5 Questions with Kelsey Wishik

The fifth installment of NMWA’s Women to Watch exhibition series, Heavy Metal, is presented by the museum and participating national and international outreach committees. The exhibition showcases contemporary artists working in metal, including those who create sculpture, jewelry, and conceptual forms. Heavy Metal engages with the fluidity between “fine” art, design, and craft, whose traditional definitions are rooted in gender discrimination.

Kelsey Wishik; Photo: Jessy Cook

Heavy Metal—Women to Watch 2018
Artist: Kelsey Wishik
Nominating committee: Mississippi State Committee / Consulting curator: Pat Pinson, Mary C. O’Keefe Cultural Center

1. What do you like best about working with metal? 

Although metal seems solid and cold, it offers a great range of malleability and receptivity to shaping processes. Different metals offer strength and softness. I enjoy the physicality of working with steel. Working with metal provides me with an outlet for physical energy.

2. How do your works on view in Heavy Metal fit into your larger body of work? 

I have been investigating form and force. I’m interested in observing universal forces and the imprints they leave on life. Such forces include things like speed, momentum, pressure, flexibility, mass, and buoyancy. These forces also enter into more ethereal realms of love, nature, compassion, culture, and exploration. Each of my pieces embodies a force or series of forces.

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

My greatest tool as an artist is curiosity. It precedes all physical tools. As I’ve grown as an artist, curiosity keeps me asking questions that bring depth to my work and to my process of creating. How can I serve with art? How can I invite uplifting, imaginative attitudes without adding to the chaos? Is this work authentic? What are my intentions?

Kelsey Wishik, Sprout, 2014; Mild steel, 17 x 50 x 22 1/2 in.; Courtesy of the artist

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

They are infinite. I find inspiration through my surroundings, my intuition, and other people. I am influenced by literature, music, landscapes, and different vantage points. I am also inspired by rites of passage, especially those of the Indigenous cultures of North America. My interests include quantum physics, sci-fi, and energy fields (biological and geographical). Within the realm of women in metal arts, Lee Bontecou has always been a huge inspiration.

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

The National Gallery in London’s paintings from 1600 to the 1700s, specifically works by Caravaggio and Vermeer, took my breath away. When I was younger and studying portraiture in art history, the subject seemed uninteresting. Seeing these portraits eye-to-eye was mesmerizing. Detailed faces from the past seemed alive. It was poignant to feel the passage of time preserved in a frame.

Visit the museum to see Heavy Metal, on view through September 16, 2018. Hear from more of the featured artists through the online Heavy Metal Audio Guide.

5 Questions with Carolina Rieckhof Brommer

The fifth installment of NMWA’s Women to Watch exhibition series, Heavy Metal, is presented by the museum and participating national and international outreach committees. The exhibition showcases contemporary artists working in metal, including those who create sculpture, jewelry, and conceptual forms. Heavy Metal engages with the fluidity between “fine” art, design, and craft, whose traditional definitions are rooted in gender discrimination.

Carolina Rieckhof Brommer, Self-portrait 4, 2005; Welded steel, 47 1/4 x 27 1/2 x 19 3/4 in.; Courtesy of the artist; Photo by Natalia Revilla

Heavy Metal—Women to Watch 2018
Artist: Carolina Rieckhof Brommer
Nominating committee: Peru Committee / Consulting curator: Sharon Lerner, Museo de Arte de Lima

 1. What do you like best about working with metal?

Working with metal allows me to make changes. I can just cut it and weld it again. Because I make wearable sculptures, I like to think about what the material can add to the work. What can a metal apron or jacket say about the body that wears it? There is power in sewing, embroidery, and stitching, and I add a twist by using hard materials.

2. How do your works on view in Heavy Metal fit into your larger body of work?

I always wear my sculptures. My themes are related to a feminine world. For example, I am currently working with maternal themes. I made an alabaster belly, which I attached to my body with a leather harness. I asked women questions about maternity and it became a shared experience. I am interested in portraying my own ideas, but also seeing how my ideas connect to other people.

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

I don’t think I have one essential tool, but a pencil and a camera are useful. With a pencil I can draw and write down my ideas. The camera allows me to compare my ideas with reality. I take pictures of myself wearing my sculptures and I know if something is working or not. I print those pictures, draw on them, and imagine how to finish the work.

