How Does When: An Interview with Heather Mekkelson


For a long time, Heather Mekkelson produced elaborate installations, combining found and fabricated materials to stage disaster’s aftermath—plane crashes or floods, for instance. I wrote about one such installation at a former apartment gallery. In the last few years, however, Mekkelson had a profound shift—moving away from disaster source material in favor of more abstract assemblages that reflect upon astronomy, astrophysics, and the task of human consciousness to locate itself. Mekkelson is a multidisciplinary artist working primarily in sculpture and installation. Born in New York, raised in dozens of East Coast, Mid-Atlantic, and Midwestern locations, she is currently based in Chicago. Her work has been exhibited in group shows in galleries and institutions nationally since 2001; it has been featured in Art Journal, Art21 Magazine,, Artnet, Flavorpill, Hyperallergic, Newcity, and Time Out Chicago. She has been the recipient of several fellowships and grants including the 2012 Artadia Award. Mekkelson is represented by 65GRAND. This interview was conducted as part of a month-long series of posts, featuring artists who are contributing to The Green Lantern Press’ 2016 fundraiser, New Age Now.

Caroline Picard: Do you see a difference between fabricating objects and finding objects? 

Heather Mekkelson: I give the same amount of working-through to the found components as to the fabricated. In this way, I don’t place a difference between the two as I’m making a piece. The platform I build from is a neutral, non-hierarchical ground. Everything is equally material. When a found object is incorporated, the residual “thingness” it imparts to the final piece is a purposeful index—I welcome it. In those instances, where a found object isn’t everything I’m looking for, I will fabricate a component that resembles the original but improves upon it. It’s a very fluid categorization for me.

CP: I want to say that the disaster-oriented work inspired an almost implosive feeling, whereas your work now feels very expansive. Does that make any sense to you?

HM: Yes, in two ways. First, it resonates when I think about the sources of these two bodies of work. Consider the force of destruction in a disaster event. The natural energy that creates that moment builds by looping in on itself, focusing all of its effort on a localized area, leaving in its wake a specific field of fragments. My current body of work departs from that past, localized energy and turns our attention to a potential, expansive one. Envisioning the what-could-be is almost like its psychological countering effect…To go from staring at the tangible on the ground, to lifting your head up to the sky.

Second, in terms of time. Time depicted in the disaster work was like a temporal hiccup. The installations were frozen snap-shots of one precise moment in linear time. In the current work, I question time in and of itself—if it even exists. If it does, it reaches everywhere, simultaneously and in more dimensions than we can measure. So instead of the question, when did this event happen, the question is, does “when” even exist?

CP: How do you question time in sculpture? Is it a matter of changeless-ness? In Northwest Africa Via Mercury, for instance, there are multiple temporal registers—the salad bowl has one lifetime, the rock another, the tape, and then the paint evokes star time, but I feel like the intersection of those registers might be what you’re getting at…?

HM: That is the question!—maybe an impossible one for me to answer, but nevertheless, the one that challenges me. It does have to do with a certain “changeless-ness” in that sculpture is stubbornly based in form. Using a medium that results in a blatantly physical, obdurate thing seems antithetical to expressing a formless concept such as time. It’s a wonderfully daunting task. I have noticed, using assemblage in particular, that each component does a lot of the temporal work on its own. Whether the object is recognizable or not, it carries its own potential, its own history. Then my associations come into play. Likewise, with symbolism and metaphor. It could be the fusion of these that allows the sculpture to dance on multiple registers at once.

CP: What role does intuition have in your work now? And has that changed over the years?

HM: I view intuition as a separate source of insight, rather than something that is driven from experience. Like an internal oracle providing guidance beyond discursive or immediate knowledge. In most of my previous work, matters of source material, justification, and rationalization mediated the role of intuition. With my work now, I have even more research going into it, but intuition has become the paramount rationale for exploring theories about the universe and the unseen, sometimes incomprehensible forces in our universe. Giving it free rein, intuition is the tool that allows me to simultaneously bypass and encapsulate plain intelligence to target the essence of a thing.

CP: What is the relationship between one’s intuition and one’s aesthetic?

HM: I think aesthetics are derived from instinct—very different from intuition. Instinct exists in reaction to the external world whereas intuition is a force emanating from within. To expand on that; if intuition comes from unconscious/subconscious/preconscious knowledge crystallized into a thought, instinct (and in this case aesthetics) comes from previous experiences and tangible, sensorial impressions. This isn’t to say that my aesthetic choices don’t surprise me! Only that I trust those decisions come from the accumulated physical intelligence of working in sculpture for this long.



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 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.


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′

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.


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.