Posts Categorized: Member Interviews

Member Interview Series: Yu Wei

Yu Wei is a visual artist and an independent publisher who is always wandering, reading, drawing, printmaking, photographing, and writing. She makes books and whispers stories through visual approaches. Wei was also a fellow at Spudnik Press from July 2021 to February 2022 and is currently preparing a studio in Beijing to continue her art practice.

Wei was interviewed by Spudnik Press 2022 Spring Intern Andrea Ye. Andrea is pursuing her Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, concentrating on mix-media drawings and printmaking. Her work addresses the sensorial and sentimental connection with nature. 

Andrea Ye (AY): Your website has information about your life and undergraduate experience in Beijing, China. I’m actually also born in China. Can you share something about how you started as an artist in China?

Yu Wei (YW): I went to a middle school in China where we focused on art a lot. After graduating, it was very natural that I go to an art school in China for undergrad and continue it here in Chicago. I studied graphic design for my undergraduate degree and came to Chicago to study at the SAIC Visual Communication Design department. 

AY: How does your life in these two art schools compare?

YW: In China, I was more focused on myself and my own personal art practice. I didn’t have much collaborative work during my undergrad, except for a few group projects. The Visual Communication department at SAIC has a different vibe from that of other departments. Other graduate students all have studio cubes, but our department has this kind of office setting. Because of the pandemic, many people went back to their homes so there were only two of us in that studio and we worked together a lot. I also took a lot of courses from printmedia and that was very interesting, because you always work in the print shop. It’s different from just sitting in front of the laptop.

AY: What class did you take in printmedia? Any particular medium?

YW: I work a lot with risography because I make books. The first class I took is called “Adventures in Self-publishing.” That’s where I began to know about the system of self-publishing. And this is one of the books I made with risography (see Image 1)

AY: Can you talk about the process and your inspiration? 

YW: Do you have a lot of dreams? What kind of dreams? Is it more related to life in reality, or if it is more weird and bizarre?

AY: I would say most of them have connections with real life. I dream about real people but they kind of weave into some surreal scenes and strange plots.

YW: I used to have dreams connected to real life. Basically, it’s like a reverse version of my day. But during the pandemic, when there were around two months that I just stayed in my apartment, I started to have weird dreams that are totally different from the dreams that I used to have. They’re like adventures. Sometimes I wake up and feel exhausted. 

AY: Sometimes I wake up and wonder if a dream is actually another world and I just got back from there.

YW: Yeah, I feel that, too. What is real and what is not real is kind of ambiguous. When I have dreams that feel like I’m about to die, I will wake up and realize that maybe I just died in that world and came back to reality. I never had these kinds of dreams before the pandemic, and it is quite surprising personally, so I made a book about them. 

Image 1: “What adventure down there awaits its end?”, 2020 riso-printed book, 8 x 10 inches


Image 2: “What adventure down there awaits its end?”, 2020 riso-printed book, 8 x 10 inches

AY: So these sides are images of the dreams (see Image 1). And what are these on the other side (see Image 2)?

YW: It’s a full moon cycle. On the front is my bedsheet and on the back is the moon phase on that day. And if you unfold it, the image of the dream is inside. I also included the weather of that day.

A: Oh and I also saw on your website you made a book about the moon? I really like that one. 

YW: Yes. The inspiration is from a class where we made a Whole Earth Catalog for 2070, so I made a fictional history timeline of the Moon from 2020 to 2070. The project was in the form of a scientific or archaeological report. I wrote the timeline from the perspective of people who migrated to the Moon and how they looked back to their history from 2070. I made this riso book based on that timeline. 

Image 3: “THE LUNAR ARCHIVE: 2020-2070”, 2021 riso-printed book, 4 x 10 inches

AY: Can you talk about the history timeline a bit more?

YW: It’s very vague. In 2020, humans began to immigrate and landed on the near side of the Moon. As time passed and people expanded toward the far side of the Moon, their connections and emotional attachment to the Earth faded. 2050 was the turning point when they reached a distance where the Earth-Moon system of communication was lost. This caused a shift in perspective. The history is written by people living on the Moon in 2070, so they identify with the Moon more than the Earth. They address the people on the Earth as “they” (see Image 4) and call themselves “we” (see image 5). But before 2050, the story is about them as people from the Earth. And when they completely lost contact with the Earth, it started the history of the people of the Moon. 

Image 4: “THE LUNAR ARCHIVE: 2020-2070”, 2021 riso-printed book, 4 x 10 inches


Image 5: “THE LUNAR ARCHIVE: 2020-2070”, 2021 riso-printed book, 4 x 10 inches

AY: In real life, do you spend time looking at the Moon at night?

YW: Yeah. I like to browse through space news like the NASA website. I also drew the surface of the Moon as my drawing practice based on real craters. I wrote the whole narrative in 2019 and the book’s timeline starts in 2020. I also started to practice drawing the Moon’s surface in 2019. So when 2020 came, I decided to combine these separate works into a book that I finished in 2021. I recently read about a performance artist who talks about her piece as a dying project as she ages, and I find that so beautiful. I’m thinking about continuing this project and expanding it a little each year, until 2070. I’m still thinking about it.

AY: That sounds like a very long-term artist book project. What makes you use books often as a form of your art? 

YW: Reading has been a habit for me since I was young so books are the most familiar medium to me. I like books because they do not give me the pressure found in other forms of communication. For example, our conversation right now requires an instant response, either through words or expressions. But that is not the case with books. You might read a book years ago and one day you think about it and you have some response to it. Books don’t blame you for anything. I feel comfortable when others look at my art through the form of a book. I think they probably feel comfortable, too.

AY: How about texts? I find many bilingual elements in your books. 

YW: Yes, I insist on doing bilingual pieces because the Chinese language is just beautiful. I don’t translate from one language to another in some of my books. There are some texts written in either English or Chinese only. I think this is a unique experience for bilingual readers because they can realize the subtle differences between the two languages. These differences are not because they got lost in translation. They were intended.

AY: This makes me think of the word “wandering” mentioned in both your bio and artist statement. There is a feeling of “wander” between the two languages since some words do not have direct translations. And if one can recognize the words in different languages, there are two spaces to land on and a seam in the middle that belongs to this person. Many of your previous books, including the one you made at Spudnik Press, were printed through riso. Are there particular reasons for this decision?

YW: With risography, I get to create the whole book completely on my own. The book I made at Spudnik is a collaborative work with my friend who’s a photographer. Risography gives me more control over the final outcome and I feel like I’m making something from the very beginning to the end. This year, I worked with my friend again to print a project called “Parallel” (see Images 6 and 7). It is currently on exhibit as part of my Fellowship at Spudnik Press now. 