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Carolina Rieckhof Brommer, Self-portrait 3, 2004; Metal sponges and metal mesh, 98 1/2 x 47 1/4 x 27 1/2 in.; Courtesy of the artist; Photo by Natalia Revilla

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Carolina Rieckhof Brommer, Self-portrait 3, 2004; Metal sponges and metal mesh, 98 1/2 x 47 1/4 x 27 1/2 in.; Courtesy of the artist; Photo by Natalia Revilla

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Carolina Rieckhof Brommer, Self-portrait 4, 2005; Welded steel, 47 1/4 x 27 1/2 x 19 3/4 in.; Courtesy of the artist; Photo by Natalia Revilla

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Carolina Rieckhof Brommer, Self-portrait 4, 2005; Welded steel, 47 1/4 x 27 1/2 x 19 3/4 in.; Courtesy of the artist; Photo by Natalia Revilla

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

I need to create something when I am frustrated by reality. There is the sense of impotence that makes me want to make something in order to cope with it. I absolutely love the work of Louise Bourgeois, and how she addresses her subjects with an amazing amount of honesty, intensity, and power.

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

Rachel Whiteread’s exhibition at Tate Britain was great. The idea of casting a space and materializing the void is amazing. While I was there I was surprised by a visitor guide for blind people. How do you explain art, especially Whiteread’s work, to someone who cannot see? I love how art can open new connections and engage people in dialogue, and in equality.

I also saw an exhibition in Lima called JEDEQUE: el retorno del Cordero. Artist Miguel Cordero uses dark humor to confront reality and to talk about political issues. Cordero considers his work visual poetry, and I love this idea.

Visit the museum to see Heavy Metal, on view through September 16, 2018. Hear from more of the featured artists through the online Heavy Metal Audio Guide.

5 Questions with Paula Castillo

The fifth installment of NMWA’s Women to Watch exhibition series, Heavy Metal, is presented by the museum and participating national and international outreach committees. The exhibition showcases contemporary artists working in metal, including those who create sculpture, jewelry, and conceptual forms. Heavy Metal engages with the fluidity between “fine” art, design, and craft, whose traditional definitions are rooted in gender discrimination.

Heavy Metal—Women to Watch 2018
Artist: Paula Castillo
Nominating committee: New Mexico State Committee / Consulting curator: Laura Addison, Museum of International Folk Art

Paula Castillo and Tethered in NMWA’s Heavy Metal galleries; Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA

1. What do you like best about working with metal?

You can always come back to it and it is generally still much like it was when you left it. It’s both still and fluid.

2. How do your works on view in Heavy Metal fit into your larger body of work?

They are similar. These works are generative pieces marked by hyper desire to arrange and weld modest forms to mimic the manic intensity with which we structure our world, like the human agency to arrange and work with nature and culture.

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

Suffering. It breaks me down so I that don’t try to contain every experience.

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

Poetry, history, literature, the natural world, and human geography influence me. All are complex and malleable with their hundreds of intersections between the physical and the cultural landscape. The manmade microcosms combined with the expansive natural environment have been the catalyst for my interest in the systems and spaces we inhabit.

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Paula Castillo, Tethered, 2014; Lock washers and hand-cut and twisted wire, 15 x 18 x 11 in.; Courtesy of the artist; © 2017 Paula Castillo

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Paula Castillo, Inverted Star, 2016; 22-gauge mild steel with auto-body finish, 15 x 3 x 18 in.; Courtesy of the artist; © 2017 Paula Castillo

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Paula Castillo, All Those Portions of Small Waves, 2012; Steel byproduct, 3 x 27 x 27 in.; Courtesy of the artist; © 2017 Paula Castillo

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Paula Castillo, The Second Part, 2014; Fencing nails and auto-body finish, 16 x 52 x 52 in.; Courtesy of the artist; © 2017 Paula Castillo

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

It would be Javier Téllez’s Letter on the Blind, For the Use of Those Who See (2008).

Visit the museum to see Heavy Metal, on view through September 16, 2018. Hear from more of the featured artists through the online Heavy Metal Audio Guide.

5 Questions with Rana Begum

The fifth installment of NMWA’s Women to Watch exhibition series, Heavy Metal, is presented by the museum and participating national and international outreach committees. The exhibition showcases contemporary artists working in metal, including those who create sculpture, jewelry, and conceptual forms. Heavy Metal engages with the fluidity between “fine” art, design, and craft, whose traditional definitions are rooted in gender discrimination.

