5 Questions with Rebecca Hutchinson

The fourth installment of NMWA’s biennial exhibition series, Organic Matters—Women to Watch 2015 is presented by the museum and participating national and international outreach committees. The exhibition’s artists redefine the relationship between women, art, and nature. Associate Curator Virginia Treanor spoke with emerging and contemporary women artists featured in Organic Matters.

Organic Matters—Women to Watch 2015
Artist: Rebecca Hutchinson
Nominating committee: Massachusetts State Committee / Consulting curator: Jen Mergel, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

1. Organic Matters includes art that refers or responds to the natural world. How do you think your work Patterns of Nature relates to the theme of nature?

Rebecca Hutchinson; Photo by Kurt Keller

Rebecca Hutchinson; Photo by Kurt Keller

My work is inspired from ecosystem research, how things grow and survive within specific dynamics. Patterns are seen both formally and behaviorally.

2. Is this work representative of your oeuvre? How does it fit into your larger body of work?

This piece is new work; a new series working from the floor yet connects to the history of my work through ecosystem research. In this case, I have researched rock outcroppings and forest floor as well as botanical motifs in Persian rugs.

3. As an artist, what is your most essential tool? Why?

A bucket. Everything is mixed with water, whether clay or fiber, and collected there again after being prepared waiting to be manipulated and used.

Rebecca Hutchinson, Patterns of Nature (detail), 2014; Porcelain paper clay, fiber, and organic material, 10 x 36 x 96 in.; Courtesy of the artis

Rebecca Hutchinson, Patterns of Nature (detail), 2014; Porcelain paper clay, fiber, and organic material, 10 x 36 x 96 in.; Courtesy of the artist

4. Who or what are your sources of inspiration and/or influence?

I look at both folk art and contemporary works by trained artists as well as aspects of nature.

5. What’s the last exhibition you saw that you had a strong reaction to?

A solo show of Eva Hild in Chelsea—forms were sensual and masterfully gripping.

5 Questions with Dawn Holder

The fourth installment of NMWA’s biennial exhibition series, Organic Matters—Women to Watch 2015 is presented by the museum and participating national and international outreach committees. The exhibition’s artists redefine the relationship between women, art, and nature. Associate Curator Virginia Treanor spoke with emerging and contemporary women artists featured in Organic Matters.

Organic Matters—Women to Watch 2015
Artist: Dawn Holder
Nominating committee: Arkansas Committee / Consulting curator: Courtney Taylor, Arts & Science Center for Southeast Arkansas

1. Organic Matters includes art that refers or responds to the natural world. How do you think your work, Monoculture, relates to the theme of nature?

Dawn Holder; Photo courtesy of C. S.

Dawn Holder; Photo courtesy of C. S. Carrier

I find the intersection of nature and culture to be fertile ground for artistic exploration. I am particularly interested in the way we cultivate, manicure, rearrange, and exploit the natural world.

The lawn, which I explore in Monoculture, is of particular interest to me because of its multivalent nature. It is a “natural space” in that it is comprised of plants and landforms, yet the lawn is a wholly artificial construct, a highly controlled space requiring labor, chemicals, and specialized equipment to maintain.

I am fascinated by suburban America’s desire to construct this hybrid artificial-natural landscape and what it signifies in terms of time and resources. I think the lawn is our culture’s fantasy version of the natural world.

2. Is this work representative of your oeuvre? How does Monoculture fit into your larger body of work?

For almost a decade, my work has explored the idea of landscape and domestic space through installation and sculpture. Aesthetically, my recent installations, such as Monoculture, have been influenced by the way Minimalist sculptures occupy space. Yet rather than being simplified, my work is highly detailed and engages surface as much as form. I align my practice to the repetitive and decorative craft tasks historically relegated to women, such as needlework. I think of my current studio explorations as combining horror vacui surface with minimal form, a Maximalist Minimalist approach. So far, Monoculture is definitely the most labor-intensive installation that I have created . . . . But the visual reward is worth it and I don’t see this aspect of my work changing.

Dawn Holder, Monoculture (detail), 2013; Porcelain, 2 1/2 x 92 x 176 in.; Courtesy of the artist

Dawn Holder, Monoculture (detail), 2013; Porcelain, 2 1/2 x 92 x 176 in.; Courtesy of the artist

3. As an artist, what is your most essential tool? Why?

My mind is my most essential tool, along with my hands, a bag of plaster, and maybe some random pointy objects . . . I could get by with a shish kabob skewer and old paring knife if I had to. Since my forms and materials change so much from project to project, the ability to brainstorm and solve problems has become an integral part of my creative process. Also, having the ability to push onward when mind and body are ready to give in becomes really important when making thousands of the same form. This perseverance pays off when I see all of the pieces massed together.