Image 6: “平行 parallel”, 2021 riso-printed newspaper, 10 x 16 inches


Image 7: “平行 parallel”, 2021 riso-printed newspaper, 10 x 16 inches

AY: What else did you do during the program? And how did you find out about Spudnik Press?

YW: During the process of application, I wrote a proposal for projects that I want to do during the eight months of Fellowship. We also did weekly monitoring shifts in the studio and attended seminars where we talked about things like teaching and writing for grants. We also had an exhibition for our public programming. My graduate advisor recommended Spudnik Press to me and I knew several students who went through Spudnik’s Fellowship Program before. After I graduated from SAIC, Spudnik became my working studio. I also sold some of my books here during the Hubbard Street Lofts 3rd Floor Market event last December.

AY: That sounds really nice! Where else do you sell or where else can we find your work?

YW: I have also sent my books to independent bookstores like Inga and Buddy in Chicago and Printed Matter in NYC. And I just concluded an exhibition on March 26 at the International Print Center in NYC as well. 

AY: Since you recently wrapped up your Fellowship at Spudnik Press, what is next for you?

YW: I’m flying back to China this May. My friends and I are planning to build a private studio over there to continue making art. We are planning to set it up for screenprinting and risography for now. I will have the information about the studio on my website soon. I am also on Instagram at @by.yuwei.

Member Interview Series: Alex Belardo Kostiw

Alex Belardo Kostiw is a graphic designer, artist, and educator. Her work deals in poetic and iterative elements, visual structures of comics, and conceptually driven forms. By exploring ambiguities of written and visual language, her publications and prints make space for complex realities of identity and human intimacy. Alex received an MFA in Visual Communication Design from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a BA in English literature from the University of Chicago. She lives and works alongside two cats.

Nick Sekits is a multidisciplinary artist who works largely in illustration, printmaking, and multimedia. His work is often influenced by scientific processes, the natural world, and folklore. He graduated in 2020 with a BA in Art and Biology with concentrations in drawing and herpetology.  

Nick Sekits (NS): I read that you originally got your bachelor’s degree in English literature. What drew you to print media?

Alex Kostiw (AK): I always loved both books and drawing. For me, they went hand in hand as modes of storytelling–drawing was a way to imagine a story. I went to a college that had a small art department at the time. I loved English Lit, which was my major, and I ended up doing a visual art minor focused on drawing. After graduation, I worked in the art history department. I think that’s when I started to think more about illustration as a way to express a critical understanding of a text rather than as just something ornamental, or as having a one-to-one relationship with what the text already says explicitly. Thinking about that and also working for this department, I became more interested in graphic design and screenprinted posters. And I learned about Spudnik Press, which was not too far from where my partner at the time was living. I signed up for a couple of printmaking classes to refresh my creative practice, and I actually just ended up falling in love with printmaking. And I realized how much I missed learning, so I went to grad school, and that’s how I got to what I do now.

NS: So your journey with print started with Spudnik in a sense?

AK: Yeah, pretty concretely.

NS: What drew you to Spudnik Press?

AK: From what I can remember, there weren’t really a lot of resources like Spudnik Press. And I liked that it was this community space with so much emphasis on different forms of printmaking.

NS: Yeah! I haven’t been there very long, but it does feel very community-oriented. You completed a residency at Spudnik 2016 and are now teaching there, right?

AK: Yeah, I started teaching this past fall, but I have to say, it’s something I was interested in doing for a while. I also wanted to be part of Spudnik again. I haven’t had as much time for my printmaking practice. I figured, if I’m there, I’m going to feel a little more inspired, I’m going to feel a little more connected, and I can also get back into my own work.

Inventory: Recollection | saddle-stitch binding in hard case, accordion fold, laserjet, edition of 1

NS: Do you find yourself returning to literary works or authors as sources of inspiration?

AK: Yeah. One of my favorite authors is Virginia Woolf. I regularly return to Orlando, her sense of humor in that book and the gender play that goes on there […] it’s definitely a novel before its time. I also love her concept that the self is something complicated and that it can be difficult for a person to understand themselves, let alone other people. I’m interested in her work on the kind of unspoken language that happens when two people become truly intimate with each other, or the idiosyncratic language that is unique to them. I also love reading Anne Carson and her poetry, especially her translation of Sappho. The kind of openness there, all of that space where Sappho’s original poetry has disintegrated because it was on papyrus. That stuff didn’t really last, and so we’ve just got these scraps. I think that style definitely influenced some of the writing that I’ve done. And I love comics. It’s hard to choose a favorite in the realm of comics, but I do really like Jia Sung. Jia’s work is fantastic. She’s trained as a painter, but she has also ventured into comics, artist’s books, and poetry.

NS: I have some artists to look into! I also looked at your self-publishing website, and it made me curious – what does self-publishing mean to you?

AK: There are dynamic definitions of what publishing is. Is it in a digital or physical space? What’s the scale of it? Is it something where the artist has complete control? Is it a collaboration? Are we touching every single book or sending them off to a printer? Self publishing for me means that maybe I work with a printer who is better at using a risograph than I am or who has access to more colors than I do. But for the most part, it’s going through the whole process of writing, drawing, and designing the book for how I want the reader to interact with it, or what space I want to create for the reader to inhabit. I think of the book not just as an object, but as a physical and psychological space. I tend to think about my projects as books, even when they don’t necessarily look like books. They are a kind of narrative sequence meant for a person to move through.

NS: It sounds like self-publishing can mean many things but you prefer to be hands-on with the product you’re making.

AK: I think the other extension of that is I really miss being at art book fairs and comics festivals. I feel like that’s when I get to really connect with people and see them connect with my work. There’s something so rewarding about seeing someone pick up one of my books and go through it, how their face transforms at various moments, or how they’re interacting with the pages. I really miss that.

Enchiridion | 36 pages, saddle-stitch binding and accordion fold, risograph and xerox, 5 x 10.25 inches

NS: I am also interested in sequential art, which I guess is comics in a broad sense. I love how your work dissolves the expectations put forth by traditional comics and really uses them as a narrative device.

AK: Thanks! I honestly feel like in the comics community, especially here in Chicago, a lot of people really push this idea of what a comic is. For that reason, I often think that the only difference between comics and artist’s books is production value.

NS: Right, like what kind of paper is it on.

AK: Exactly. Was it hardbound? Did you sew it by hand? Those are lines that I really just throw away from my work. But yeah, there are a lot of innovative artists here in Chicago, and we’ve got such a great comics community.

NS: On your site, you mention “creativity within constraints.” Could you talk more about what you mean by that?

AK: There are a lot of ways that I think about constraints. I’ll start with this French writing collective called Oulipo. Oulipo is a group of writers and mathematicians interested in discovering new text in existing texts. They felt that all texts that could possibly be generated are already out there. They used algorithmic writing techniques, like composing a new piece out of every fourth word in a found text. Or writing an entire novel written without the letter E. And it’s not just that the letter E is missing from the writing, but it’s a mystery about a character who feels that something is missing and is searching for it.