Heavy Metal—Women to Watch 2018
Artist: Rana Begum
Nominating committee: U.K. Friends of NMWA / Consulting curator: Caroline Douglas, Contemporary Art Society

Rana Begum; Photo: Josh Murfitt

1. What do you like best about working with metal?

I look to architecture for inspiration, which accounts for my attraction to working with industrial materials. Using metals gives my work a physicality and feeling of permanence, juxtaposed with more abstract, meditative, and contemplative pursuits. Combined with color and light, these materials allows me to push visual boundaries and work on a variety of scales.

2. How do your works on view in Heavy Metal fit into your larger body of work?

These works are made from extruded aluminum bars, something I use extensively. I like to work with aluminum as a lightweight material that I can physically handle. As material can often inform the outcome in my work, it is essential that I can engage with it in a hands-on manner.

These two works continue the dialogue with light, form, and color. They are part of a series which explores the way in which the viewer may connect with a seemingly static work as light and color are activated by movement.

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

Light, because without it neither form nor color can survive. Rather than mixing color by hand, I use light and reflection instead. Light delineates form. As it changes in density, it constantly refreshes the work.

The main challenge I face is how to capture and control light in a way that also allows space for the unexpected.

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Rana Begum, No. 161, 2008; Paint on powder-coated aluminum, sixteen elements, each 98 1/2 in. high; Courtesy of the artist and Kate MacGarry, London; Photo by Philip White

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Rana Begum, No. 161 (detail), 2008; Paint on powder-coated aluminum, sixteen elements, each 98 1/2 in. high; Courtesy of the artist and Kate MacGarry, London; Photo by Philip White

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Rana Begum, No. 161 (detail), 2008; Paint on powder-coated aluminum, sixteen elements, each 98 1/2 in. high; Courtesy of the artist and Kate MacGarry, London; Photo by Philip White

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Rana Begum, No. 546 Chevrons, 2014; Paint on powder-coated aluminum, 77 1/2 x 208 1/4 x 2 in. overall; Courtesy of the artist and Kate MacGarry, London; Photo by Philip White

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Rana Begum, No. 546 Chevrons (detail), 2014; Paint on powder-coated aluminum, 77 1/2 x 208 1/4 x 2 in. overall; Courtesy of the artist and Kate MacGarry, London; Photo by Philip White

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Rana Begum, No. 546 Chevrons (detail), 2014; Paint on powder-coated aluminum, 77 1/2 x 208 1/4 x 2 in. overall; Courtesy of the artist and Kate MacGarry, London; Photo by Philip White

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Rana Begum, No. 546 Chevrons (detail), 2014; Paint on powder-coated aluminum, 77 1/2 x 208 1/4 x 2 in. overall; Courtesy of the artist and Kate MacGarry, London; Photo by Philip White

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

I draw inspiration from my surroundings and the way light affects them. Just as the light changes each day, so too does everything it touches. When I am out in London or other cities, the majority of photographs I take have light as the focal point. This can be the way light is revealing a specific element or how it is creating patterns through reflection. Capturing these fleeting moments inspires and informs my work.

Tess Jaray has been my mentor and a huge influence on my work. I am also very fortunate to be working with amazing women—those who run galleries I work with and curators such as Diana Campbell, Helen Phyby, and Anne Barlow. These women have been an inspiration to me, encouraging me to keep aiming higher and keep pushing myself and my practice.

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

I loved seeing Rachel Whiteread’s exhibition at the Tate. The way she transforms and elevates everyday objects—creating solidity from impermanence—really resonates with me. There is a delicacy and poetry to the way she uses materials, akin to what I am trying to achieve in my own practice.

Visit the museum to see Heavy Metal, on view through September 16, 2018. Hear from more of the featured artists through the online Heavy Metal Audio Guide.

5 Questions with Cheryl Eve Acosta

The fifth installment of NMWA’s Women to Watch exhibition series, Heavy Metal, is presented by the museum and participating national and international outreach committees. The exhibition showcases contemporary artists working in metal, including those who create sculpture, jewelry, and conceptual forms. Heavy Metal engages with the fluidity between “fine” art, design, and craft, whose traditional definitions are rooted in gender discrimination.