4. Who or what are your sources of inspiration and/or influence?

I read every day—books, essays, and articles about current events, social issues, the environment, pop culture, and art/craft theory. One idea I have been incredibly interested in lately is the necropastoral, a term explored at length by poet and critic Joyelle McSweeney. She states that the necropastoral is “a political-aesthetic zone in which the fact of mankind’s depredations cannot be separated from an experience of ‘nature’ which is poisoned, mutated, aberrant, spectacular, full of ill effects and affects.” Something about the forcefulness with which this idea recognizes and combines the devastating powers of the Anthropocene and the sublime forces of the wilderness strikes a chord with me.

5. What’s the last exhibition you saw that you had a strong reaction to?

I was recently in New York and had the chance to see Samara Golden’s The Flat Side of the Knife at PS1. This two-story installation depicts interconnected multiple levels which are variations of a domestic space, sparsely furnished with beds, plants, musical instruments, and other objects made from reflective insulation board. Mirrors and upside-down placement of objects further serve to confound the viewer, as do a number of misdirected staircases. I was enchanted by the way Golden’s installation plays with perception and dimensionality. The contrast of the aged, brick walls of the gallery space and Golden’s use of surface and material works to create an impossible, unreal, yet familiar space. The private nature of the setting also added to the unsettling and voyeuristic quality of the piece. I am attracted to work that creates an alternate space that I can project myself into, or even better, that I can momentarily lose myself in.

5 Questions with Goldschmied & Chiari

The fourth installment of NMWA’s biennial exhibition series, Organic Matters—Women to Watch 2015 is presented by the museum and participating national and international outreach committees. The exhibition’s artists redefine the relationship between women, art, and nature. Associate Curator Virginia Treanor spoke with emerging and contemporary women artists featured in Organic Matters.

Organic Matters—Women to Watch 2015
Artist: Goldschmied & Chiari
Nominating committee: Gli Amici del NMWA, Italy / Consulting curator: Iolanda Ratti, Museo del Novecento

1. Organic Matters includes art that refers or responds to the natural world. How do you think your work Nympheas #12 relates to the theme of nature and specifically to environmental concerns?

Goldschmied & Chiari; Photo by Giovanni De Angelis

Goldschmied & Chiari; Photo by Giovanni De Angelis

Nympheas #12 is part of a body of work that we started in 2002, mostly pictures of polluted landscapes inspired by Impressionist flânerie. The works in this series include photographs of plastic bags that appear like flowers, floating atop the polluted Tiber River in Rome. At the time we made these works, we were influenced by post-feminist theories and their questioning of what “natural,” “cultural,” and “artificial” were.

That’s why we started representing an artificial nature, using polluted landscapes and the common tool of plastic bags to show our personal view of flowers. We were asking ourselves about the relationship between gender and nature in history, keeping in our minds a mistrust of pureness.

2. Is this work representative of your oeuvre? How does it fit into your larger body of work?

The Nympheas are representative of our oeuvre. This body of work is the first step in our practice that highlights the need to go beyond the limits of nature and history, to inquire about the cultural, social, and visual construction of gender and landscape.

Goldschmied & Chiari, Nympheas #12, 2007; Color print, 49 1/4 x 131 1/8 in.; Courtesy of the Podesta Collection

Goldschmied & Chiari, Nympheas #12, 2007; Color print,
49 1/4 x 131 1/8 in.; Courtesy of the Tony Podesta Collection

3. As artists, what is your most essential tool? Why?

Our most essential tool is our relationship as an artist duo because it feeds our art practice, for example, so that we see multiple sides of one issue.

4. Who or what are your sources of inspiration and/or influence?

Philosophy, visual, and social studies, and our Italian historical background, which is often a subject of our works.

5. What’s the last exhibition you saw that you had a strong reaction to?

Late Turner at the Tate Modern during our recent research.

5 Questions with Jennifer Celio

The fourth installment of NMWA’s biennial exhibition series, Organic Matters—Women to Watch 2015 is presented by the museum and participating national and international outreach committees. The exhibition’s artists redefine the relationship between women, art, and nature. Associate Curator Virginia Treanor spoke with emerging and contemporary women artists featured in Organic Matters.

Organic Matters—Women to Watch 2015
Artist: Jennifer Celio
Nominating committee: Southern California Committee / Consulting curator: Corrina Peipon, Hammer Museum

1. Organic Matters includes art that refers or responds to the natural world. How do you think your “NIMBY” series relates to the theme of nature?

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Celio

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Celio

My drawings are equally about the natural world and the human-made environment. I have a deep respect for nature and have always seen the need for us humans to act as responsible stewards of all its ecosystems. My work is more specifically about where human civilization meets the natural world, the places and ways in which flora and fauna collide and interact with people.