I found that applying constraints forced me to think about writing as a kind of problem-solving that I had to navigate. Creating limitations gives me a place to start with a project and helps me focus on what the project is really about. It’s a lot like design thinking. In branding, you have a set color palette, a set number of fonts, and different standards for combining them. But within that, there are still endless possible combinations, right? And I think that’s defined how I engage in many aspects of my creative practice. When it comes to screen printing for example, maybe you’re only going to have three screens or two screens to use to make an image. But by reconfiguring or manipulating those couple of stencils, you can make a variety of prints. And when you have constraints as the creator, you also extend those constraints to your audience. You’re only giving them so much. So a lot of my work is also gestural. My work might give very little info to an audience, and it’s up to them to take those gestures of a story and discover what they will in them.

NS:  If there is a project that would best introduce your work to people who have not seen your work before, what would it be?

AK: I feel like it should either be the latest thing that I completed or one of the first things that I completed. In grad school, one of the first classes I took is a seminar where I think everyone got into a fugue state at some point, because we were so exhausted trying to pull our projects together. I don’t mean this in a self-congratulatory way at all, but I still look at this piece and think, “Whoa, if I went back, could I do that again?” And I’m not sure I could! The project is called “BOX Actaeon.” It’s a box inside of another box with imagery printed on the outside and inside of each of the boxes. You look through these organically shaped openings throughout and there’s a knob at the bottom to turn the inside box as you’re rotating the outside box. And as you turn it, you can piece together the Greek myth of Actaeon. Actaeon is a hunter who accidentally sees the goddess of the hunt, Artemis, when she’s bathing. She realizes this and turns Actaeon into a stag, and his own hounds tear him apart. Even though it’s one of my first projects, it still encapsulates the interest I have in books as a space that isn’t necessarily what we think of as a book form.

BOX Actaeon | paper object, risograph

The more recent work is a show entitled Pakiramdam that I put together for Co-Prosperity last summer. It is a collection of prints of manipulations of family photos, some on paper and some on fabric. On the windows, there’s also a comic of my mother and I folding a bedsheet, and of a hand trying to grasp at the idea of a seashell, and a couple of short texts. I basically wanted to make a zine, but as an installation project. That piece is really about the ways that people can exist and connect with each other across space and time. My family emigrated from the Philippines, and I was born in Sweden and spent part of my childhood there. I wanted to speak about having a mixed-race identity through these hybrid forms of prints and comics juxtaposed with each other. Since we’re scattered on two continents, it’s pretty normal for my family to interact through screens. But now, the pandemic has made this normal for everyone else–being present in people’s lives, even when we’re physically absent.

Pakiramdam | Installation at Co-Prosperity Sphere (Chicago, IL) digital prints on organza and paper, acrylic paint, vinyl, wood, fishing wire. Documentation by Colectivo Multipolar

NS: What are you working on or what’s getting the gears turning for you at the moment?

AK: I have been doing a lot of teaching. I also have this running series of “bookmark books.” They’re comics that are an outlet for recurring thoughts that are barely even a thought. I am also reworking the text that I originally wrote for my Spudnik residency. It’s been an interesting process because the piece is technically five or six years old. In some ways, I’m the same person I was five years ago, but I’m also a different person. So reworking the piece, I think the characters in it are shifting a bit according to the values and ways of thinking that I’ve developed over the years. There is a kind of comfort in going back to your work and thinking, “This is worth seeing through and giving it a second life.” The other project that I really want to get to is turning “Pakiramdam” into a zine. I did a lot of research into material culture of the Philippines that didn’t come through explicitly in the show, so I’m working on putting that together.

book/mark: A Name | 12 pages, saddle-stitch binding, risograph printed, 2 x 7 inches

NS: Between teaching, editing, and ongoing work on personal projects, it sounds like you’re juggling a lot at once.

AK: Yeah. I think one thing I’ve learned is that sometimes, I feel a pressure to be productive, like I’m not working fast enough. But there’s no “too fast” or “too slow.” If I feel like I’m doing what I can do right now and I’m happy with what I’m doing, it’s fine. It’s enough.

NS: Something that I feel plagues many artists is the feeling of not producing enough, fast enough. But it really is okay. Some ideas are slow ideas and that’s just how they ought to be. Where’s the best place for people to kind of get in touch with you or find your work right now?

AK: I am @meanwhile_alex on Instagram, but I take long breaks from social media. I also try to update my websites ( and every once in a while with new projects.


Member Interview Series: Don Widmer

Don Widmer is a Chicago-based papermaker whose primary practice involves  pulp painting, a form of papermaking in which finely beaten and highly pigmented pulp is ‘painted’ on a base sheet of pulp. His current architectural investigations are created entirely out of plant fiber. Widmer began exploring his architectural study while obtaining his MFA in Interdisciplinary in Book and Paper Arts at Columbia College, where he took part in transforming a CTA train car into an art gallery. 

Widmer was interviewed by 2021 Fall Intern Alice Zakharenko. She is in her final year for her Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts, concentrating in relief printmaking and monotyping. They discussed  art fairs, the papermaking community, and Chicago landscapes among many other topics. 

Alice Z (AZ): I understand that native Chicago buildings and landscapes are intricately embedded in your ongoing practice because they are a part of your daily life. Is there a reason why you choose certain structures to illustrate? 

Don Widmer (DW): It’s mostly storytelling. I love dark, mysterious stories. [Imagery of] Ship disasters and buildings that have an interesting backstory are very appealing to me. I made a fantasy image of a dirigible descending over the Medina Athletic Club, which is the Intercontinental Hotel in Chicago. I researched it and nothing ever mounted that spire, but it’s just fascinating to think about the concept of a dirigible hovering above that building. I love these backstories; either I find them on my own or people tell me about them. 

“Sailing Over Chicago No. 1”, 2018 pulp painting on handmade abaca and cotton rag paper 36 x 24 inches ; 91.4 x 61 cm

AZ: The concept of storytelling and buildings ties in with memories. Do you want to have more of a personal connection with these architectural images?

DW: I think when I first started doing architectural imagery, I was more interested in trying to represent a building in the best way I could without really thinking about the concept of memory or what type of an image I was creating. As I’ve looked at the results that I’ve gotten and what images I think are the most successful, I realized that there’s sort of a haziness to them. […] They seem to have a life of their own, like they may have been created 50 years ago. I started thinking about working with historic imagery, creating almost fantasy images of buildings based on how I look at their architectural renderings. With the Athletic Club, the dirigible hovering above it creates a scene that has never existed, but it could really spark the imagination in a way.