Heavy Metal—Women to Watch 2018
Artist: Cheryl Eve Acosta
Nominating committee: Greater Kansas City Area Committee / Consulting curator: Barbara O’Brien, formerly of the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art 

Portrait of Cheryl Eve Acosta with her Tattuage line of jewelry; Photo: Jim Barcus

1. What do you like best about working with metal? 

There is something unique about working with a naturally occurring material such as metal and being able to endlessly transform its raw nature from its original state. Metals have distinct qualities, such as their conductivity, malleability, resiliency, and strength, providing a variety of processes for me to explore.

2. How do your works on view in Heavy Metal fit into your larger body of work?

The intention behind the title Heavy Metal can be perceived in a variety of ways. My selected sculptural adornments reflect the material, but some also allude to the visual weight they could have. My work’s unique copper–fabric process and combination of materials represent the cycle of life. Brightly colored enamel represents birth, copper captures decay, and fabric-and-metal combinations suggest fossils.

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

Besides my hands, fire and electricity play important roles in my work. One allows me to carve, shape, and color metal, while the other permits the fusing of disparate materials.

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Cheryl Eve Acosta, Ericius, 2012; Cuff with copper, enamel, and glass, 5 1/4 x 5 1/4 x 1 1/2 in.; Courtesy of the artist; © Cheryl Eve Acosta; Photo by Gene Starr

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Cheryl Eve Acosta, Palomino, 2015; Cuff with copper and enamel, 3 1/8 x 4 1/2 x 4 3/4 in.; Courtesy of the artist; © Cheryl Eve Acosta; Photo by Gene Starr

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Cheryl Eve Acosta, Ciclos, 2015; Brooches with copper and enamel, thirteen works ranging from 5/8 x 1 x 7/8 in. to 1 1/4 x 1 x 7/8 in.; Courtesy of the artist; © Cheryl Eve Acosta; Photo by Gene Starr

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Cheryl Eve Acosta, Palomino, 2015; Collar with copper and enamel, 1 1/4 x 9 x 9 in.; Courtesy of the artist; © Cheryl Eve Acosta; Photo by Gene Starr

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Cheryl Eve Acosta, Open to Heal, 2009; Cuff with copper and organza, 10 x 11 x 5 1/2 in.; Courtesy of the artist; © Cheryl Eve Acosta; Photo by Affandi Setiawa

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Cheryl Eve Acosta, Fossilium, 2015; Collar with copper and organza, 4 x 11 x 13 in.; Courtesy of the artist; © Cheryl Eve Acosta; Photo by Gene Starr

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

Marine life, couture fashion, and architecture continue to be my sources of inspiration. I’m also very driven by the use of technology and how it transforms and redefines art.

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

One of my favorite exhibitions was Manus x Machina at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which included Dutch artist Iris Van Herpen and her cutting-edge fashion designs.

Visit the museum to see Heavy Metal, on view through September 16, 2018. Hear from more of the featured artists through the online Heavy Metal Audio Guide.

Meddling with Metal: “Heavy Metal—Women to Watch 2018”

As a medium for artistic production, metal goes back to early human history. Some of the oldest surviving pieces of art include functional and decorative metal objects from cultures around the world. The use of metal has even defined eras of history (such as the Bronze Age and the Iron Age). The 20 artists featured in NMWA’s exhibition Heavy MetalWomen to Watch 2018 employ metal in a myriad of ways to highlight the material’s brilliance, texture, and color.

Cheryl Eve Acosta, Ericius, 2012; Cuff with copper, enamel, and glass, 5 1/4 x 5 1/4 x 1 1/2 in.; Courtesy of the artist; © Cheryl Eve Acosta; Photo by Gene Starr

The fifth installment of NMWA’s Women to Watch series, Heavy Metal showcases the ways that women artists have creatively carried this medium into the contemporary era, and how their works belie the traditionally masculine reputation of metalwork. Presented by the museum and participating national and international outreach committees, the exhibition showcases contemporary artists working in metal, including those who create sculpture, jewelry, and conceptual forms.

Metals can be strong enough to hold up a bridge or a skyscraper, while at the same time intricate enough for fine jewelry. Some catch the eye with gilt and polish, while others are heavy and weathered, speaking to their source—the earth. Featured works by Heavy Metal artists showcase these qualities. Cheryl Eve Acosta’s lightweight cuff bracelets echo the organic shapes of barnacles and coral, but they are made from copper, a malleable metal. In contrast, Summer House (2015) by Leila Khoury contains steel and concrete, traditional metals used in heavy construction. These different uses of metal speak to the innovative methods of artists today.

