciousness — of content I continue to think about and through.

CP: What happens to the found images when they are reproduced?Untitled (found)

RG: A physical print is like a small moment captured from that stream.

CP: Your approach seems to suggest that images themselves are in-flux and changing, circulating, arriving at certain points—the physical print, for instance—where the image is “captured” as you say.

RG: Absolutely. For instance, the majority of the images I use were originally created with different intentions than my own — i.e. pornographic in cases like Untitled (found). Although I am not diminishing the sexuality, or even sexiness, of these images, I am looking at them not just as a means to get off (although you can if you want to!). I’m thinking about charged eroticism, and how that also speaks towards a queer history and geography, that is very much entwined in political movements and actions. I think an image/artwork can be simultaneously sexy, historical, and political. I’m hoping to get towards that.