“Tashmoo No. 3”, 2020, lax pulp painting on handmade denim / linen / hasta paper with metallic foil inclusions, 24 x 36 inches; 61 x 91.4 cm.

AZ: Are you trying to memorialize these buildings or are you trying to preserve the memories that they once had?

DW: Sometimes. You know, I haven’t really thought about that, but I think both are true. Like, I have done images of the Mitchell Domes in Milwaukee because they were going to tear them down since they were starting to decay. People found the funding for them, so they’ve kept them. In a way, I was really interested in preserving the images of these really remarkable dome structures because they’re so interesting. I think that there is a part of my practice that wants to remember this image or to get people to talk about it, look at it, and ask about it. 

AZ: It’s interesting to see that everything revolves around storytelling and amplifying the fact that we still need oral traditions to have a connection. I was wondering about your experiences in art fairs. Does the venue tend to change the context of your work when you’re displaying in a gallery on white walls versus interacting with everyday people?

DW: It does. It is different. It’s really being in touch with just the general public. There are people who are visiting my booth at art fairs who might never go to an art gallery, and there are also people that are very educated in art and architecture. I mean, I love it, because it keeps my work from getting too intellectual. Sometimes I do have to take a step back and move away from what people are expecting me to do, and just throw myself into a project that I’ve been wanting to do for a long time regardless of its marketability that works at an art fair. I have pieces that I wouldn’t necessarily show at an art fair. So, I think I am interested in both venues.

AZ: When you’re showing your work at the art fairs, do people focus more on the structure of the work or do they focus more on the storytelling aspect? 

DW: It’s hard to say. I mean, every person is different. There’s a lot of talking that happens at the fairs with people when I’m explaining my process. I haven’t figured out if that’s what clinches a sale. My hope is that I’ve created an image that somebody could look at and not know anything about how it’s created, or what it is, and fall in love with it. It’s not me trying to sell the piece by explaining everything that went into creating the piece and the story behind it. I think it could help with someone making their final decision, but I would hope that people would be able to just look at a work of art and say, “I just love the way that this looks, the feel I get from it, the detail I can see in it.”

Widmer, “Steel No. 4”, 2019, pulp painting on handmade cotton / denim / bamboo / daylily paper, 36 x 24 inches ; 91.4 x 61 cm

AZ: I imagine that you do the marketing and everything by yourself?

DW: Yes. It’s hard, you know? This past year with COVID, a lot of arts organizations, Spudnik and others, have really stepped up to support artists. I’ve taken many Zoom workshops. I just did one on how to revamp my website, utilize different social media, and all of those things for marketing oneself. They were very affordable and they brought in some really good people to teach those Zoom classes. It was really fantastic because there was the time to do it too. 

AZ: You taught paper making classes here at Spudnik. Is that correct?

DW: I taught one paper making workshop here with the pulp painting, yes.

AZ: How did you get involved with the community here?

DW: I think it’s when Angee Lennard came to Columbia and spoke to one of my classes that I first got to know about Spudnik. This was probably 2010. I had done some letterpress at Columbia and I took some workshops here. I remember taking linoleum block carving class here. I think it was even a different space than where it is now. It was a smaller space. I just really fell in love with the ease of working here. You know, being around other people that you could talk to, but everyone was sort of working on their own thing. It was just a very affordable, very supportive environment. When I graduated and no longer had access to the facilities at Columbia, this was a place where I could come and feel like I could get my work done. Specifically my print work that I was doing at the time: letterpress. 

2010, Widmer in Spudnik’s relief carving class

AZ: Is it the community environment that draws you in to Spudnik or is it more about having access to a studio facility?

DW: It’s definitely both, you know, because there may be one or two other places that one could go to print. The atmosphere here is, like I said, there’s just an ease or relaxation of working here where it’s supportive. I don’t know how else to explain it, but it’s a nice, open, light, place to work. 

AZ: Since paper making in general is a very niche community, how do you feel about having a tight knit community? Would you want more people to be involved?

DW: I think it will always be a sort of niche community because of the amount of labor and effort that goes into paper making. It’s not for everybody, for sure. You need a space where it’s going to be completely wet. It’s worked out really well for me because at the art fairs, most people have not seen or heard of the medium before, so you have an immediate audience when you’re talking to people and an immediate interest because they’re learning something new for the first time, something they haven’t seen before. That’s where it worked really well in my favor. I love that it’s a small community and everybody knows of everybody else for the most part. I go to the Morgan Conservatory in Cleveland and I can talk about people I know in Chicago or Wisconsin and they all know each other. It’s really nice. I would love for more people to be introduced to paper and include it in at least part of their practice, or to collaborate with someone that makes paper. I would love for that to happen, but I don’t think that it will ever be as popular as other types of art forms because it’s just not as accessible.

AZ: Do you collaborate with other papermakers often or is this just more of a solitary experience?

DW: It’s mostly solitary. Although I’ve had papermakers come over to my studio to use the beater if they don’t have their own beater or they’re working on a specific project where they need a particular type of pulp. I’m always open to helping out someone that needs access to materials or equipment that I might have. Yeah, there’s that little bit of collaboration. It’s not often but I have worked with other papermakers on projects.

Widmer’s papermaking studio

AZ: What do the collaborations entail?

DW: One time, somebody who had little experience with papermaking was interested in a conceptual project where she was making paper from materials gathered from pieces of land that used to be gas stations. They couldn’t be used for a while because they had pollutants in the ground. She was gathering weeds or plant material from that space. We worked to create a pulp from these plant materials and made the sheets of paper. Then, she created art on those sheets of paper. 

AZ: Was that one of your favorite collaborations? 

DW: It was fun! It was like a new territory for both of us.

AZ: Have you been inspired by artists’ stories to create your work?

DW: Oh, I definitely am inspired by speaking with other artists. If it’s not in a place, like an art making place like Spudnik, it’s at the fairs themselves. I was just speaking to a photographer who prints on Japanese papers. She’s interested in a collaboration where I would make the paper. I’m going to experiment with making bamboo paper for the first time from cooking down the bamboo and see if I could form a paper that she can print on. This would never happen if I’m not talking to and sharing ideas and stories with other artists.

AZ: I understand that you also use native plant fibers, is there a reason why you do?

DW: It’s just experimenting. I always like to do something new. People started giving me plants from their gardens and then I would experiment. Andrea Peterson, a paper maker in Indiana, suggested it would be interesting to use Midwest plants like corn for my steel yard pulp paintings. It’s conceptual because the steel yards are no longer in existence but used to be a huge industry in the Midwest. People are really fascinated when they look at it. They’re not quite sure what the images are or what the medium is at first when they’re looking at it at an art fair. When you start talking to them and you say, “This is made from corn,” people become totally enamored by it.

AZ: Is there a show coming up that you want to share with the community?