Alice Hope, Untitled, 2016; Used Budweiser tabs, 6 ft. diameter; Private collection; Photo by Jenny Gorman

Although the word “metal” often conjures images of gray or bronze-colored works, some artists in Heavy Metal use striking colors in their sculptures. Blanca Muñoz’s Bujía (2013) is an iridescent stainless steel work that incorporates jewel-toned metal mesh planes. An intricate untitled work from 2016 by Alice Hope appears made out of a metal rope, but is actually made of thousands of used beer can tabs, and shines in a vivid vermillion. Lola Brooks’s sacredheartknot (2015) combines steel and gold with bright, smooth Mediterranean coral in a striking textural and color contrast.

Each work in the exhibition  explores the transformable, tactile, and expressive qualities of metal. The largest Women to Watch show to date, Heavy Metal proves the continuing dynamism of this age-old material, and the surprising ways that today’s women artists give it life.

Visit the museum to see Heavy Metal, on view through September 16, 2018. Hear from some of the featured artists through the online Heavy Metal Audio Guide.

—Nana Gongadze is the 2018 summer publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Spotlight: Rachel Sussman

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.

Organic Matters—Women to Watch 2015
Artist: Rachel Sussman
Nominating committee: Greater New York Committee / Consulting curators: Christiane Paul, Whitney Museum of American Art; Dana Miller, Whitney Museum of American Art

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Rachel Sussman at NMWA; Photo credit: Laura Hoffman

Rachel Sussman mixes art and science to spark reflection on the oldest living organisms on the planet. “It’s part art, it’s part science, and it’s part philosophy,” explains Sussman. Her conceptual photograph series “Oldest Living Things in the World” delves into “deep-time and long-term thinking.”

Although her subjects have survived for millennia, Sussman brings awareness to the fragility of their existence due to recent climate change and human encroachment.

Working with a team of biologists, Sussman traveled the globe in an attempt to record 30 organisms that have survived for 2,000 years or more. Not merely scientific documentation, Sussman’s photographs serve as portraits of individual organisms—each with their own kind of dignity and personality. Sussman shot her subjects using a Mamiya 7 II camera, which she has owned since 2004. She reveals, “It has been with me through the entire project and has been to every continent.”

Organic Matters includes three large-scale photographs from her series. La Llareta #0308-2B31 (2,000+ years old; Atacama Desert, Chile) is what Sussman calls the “poster child of the project.” These alien-like shrubs are related to parsley and carrots and are comprised of thousands of densely packed branches. Sussman photographed La Llareta at an elevation of 15,000 feet in an area of the Atacama Desert with no recorded rainfall in history.

Rachel Sussman, La Llareta #0308-2B31 (2,000+ years old; Atacama Desert, Chile), 2008; Archival pigment prints on photo rag paper, 44 x 54 in.; Courtesy of the artist

Rachel Sussman, La Llareta #0308-2B31 (2,000+ years old; Atacama Desert, Chile), 2008; Archival pigment prints on photo rag paper, 44 x 54 in.; Courtesy of the artist

Spruce Gran Picea #0909-11A07 (9,500 years old; Fulufjället, Sweden) portrays the oldest organism in on view in Organic Matters. As a clonal organism, the spruce tree grows genetically identical shoots. Sussman refers to the tree as “a portrait of climate change.” The mass of low-lying branches represents how the tree appeared for 9,500 years. Over the last 50 years, a spindly trunk has grown from its center—a climate-related anomaly.

Continuously engrossed in art and science collaborations, Sussman mentions Trevor Paglen’s space-proof photos, Ed Burtynsky’s environmental landscape work, and Henning Rogge’s reclaimed war landscapes as inspiring and thought-provoking. Because her subjects are located around the planet, yet they share the capacity to inspire viewers with their evocation of time, Sussman views her “Oldest Living Things” as something “that just transcends the things that divide us.”

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

Spotlight: Jiha Moon

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.

Organic Matters—Women to Watch 2015
Artist: Jiha Moon
Nominating committee: Georgia Committee / Consulting curator: Michael Rooks, High Museum of Art

Jiha Moon at NMWA; Photo credit: Laura Hoffman

Jiha Moon at NMWA; Photo credit: Laura Hoffman

Jiha Moon is known for her blend of traditional materials and pop culture iconography. Like a “cartographer of cultures,” Moon is interested in creating images that can be read differently by people with different backgrounds. The Korean-born artist says, “Translating cultural incongruities is one of the most exciting and nerve-wracking experiences I have.”