I’m most interested in how animals and plants adapt to human intrusion into their habitats, even reclaiming those spaces in new manners. There is also an ongoing, dark fascination with how people remove nature and then replace it with facsimiles, and what effect that has upon the human spirit and the loss of connection to the larger world.

2. Is this work representative of your oeuvre? How does the “NIMBY” series fit into your larger body of work?

The “NIMBY” series evolved to encapsulate everything I had developed in my drawings. I wanted to create drawings that felt large in scale by virtue of depicting these imagined environments that were full of details showing plants, wildlife, mountains, airplanes, cell phone signal tower “trees,” and people—often messy and definitely dystopic renderings of our world. Probably the best way to describe my work is that it depicts situations and places that I hope never come to exist.

Jennifer Celio, NIMBY (national park), 2012; Graphite on Yupo paper, 38 x 50 in.; Courtesy of the artist; Photography by Alan Shaffer

Jennifer Celio, NIMBY (national park), 2012; Graphite on Yupo paper, 38 x 50 in.; Courtesy of the artist; Photography by Alan Shaffer

3. As an artist, what is your most essential tool? Why?

At the risk of sounding cliché, I would have to say it is the internal sight, the imagining of what can be, of what can then be created in the actual sense, using pencil or paint on the two-dimensional surface. I can’t begin to describe what a rush it is when an idea hits me, and then to see that idea through to fruition.

4. What are your sources of inspiration or influence?

Most of my inspiration is from the city, the urban environment. The act of driving brings out most of my ideas. Often it is some graffiti or a building or noticing a tree that has been chopped down that sparks an idea. Going out into nature, hiking, camping, etc., is essential for my sanity, but those situations don’t spark ideas right away. Rather, I take photos and jot down phrases in my notebook, waiting until eventually I can amalgamate the seemingly random bits into a cohesive whole.

I must admit I’m an unabashed admirer of Andrew Wyeth’s art. His work has been a huge influence since I was a child. I was enamored by his labor-intensive style, the patience it took to render his scenes, the time spent becoming intimate with those subjects. The precisely rendered textures, white negative spaces, and detailed realism of his work have shown themselves in my own drawings. There is a pursuit of Wyeth’s “magic realism” that I hope to capture in my own work.

5. What’s the last exhibition you saw that you had a strong reaction to?

I usually have mixed reactions to almost every exhibit I see. Love and hate. I have seen many thought-provoking shows at galleries in Los Angeles recently. It is great to walk out of those exhibits all fired up, whether it’s to discuss the work or because it sparks the fire under me to get back into my studio at that very moment.

Uncommon Ground: Summer Exhibitions at NMWA

What is natural? Porcelain grass lawns and anthropomorphic scooters may not be the first objects to come to mind, although they are likely to make a lasting impression. Visitors can explore sensational and surprising views of flora and fauna in NMWA’s summer exhibitions, Organic Matters—Women to Watch 2015 and Super Natural, opening on June 5.

Dawn Holder, Monoculture (detail), 2013; Porcelain, 2 ½ x 92 x 176 in.; Courtesy of the artist; On view in Organic Matters

Dawn Holder, Monoculture (detail), 2013; Porcelain, 2 ½ x 92 x 176 in.; Courtesy of the artist; On view in Organic Matters

The latest installment of NMWA’s biennial exhibition series, Organic Matters explores the connections between nature, women, and art. In collaboration with 13 participating national and international outreach committees, this exhibition features contemporary artists working with the subject of nature.

Calling to mind entrenched associations of women with nature, Organic Matters opens a dialogue about traditional views. The artists recontextualize nature and redefine the relationships between women and nature. Their works are fanciful and sometimes frightful. They also reference modern society’s complex relationship with nature, ranging from concern for its future to fear of its power.

Through a delightfully diverse array of mediums, including photography, drawing, sculpture, and video, these artists capture nature in its most interesting forms. Rachel Sussman’s images documenting Earth’s oldest organisms (including a 9,500-year-old spruce tree) are as enchanting as Ysabel LeMay’s otherworldly ecosystems. From Polly Morgan’s creepy-cool birds to Lara Shipley’s ominous landscapes, these uninhibited works offer a fresh perspective on the natural world.

Patricia Piccinini, The Stags, 2008; Fiberglass, automotive paint, leather, steel, plastic, and rubber, 69 ¾ x 72 x 40 ¼ in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, D.C.; Photograph by Graham Baring; On view in Super Natural

Patricia Piccinini, The Stags, 2008; Fiberglass, automotive paint, leather, steel, plastic, and rubber, 69 ¾ x 72 x 40 ¼ in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, D.C.; Photograph by Graham Baring; On view in Super Natural

Giving context to Organic Matters, Super Natural juxtaposes historical artists’ works with photographs, books, and videos by contemporary artists. Featuring works by 25 artists, including Rachel Ruysch, Kiki Smith, and Sam Taylor-Johnson, Super Natural highlights the way that old mistresses’ interpretations of the natural world directly inspire artists today.