DW: My biggest show of the year is coming up in December, which is the One of a Kind Show at the Merchandise Mart. That’s always the first Thursday through Sunday of December. […] It’s such a fun show and there’s so many different types of art to see. I always really have a good time there.

AZ: Are there any other places online that you want people to know about besides

DW: Yeah, on Instagram I’m @donwidmerpaperarts. That’s probably the main thing besides Facebook

Member Interview Series: Osée Obaonrin

2020/21 Spudnik Fellow Osée Obaonrin

Osée Obaonrin is a multidisciplinary artist who has worked in poetry, fibers, and most recently print. Originally from the Republic of Benin, she grew up in the DC area and currently resides in Chicago. Obaonrin focuses on the documentation of grief, mourning, and the self. She attempts to reconcile with the losses that have opened her to grief, the pain that has come along with it, and perhaps find hope as a means of resistance. She was also a 2020/21 Spudnik Press Fellow, where she focused on screenprinting. 

Obaonrin was interviewed by Mariah Joyce as part of her summer 2021 internship with Spudnik Press Cooperative. Mariah is a multidisciplinary artist, writer, and current MFA student in Printmedia at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Mariah has a background in journalism and philosophy, and her artistic work is a tool through which she processes personal questions of meaning, identity, and interpersonal connection.

Mariah Joyce (MJ): You were a guest a few months ago on “Inside the Edition,” the Chicago Printers Guild podcast, and talked about coming to print relatively recently. I’m curious how that happened. Has working in print changed how you express yourself at all, or is there anything that you’ve discovered about what you can say in that medium that you had to say differently in another one?

Osée Obaonrin (OO): I used to write more than anything else. That’s kind of the conversation I have now: I don’t really write anymore, but I still want to call myself a writer, still want to be attached to this idea of being a poet, and I think that’s my first love. When you define poetry, it’s very much trying to express yourself with as few words as possible. But oftentimes it doesn’t feel like it’s very literal even if the words are very literal because there’s kind of a gap. When we remove the traditional rules of structure and grammar, we relate to the words in a different way, the meanings feel abstracted, because we’re not used to pure minimalism as a form of clarity.

And since I’ve started making prints, I’ve never printed anything very figuratively. It’s still very abstract, and it’s still about creating that essence of the feeling through imagery, and so I think in that way it relates. But print gives me the physicality that writing gave me because I loved doing it by hand, but not in a full body sense, and that’s why I’ve enjoyed print. I also think there’s a nice visual quality to having a stencil on a screen or a burned screen and having that transfer, and it’s really quite satisfying to see ink on paper. 

Work-in-progress screenprint on fabric for HATCH survey group show

MJ: I feel the same way. Especially when it’s not a one-to-one where you’re painting with ink. It’s a transfer so it feels more like a process of discovery. Then you figure out what you just did. 

I noticed there is still language incorporated in some of your prints and visual art. Do you find yourself gravitating towards images and words to express different ideas, or do you think they’re different ways of expressing the same idea? 

OO: That’s actually an excellent question. Am I really saying the same thing over and over again, or am I trying to figure out different things? And I think, both? I’m trying to figure out the same thing, which is me. But there’s different aspects of me, and there’s different ways in which I’ve grown to exist, on my own but also through interacting with other people, so I have different questions about that. But at the end of the day, the core is just who I am and the question of exploring these different relationships.

MJ: And that process of self-discovery, did that start with the language and over time move into the visual stuff, or are they separate, doing different things?

OO: They’re not separate, they’re not doing different things. I think it did start with language. I was drawing and doodling all through childhood, but one of the first ways I understood myself and self-expression was through writing. Like this is very much my home. And then I was able to, through print work and also just visual work after that, shape what it is that I’m really trying to say about myself. It’s a little weird thinking about it now. Like maybe print is a little less freely expressive. There’s a lot of editing in the way that it works, and I try to remove as much editing as possible in the way that I print, but at the same time there is still planning that is involved in the process. That’s a new concept I’m kind of figuring out. 

MJ: I think that makes a lot of sense. In writing, especially in poetry as I understand it, there’s actually so much editing work in the background that you just never see, and so it’s interesting to think about printmaking as also a process of editing. It’s an interesting connection.

OO: And I think printmaking starts with the editing. With writing you could write all the words that you want and then afterwards you have to go in and reduce or add or expand, whereas with print work you’re editing through the whole process. You do have to edit out and choose a thing and go from there, and I think maybe in poetry and the written word your brain is doing that automatically. 

Test screenprint on paper for HATCH survey group show

MJ: And it’s interesting to also think about how pure medium, time, and material constraints go into that, because I think you’re right – if you were writing, obviously there’s still effort, but the amount that you lose by just spitballing a bunch of ideas versus burning every screen that you came up with an idea about is just so different. 

OO: Yeah, and so then in a way printmaking can also be more frustrating too, like, I failed and I wasted all the paper, and the inks, and the time.

MJ: In your artist statement, you talk about your work as a means of understanding yourself, and processing grief and loss. Do you think that it helps you understand those experiences or make peace with them, or is it not really about trying to do that, is it about maybe sitting with it?

OO: Yeah – I think there’s so much that you can never understand or finish. Like I think grief is something that never ends, so I think it’s a process of letting it happen, letting the feeling be felt and sitting in it, like you said. 

Obaonrin with test prints and studio experiments

MJ: Does that come to you naturally?

OO: It doesn’t sit with me naturally. I think that’s why art and writing and all of those are a safe haven for me, or have felt like it many a time.

MJ: That resonates with me. It’s probably not true for everybody, but I feel like it’s true for a lot of people who do creative things. I also noticed that you talked about how the more honest you are in your work, the more relatable it is to people. I’m curious, what about that relatability feels important to you?

OO: No one wants to feel like they’re alone ever – ever, period. We’re all trying to conform to be accepted, but also we’re all just learning social practices and cues, just like social norms. But also stepping into ourselves, and sometimes ourselves fit outside of that, so you have to navigate that space. I think that we all don’t want to feel alone. We want to feel like someone else is feeling what we’re going through because being alone on an island is not fun. And it also doesn’t make sense. If we’re all here and we’re all human and there are millions and millions of us, how does it make sense that I’m the only one feeling this way?

MJ: Are there any writers or artists that you remember giving you that feeling of, “oh, I’m not alone. This person is somehow vocalizing what I’m feeling?”

OO: When I was really young, as in elementary school, I remember Phyllis Wheatley always sticking out to me. She was a Black child who was enslaved and sold to a family who ‘experimented’ with the idea of teaching a Black child to read and write. Phyllis’s story always fascinated me, the first Black American poet with a published book of poetry. And honestly I can’t really tell you any of her poems at this point in my life. But I think it’s being able to see yourself, too. And I think I was really lucky in the sense that I was taught by a Black woman, I believe Mrs. Hudson, in elementary school. It was a Black woman teaching me about poetry and Black poets. At the same time I remember very vividly learning about Langston Hughes, and so I think it made sense to me that someone who was successful for the work that they did looked like me. And they were successful despite all of the things that said that they couldn’t be or wouldn’t be.