Moon mixes nature and culture in Peach Mask I, Leia, and Immortal Dessert—all on view in Organic Matters. Each work incorporates the shape of a peach. A prominent symbol in the state of Georgia, the peach also represents happiness and longevity in Korean culture.

The works in Organic Matters are exemplary of Moon’s cross-cultural artistic style. In many of her works, Moon deconstructs and layers iconic images into uncharacteristic positions. Peach Mask I mixes acrylic forms together with calligraphic ink swirls. Upon closer examination, the viewer can find recognizable shapes—like those of the video-game characters Angry Birds. Through combining figurative elements and abstract, gestural strokes, Moon hopes to create kaleidoscopic works that are “somewhat familiar yet very strange at the same time.”

Jiha Moon, Peach Mask I, 2013; Ink and acrylic on Hanji paper, 38 x 38 1/2 in.; Courtesy of the artist

Jiha Moon, Peach Mask I, 2013; Ink and acrylic on Hanji paper, 38 x 38 1/2 in.; Courtesy of the artist

Although she was trained as a painter, she has also explored textiles and ceramics. Moon’s fascination with clay lies in its “long history connecting East and West. As an Asian American artist, this is such a rich area to explore and to research.” Two of her ceramic works are showcased in Organic Matters. Leia incorporates traditional colors found in Asian ceramics with Star Wars references. Similarly, Immortal Dessert melds a Cheshire cat, smiley face emoticons, and fortune cookies. All are common motifs for Moon. Fortune cookies—an American invention—are of particular interest to the artist as the “biggest misunderstanding of Asianness.”

Although her works use images from today’s culture, her materials are often traditional. She frequently uses Hanji, a Korean Mulberry paper. She said, “I buy a year’s supply when I visit Korea.”

In a gallery talk at the museum, Moon told visitors her influences are “where I travel, who I meet, and . . . things I see in nature.” She compares her surrealistic works to her life in the U.S., saying, “I always feel like I’m sort of in between places all the time and I try to find the beauty within that . . . Identity is something really complex and shifty and changeable and that type of thing is always present in my work.”

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

5 Questions with Mary Tsiongas

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: Mary Tsiongas
Nominating committee: New Mexico State Committee / Consulting curator: Lisa Tamiris Becker, UNM Art Museum

1. Organic Matters includes art that refers or responds to the natural world. How does your work The Mercurial Dog Anticipates Her relate to the theme?

Mary Tsiongas; Photo by Aziza Murray

Mary Tsiongas; Photo by Aziza Murray

My vision for this piece, which is part of a body of work called The Likenesses of Light, was to relate the interdependence of plants, animals, and humans to the interrelationships of art forms through contemporary media. The work is informed by early film history, and in The Mercurial Dog Anticipates Her, I used a botanical print by Edward Skeats (a little-known artist in the collection of the UNM Art Museum) as a backdrop or environment for the action to happen. The work shows a scenario in the desert that alludes to childhood fables and folklore but also our deep dependence on water and animals for survival. I evoke fables and folklore because as children this is one way we learn about nature; we learn that nature is animated, alive, wise, tricky, powerful, humbling, etc.

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

It is fairly representative of my most recent works. In the series “Vanish” and “The Likenesses of Light” I use paintings and drawings of landscapes/plants/animals by other artists as backdrops and then add or animate characters that manipulate the work in some form. The figures inhabit the paintings/drawings, erase them, blur them, and change them, alluding to our manipulation of and effect on our environment. The work also suggests the potential impermanence of new media and the durability of paintings. I was hoping for a playful dialogue with painting as an older tradition; it’s a frozen frame, a created moment in time, whereas video moves, connotes lapsed time, and is more ephemeral.

The piece that is in Organic Matters has a botanical drawing of a cactus as a backdrop and in the foreground I’ve added a figure of a girl and a coyote-like dog that appear to change and alter the cactus and thus the drawing. I am hoping the work tells a story of the interdependence of humans, animals and plants.

Mary Tsiongas, The Mercurial Dog Anticipates Her, 2013; LED monitor, 2-minute HD video loop, media player, and wooden frame, 33 x 24 x 4 in.; Courtesy of the artist and Richard Levy Gallery

Mary Tsiongas, The Mercurial Dog Anticipates Her, 2013; LED monitor, 2-minute HD video loop, media player, and wooden frame, 33 x 24 x 4 in.; Courtesy of the artist and Richard Levy Gallery

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

I do a lot of research for my work, or perhaps more appropriately “hunting” for information, images, objects that will spark the evolution and development of whatever I’m working on. So the computer is probably the most essential tool I use. But I also go to libraries and bookstores, and I walk in the desert to find this “information” as well.