Maria Sibylla Merian, Plate 18 from Dissertation in Insect Generations and Metamorphosis in Surinam, 2nd Ed., 1719; Hand-colored engraving on paper, 20 ½ x 14 ¼ in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay; On view in Super Natural

Maria Sibylla Merian, Plate 18 from Dissertation in Insect Generations and Metamorphosis in Surinam, 2nd Ed., 1719; Hand-colored engraving on paper, 20 ½ x 14 ¼ in.; NMWA, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay; On view in Super Natural

Remarkable prints by 17th-century artist-naturalist Maria Sibylla Merian depict insects she studied in South America, while contemporary prints, artist’s books, and sculptures feature spiders, reptiles, and hybrid creatures. The female form historically symbolized abstract ideas such as spring or the Earth. In response to these ideas, works by Janaina Tschäpe and Ana Mendieta include dramatic performances and interventions in the landscape in order to show a new vision of nature.

NMWA Director Susan Fisher Sterling says, “Both exhibitions demonstrate that women artists, historical and contemporary, are often adventurous, inventive and subversive when dealing with nature in their work.”

Don’t wait—plan your visit to see these wild works by women artists. Organic Matters—Women to Watch 2015 and Super Natural are on view June 5–September 13, 2015.

—Emily Haight is the digital editorial assistant at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Looking Forward: Women to Watch 2015—Organic Matters

NMWA is thrilled to host the fourth Women to Watch exhibition, Organic Matters, from June 5 to September 13, 2015. Developed in collaboration with the museum’s national and international outreach committees, the exhibition will feature work by emerging and underrepresented artists from communities across the country and the world. Committees collaborate with curators in their regions to choose a shortlist of artists, and then NMWA curators select one from each region, whose work will be shown at the museum.

Reto Thüring

Reto Thüring

We spoke with the Ohio Committee’s collaborating curator Reto Thüring, Associate Curator of Contemporary Art at the Cleveland Museum of Art, and the United Kingdom’s Lisa Le Feuvre, Head of Sculpture Studies at the Henry Moore Institute, to hear about the exhibition and its flora and fauna theme as well as their curatorial process. Stay tuned for more information about this inventive exhibition in the coming months.

What is the role of women artists in your community?
Reto Thüring:
Cleveland has a small, but very active and diverse, art scene with many women at the forefront of artistic innovation and community engagement.

Lisa Le Feuvre: The UK has so many strong female artists whose work is shown across museums, galleries, and project spaces. Stunning exhibitions in the U.K. of work by women right now include Phyllida Barlow at Tate Britain, Marine Hugonnier at the Baltic, Nasreen Mohamedi at Tate Liverpool, and at the Henry Moore Institute Gego and Lygia Clark.

How did your selection process work for Women to Watch?

Lisa Le Feuvre

Lisa Le Feuvre

LLF: We discussed many artists’ work. It was a real reflection of how many strong women artists there are in the U.K. We carefully thought through how each artist addressed the theme of flora and fauna and also how being selected for the award might stimulate new connections for the artists.

RT: I worked with Rose Bouthillier, the curator at MOCA Cleveland who has an extraordinary knowledge of the regional art scene. We first assembled a list of women artists from the region whose work we liked and that had something to do with the theme of this year’s exhibition. We then shortened the list down to six artists whose work we found particularly noteworthy and interesting. This process was very exciting. The discussions were enriching, having two perspectives and four eyes turned out to be a huge advantage for the selection process. I hope the discursive nature of our selection process is reflected in the diversity of the artists that we selected.

How did you work with the flora and fauna theme?
RT:
We tried to interpret the theme of flora and fauna as openly as possible but without becoming arbitrary. We agreed from the start that it was more important to nominate artists whose work we believe in than to match the theme in a too literal way.

LLF: The theme is one that is enduring. It was a very exciting prospect to think about how artists have addressed rather than represented this topic. I think our shortlist really shows this.

Installation of High Fiber—Women to Watch 2012

Installation of High Fiber—Women to Watch 2012

Do you have any final thoughts on the exhibition?
RT:
I enjoyed looking at Cleveland’s art scene from a specific angle, and through that I discovered artists whose work I did not know before. The theme provided a productive angle as it was neither too limiting nor too open. Given the richness and quality of artists and works that we discovered in our region alone, I imagine that the exhibition in Washington will be a great success and a wonderful opportunity to discover new artists.

LLF: Very simply, I can’t wait to see it!

—Ginny DeLacey is the development associate at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.