MJ: What do you think makes someone an artist?

OO: I think everyone is anything they want to be. I know a lot of people wouldn’t agree with me, but if you do something creatively at any point and you enjoy it, why not? You’re an artist, you produced something! All we’re doing is producing things. For some of us it gives us emotional satisfaction and release, for some people it’s financially how they want to exist in the world, and for some people it’s just a hobby. But if you’re doing something creative, why is there a barrier to say someone is an artist and someone isn’t?

MJ: Speaking of producing, what projects have you been working on recently? 

OO: I’ve been burning fabric for a new piece. I’m trying to see if I want burned fabric, or if I want to burn the fabric and print its silhouette.

Work-in-progress screenprint on fabric for HATCH survey group show

MJ: What is it that is calling to you about the burnt fabric?

OO: It’s hard to say, I think it’s very intuitive. One, I love fire, fire’s a very interesting object to look at. Also the fact that it exists and how we discovered it as humans, I think that’s really exciting. But I’m really looking at gaps more than anything else, because fire creates holes in objects. I think that’s probably the biggest thing: gaps between things and the idea of removal. A lot of my work has to do with my friendships and relationships, and there’s a parallel with this idea of removal and gaps and burning away. As we get older relationships change and shift, and I’m really thinking about that.

MJ: Yeah, it sounds like the space that absence makes, a little bit? 

OO: Yeah, very much so.

MJ: Are you making that piece for a particular show?

OO: Right now, I have the Chicago Artist Coalition HATCH Residency, so we have our ­­­survey group show coming in August–coming soon-

MJ: -a little too soon-

OO: -a little too soon, yeah, that’s how it feels. I’m making a new piece for that, and so I’m trying to figure out exactly what that piece is going to look like. 

MJ: Where else can we find you?

OO: You can see my work at the upcoming HATCH survey group show, I Sense Something Has Changed, which opens August 13 (opening reception 5-8 p.m.). I’m also excited to share that after promising to make an online print shop for about the last year, in August I’ll be having a print sale on my website! And you can find me on Instagram at @owe.sea. 

Member Interview Series: Holly Cahill

Holly Cahill is a Chicago based multidisciplinary artist working in painting, drawing, fibers, sculpture, print, and collage. Her process-oriented abstractions weave together elements of the fantastic found at the heart of our domestic and shared environments. Cahill received her MFA from the College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning at the University of Cincinnati and her BFA from the College of Visual and Performing Arts at Syracuse University. She is the current Director in Chicago of Tiger Strikes Asteroid, an artist-run, non-profit network of gallery spaces with locations in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Greenville.

Holly was interviewed by Samantha Foster as part of the Summer 2021 Internship at Spudnik Press Cooperative. Sam is a printmaker pursuing her MFA in Fine Arts at Columbia College Chicago.

Below is the interview that touches on community involvement, artistic collaboration, Holly’s 2018 residency at Spudnik, and her career trajectory.

SF: Let’s start with what brought you to Chicago. Why did you move here, and what made you decide to stay?

HC: I moved to Hyde Park with my husband, Zach, when he got into University of Chicago for his MFA. We love Chicago and it’s always a challenge to take in everything the city has to offer. There are a million things happening at once and I often feel I fall short on everything I want to be doing and seeing, which is to say that I’m very proud and grateful to live in such a dynamic and engaging place. Relocating to Chicago was tough in the beginning, just trying to find community after graduate school and not knowing anyone. That was over 15 years ago now.  It was a saving grace that Zach was going through his MFA program, so I got to meet all his colleagues and fellow students at the start of our time here.

SF: Community seems to be a thread that connects your work as an artist and an organizer. What does community mean to you and how does it manifest in your artwork?

HC: I think, community can mean a variety of things in different contexts. For me, being part of a community is essential. It has to do with considering those around you and feeling a sense of belonging to something whether it’s in the context of a print shop or an exhibition space and, as artists, finding ways to share our practices, goals, values, and resources. In any community, if we can get to a place where each person we are spending time with feels valued, then I think we can all grow and learn from one another through our involvement. I feel this sense of community as a member of Tiger Strikes Asteroid (TSA). We each take turns curating exhibitions, but we also collaborate on them and other projects as a group, which has brought us closer together in creative ways. We aim to be supportive of the artists we work with through our exhibitions and programming and consider them to be a part of the community as well as those that visit and are supportive of our program in other ways.

I’ve thought about community in terms of my own practice too. I refer to my collages as mimicking an ecosystem.  They contain scraps which originate from a variety of processes, sources, and points in time that are then gathered together in forms that more recently reflect on growth within a diverse ecosystem. In many of these works, I’ve been inspired by vines that navigate the shadows to locate other plants they can use as support for their development. I’ve also referenced roots in my work and the vast networks that trees, for example, form with one another underground. More recently, I’ve been learning about moss, which is a very ancient plant species that is incredibly adaptable and can serve as a protective environment for a host of other creatures like insects.

I’m always interested in the many ways we can realize how interconnected we are within our environment – how we can respond to and find meaning through those experiences.

Detail of Study of Thorns (unfurling) | acrylic, graphite, ink, watercolor and velvet flocking on paper mounted on velvet 36″ x 30 x 1.75″ 2020

SF: It’s great you’re able to make connections between your own work, TSA, and the organizations you’ve been involved with. Does collaboration impact your art practice?

In a way as artists we’re all working somewhat collaboratively by sharing our work, through our awareness of the trajectory of art history, and being influenced by those experiences. For the most part, my practice has been a fairly solo one while my curatorial work has been more collaborative. I have co-curated several exhibitions and find that a really generative way to be working in collaboration.

It wasn’t until more recently that collaborative elements began to enter into my own practice. A very old and dear friend of mine, Meredith Haggerty, started a project called Collage Stop. The first iteration was a workshop she organized at the Art Therapy Institute of North Carolina where she invited myself and another artist from the San Francisco bay area, Erin McCluskey Wheeler, to participate by contributing scraps to the event. The community from the area was invited to make work with our scraps and contribute to a fundraiser for a new program that they had been working on to support immigrants and refugees.

That was the first time I was part of something like Collage Stop, where I was giving parts of my work away for others to use. The funny thing is with scraps, the more you use them the more you have. Since the event, Meredith kept some for herself and mailed others to Erin and I. We have all been using them in our works since. Erin will often post images of her work and point out where scraps of other artists are within it. It’s fascinating to see a little piece of my work in hers. Likewise for my collages, there are little scrap pieces of Meredith’s painted gold, and Erin’s variety of different types of colorful marks. During all the isolation we’ve been experiencing throughout the pandemic, having their scraps to use made me feel a closeness to other artists working.