I would also have to add a skill that is essential for me, and that is editing. Not just for video editing on my computer, editing is ultimately one of the most important skills an artist can have. You have to know what stays and what to get rid of or what doesn’t belong in the work.

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

In addition to my interest in folklore and metaphysics, I also have a background in science. I am currently reading (and sometimes rereading) Julian Barbour’s book The End of Time. It’s a book on the physics of time. Several years back I became very interested in “time” and how we understand it as humans. It evolved from an interest in trees and their immensely long lives; and in dendrochronology, the study of tree ring dating. I have been reading up on different ideas of time as much as I can. A few years back I saw David Wilson’s stereoscopic video Book of Wisdom and Lies at the Museum of Jurassic Technology in L.A. I was amazed how it seemed to represent the idea that time and space are linked; it’s also absolutely gorgeous. It has been another great inspiration.

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

Last fall I was part of an exhibition called Late Harvest curated by JoAnne Northrup at the Nevada Museum of Art. It was a remarkable exhibition that juxtaposed contemporary works, some of them using taxidermy, with historical wildlife paintings. The diversity of works and the way they were installed in the space was quite entrancing. There were works in the show that were disturbing, and many that were quite inspiring.

5 Questions with Lara Shipley

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: Lara Shipley
Nominating committee: Greater Kansas City Area / Consulting curator: Catherine Futter, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

1. Organic Matters includes art that refers or responds to the natural world. How do the works from your series “Devil’s Promenade” (specifically, In the Ozarks there are Lights and False Lights) relate to the theme of nature?

Lara Shipley; Photo by Daniel Coburn

Lara Shipley; Photo by Daniel Coburn

“Devil’s Promenade” is about the relationship between rural culture and landscape, specifically Ozark culture in Southern Missouri and Northern Arkansas. The project is framed around the story of a mysterious light on a wooded road, called the Spook Light. It is seen in an area referred to as Devil’s Promenade and it is said the Devil also lives on the road and steals wanderers’ souls. In this place you can either find redemption or damnation. These are two very extreme options, and it’s a fate lacking in volition. Whatever happens, happens to you.

This story takes place in one of the most consistently impoverished areas of the country, where limited opportunity creates a struggle for agency. I find it fascinating how certain physical locations become the settings for specific stories, and by going there, you are able to reflect on their significance to your life.

The two pieces in the Organic Matters exhibition reference the story of the mysterious light in the woods, putting the viewer in the vantage point of the wanderer. But in neither image is it clear if the light will provide good or harm. In the frozen state of photographic time we have no resolution to this question.

2. Are these works representative of your oeuvre? How do they fit into your larger body of work?

All of my work focuses on rural American community and its relationship to physical place. I also am a portrait maker, a writer, and a bookmaker. For me the final project is a combination of all of these elements.

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Lara Shipley, In the Ozarks There Are Lights (Devil’s Promenade), 2013; Inkjet print, 30 x 37 in.; Courtesy of the artist

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

Open eyes, open ears, and an open mind. They keep me from just remaking what I already think I know. Which is very little.

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

Really too many to name! Some of my initial inspirations came from novels. Growing up in the country I didn’t have access to a lot of culture. My mom was a librarian and has always been a voracious reader, and to entertain me as a teenager, would give me novels that were perhaps a little adult for my age. Through writers such as Virginia Woolf, Margaret Atwood, Steinbeck, and Gabriel García Márquez, I began to understand symbolic thinking. I remember the excitement of first tapping into this coded language, like discovering a hole in the floor to another world. This really put me at odds with the evangelical community I grew up around, which looks at the world, and the Bible, very literally. Both fascinated me, but it was very confusing trying to reconcile the two. This tension is very present in my project “Devil’s Promenade.”

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

There are two great group exhibitions up in Kansas City right now. American Soldier, a photography exhibition at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, and Making Histories, a primarily video exhibition focusing on global events at H&R Block Artspace. Both do a fantastic job, in my opinion, of bringing together artists who take a wide variety of approaches to topics more frequently relegated to journalism. The pieces in these shows are both beautiful and challenging, and the experimentation present was really inspiring and gave me a lot of hometown pride!