The experience also broadened my vocabulary which is something I’m trying to do within my work – to bring together these varied and rich surfaces, marks, and colors. Once I started working with their scraps I thought “wow, I would have never done this.” Working with gold seemed like too much, but collaborating with Meredith got me engaged in the ways she finds meaning within it. The same thing happened with Erin. There are certain colors she gravitates toward that I would not normally use because my color palette tends to be a certain way. This project broadened the way I was working and the choices that I was making. There are definitely some collaborative elements to that way of working even though I feel strongly that Erin’s work is hers whether she uses my scraps or not, and the same with Meredith.

Study of Thorns (regenerating) | acrylic, graphite, ink, and watercolor on paper mounted on velvet 30″ x 30″ x 1.5″, 2020

SF: Like a behind the scenes collaboration. It’s not the first thing you know about the work, but there’s another layer. You’re not necessarily saying “this is brought to you in part by a collaboration with Holly, Meredith, and Erin.” It’s more like, this is the work, which includes collaborative aspects that makes it rich and dynamic.

HC: Yes, that makes it all possible: shared resources. It’s similar to how Spudnik not only has equipment, but knowledgeable staff and printers that you can learn from when you are occupying that space together. I think art benefits from that kind of cross pollination. One of my favorite things is working alongside other artists and participating in that way of observing the activity around you that also allows each person to work independently – where we can come together and veer apart.

SF: Speaking of shared resources and collaboration, how did your Spudnik residency create new methods of production that helped you make discoveries, and do you still utilize them today?

During graduate school, I was very active in print, especially lithography. After graduation the idea of working in a cooperative print shop didn’t occur to me, and I didn’t have the equipment to continue making prints on my own in the way that I once was. Subconsciously it didn’t seem like an option to explore, so it took seeing the inspiring work that was coming out of Spudnik to get me back to print. Kelly Kaczynski made an incredible set of woodcut prints at Spudnik with Stan Shellabarger where she developed a technique with many pieces where they could be assembled and reassembled over time to build up the stages that appear in much of her work. Seeing Kelly’s work led me to apply for the residency at Spudnik. At that time, I had been deep into the development of a body of work on paper that references illuminated frameworks created with painting, resist, and graphite. Through the residency, I wanted to tease out the dense layers within that work.

Because I was just getting back into print, I thought it would be interesting to explore several types of processes. I used aquatint, sugar lift, engraving, and other techniques too. I worked with the idea that each plate was a field of activity and tried to rethink my process of layering. I was also interested in chance elements, so I was placing objects between the paper and plate too – different pieces of fabric, cut paper, egg shells, and threads. In the beginning, the layers retained dense space that was closely related to my prior works and I felt stuck. That’s when one of the other resident artists suggested printing off the plate. I tried that and it opened up and allowed this light to come in. All these layers were relating, but then I could build on that to create a matrix. I used monotype on some of them so there were continuations/repetitions of forms. It was satisfying for me because they were all unique prints but then they also formed one work as a whole when I arranged them together and continued working on them.

Shuffle | intaglio with monoprint, grid of 16 12″ x 12″ prints, 2018

SF: Having the other resident give that suggestion also ties into this shared space. Especially with anything creative, you can get lodged into one way of thinking and it takes someone with fresh eyes to give another perspective.

HC: It’s so true. I will be forever grateful for those suggestions. I think as artists we often want the idea to only come from us, but sometimes a little push from someone with fresh eyes is just what you need and kind of the reason you’re there to begin with.

SF: Your CV shows an upward trajectory. Were your achievements planned or did they naturally grow into further opportunities?

I think opportunities build on opportunities. The biggest shift for me was being able to leave the full-time paralegal work that I was doing and to focus more on my own practice. At the same time, around 2016, I was approached about becoming a member of Tiger Strikes Asteroid and it wasn’t even on my radar to eventually take on a directorship. Anna Kunz and Michelle Wasson were the first two co-directors who started the chapter here and got the program running. Being a member of TSA was an important shift in focus for me. I’ve benefited a lot from not only having more time for my practice, but also by curating and working behind the scenes as a member of TSA.

In terms of curating, my first project with TSA was a big one because I discovered curating can be a productive way for me to explore my interests with other artists while also creating a space where I felt I was supporting them in ways and growing in new capacities. This has thankfully led to curatorial opportunities in other spaces.

In terms of my art practice, I had been working in the studio in a very solitary manner for quite some time as well as participating in a few residencies outside Chicago. I wanted to have those same types of opportunities I had at residencies far from home, but in my own city. Spudnik was a big step to getting me more entrenched in Chicago, then more recently I was a resident in Hatch at the Chicago Artists Coalition. Not every opportunity is strategically targeted for a particular outcome, but I think as artists we need to be proactive and seek things out. These experiences have been important to my development, especially being out of school for so long. It’s like another form of education to go back and participate in these types of programs.

SF: That’s really key: lifelong learning. It’s so vital.

HC: Yeah, exactly. And to push yourself and reach out to people.

SF: Do you see any similarities between Tiger Strikes Asteroid and Spudnik?

I like to think of Spudnik as a role model for how it treats people who come into the space. It’s always welcoming and open, and that’s what TSA members hope for our visitors’ experience. We’re both non-profit, cooperative models. Our members pay dues and volunteer, which supports the space and is similar to Spudnik. The way we provide exhibitions for artists is similar. Spudnik is helping to support artists through programming, career development, exhibitions, and facilities access. Our facility is the exhibition space and we are trying to be supportive of the artists that exhibit with us. We also make time to review proposals or have studio visits with our members. These are ways we can be supportive of the members that are similar to how Spudnik operates – this interview for example!

Untitled | watercolor, ink, and graphite on paper 22.5″ x 30″, 2014

SF: I love seeing crossovers like that and how it’s mutually beneficial!  Focusing back on your personal practice, you utilize themes of shared environments and the natural world. How do these elements inform your work?

HC: I go for walks in the same places most days. I enjoy seeing how the landscape changes and what’s growing, what’s dying, how the light affects everything – whether it’s sunup or sundown, or midday. All those subtle and not so subtle shifts and trying to be present in the landscape is a huge inspiration for me. My walking time is somewhat exercise, but more like time to think, open my senses up, and observe what’s around me. I would say too that traveling has been really great over the years. Something that struck me when I was an undergrad – I went to Italy for a semester – was just how different the quality of green was there and how the colors would change so much. Later when I traveled to Japan and spent time in Kyoto, I thought about the possibilities within the space of the garden – many very small in scale while immense in the space they created utilizing distant views along the turns in the path. Though, I think my work currently is more grounded in my everyday experiences with the same places and seeing new things that come up that influences me the most.

Holly in her studio

SF: Is painting and print a springboard to trying other disciplines?

HC: My painting background is informed by my interest in a lot of other disciplines. I’m working to incorporate a number of different techniques like needle felting, hooking, various types of fabrics, and objects that can be manipulated are still like painting. Somehow the more I stick with painting, the more I am devoted to it, but I want it to incorporate all these other interests too. That’s part of the challenge which is fun and interesting. There are  always new things to discover. My love of working on paper and process is also connected to that interest in print as well.

SF: Your recent shows were fantastic – is there anything upcoming that you would like to share?

Thank you so much, Samantha! One thing I want to share is an exhibition I co-curated with Teresa Silva that is installed on the fifth floor at Mana Contemporary called It feels like the first time. The exhibition includes forty-six of our artist members across the country and is on view through September 30th with some programming to come. Teresa and I are excited to share the exhibition more in the coming months. Aside from that, I’ve been invited to make a piece for Western Pole, which is an artist-run space run by Jesse Malmed. I’m excited to be part of that program, which is just one of the many innovative projects he’s developed over the years.

Avian Oracle I, II, and II | ink, watercolor, and acrylic on canvas, velvet, hand needled felt and thread 120″ x 41.5″ each, 2019

Member Interview Series: Dan Landgren

Dan Landgren is a multidisciplinary designer, artist, and printmaker based in Chicago. He received his BFA in Graphic Design from DePaul University in 2018. His work explores visual communication typically involving themes like technology, science fiction, and motion. He currently works as a motion + graphic designer and has worked for artists such as: Danny Cole, Portugal The Man, and Cherry Glazerr. He is also a recent Spudnik fellow.

Dan was interviewed by Emma Sielaff as a part of her Summer 2020 Internship at Spudnik Press Cooperative. Emma is an multidisciplinary artist, specializing in illustration, papermaking, design, and zine making. She recently graduated with a BFA in New Media at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Emma Sielaff (ES): What / who is the biggest influence on your work?

Dan Landgren (DL): I really like science fiction and the classic 60s, 70s and 80s sci-fi art, like the really out there book covers by Phil K. Dick. Those are super inspiring and the stories themselves are really interesting. I love dystopian futuristic stuff. Books in general give me a ton of inspiration and inform the work that I do in any given time as well as design theory and design history like Bauhaus and constructivism. I think that’s where I found my first real interest with visuals and design. What I’m into in any given moment is what I make prints about. 

ES: What does your process look like? 

DL: My process usually starts by me writing down a list of words I’m interested in or want to be reminded of. I’ll write down descriptive words of the emotion I want to convey within the work I’m creating. I’ve been reading a lot of Octavia Butler. Just reading one of her stories, I immediately feel super creative. I’ll write down words I don’t know or emotions that I’m feeling; stuff like that. This really helps me get ideas.

I love grids in general. I think layout is always a good place to start in terms of figuring out a print. I’m super drawn to the imagery of grids themselves, I think there’s something nice to them because it takes the pressure off of deciding where you’re going to put something. It gives more purpose to your visuals when you actively think about where it’s being placed and its relationship to other things on this grid. 

So usually my process starts by thinking about what I want to do and things I want to convey and then just kind of figuring out the visuals. 

Root Rectangle Bookmark, Screenprint, 2019

Root Rectangle Bookmark, Screenprint, 2019

ES: I love the animation you did for the Kaytranada track. When you hear something, what is your process like for making it come alive visually? What does that process look like for you to take your vision and create it?

DL: That project was actually a class project to animate a piece of music for my cinema 4D class, which made it a little more structured in how I thought about the work. . I love Kaytranada and I thought that beat (Despite the Weather by Kaytranda) was super interesting because it’s multi-layered. There are different instruments playing at the same time and they’re not necessarily totally in sync. I started thinking about different ways I could visualize each of the instruments I was hearing. I tried to think of a good way to visually express the timing of, say, a drum hit. I tried thinking about how visuals could move well with the sync of the music. 

ES: In your bio, you say that experimentation is a big influence on your work. What does experimentation look like or mean to you?

DL: My experimentation comes from my freshman year at the University of Arizona for architecture. The whole theme of the foundation year was iteration and change. We learned to build on ideas that we had and make them stronger by playing around with them. My foundation architecture teacher really pushed that type of thinking and it had a really big impact on how I create things. For any given project, we would have to give 10 or 20 different variations and have reasoning behind them. It made me appreciate the possibilities of experimentation. Changing even small things has a cascading effect on the work. 

Iteration also creates a feeling of never being finished with work. A big thing for me is that I always come back to projects and try to make them better because I think there is no reason for you to put something on the shelf and say it’s done. There are always improvements to be made and that’s kinda ingrained with experimentation. It’s all a matter of wanting to see where a piece goes–not necessarily doing it to make a final product, but doing it to see what happens. There is nothing wrong with circling back.

ES: What do you do for fun and how does it influence your creative process? 

DL: I’ve been going on a lot of bike rides lately. I really like playing soccer with my friends. We’ve been doing that weekly which is a really nice release.

Printmaking started as and is still a huge creative release for me. I started screen printing about a year ago. I was feeling really burnt out from my job, I hated what I was doing, and hated animation. It’s somewhat of a shitty realization. I was like “damn… I thought I liked this a bit more.” I just was not feeling like myself and I needed a change. A former fellow, Lisa Armstrong, had the fellowship when I was feeling like this. She does the coolest work. She’s been a huge inspiration for me. Seeing her succeed and make a ton of work during her fellowship made me appreciate printed media. Before I started screen printing a lot, I was only making digital work, animation, and all computer based stuff. After a while you just burn out.

Neon Genesis, Screenprint, 2019

ES: For a lot of artists, including myself, my work is a reflection of myself and my experiences. How does your “being” flow into what you make?

DL: I’m not necessarily reserved but I’m also not a very strongly opinionated person. So I feel like I try to blend in more than anything. My work pays homage to the people and things that I really love. I guess me inserting myself into my art is me first copying something I really like and then I can create it in my own style. I feel like my style in general is honestly really inconsistent. I do a lot of different random things because I get bored easily.

ES: A lot of your work seems to be either print or video based. When creating, what pushes you to use one format over the other?

DL: That’s tough. I would say usually all of my ideas start as still frame images. From there, if I can see a path of movement, I might be more inclined to make it an animation. I think more than anything, it’s figuring out the image itself: the still frame. Honestly, it’s something I struggle with in my day job. It’s really fast-paced and I need to churn out daily. While working, I had a really big revelation about my creative process.  When given an assignment, as much as I want to have a fully fleshed finished product, I realized I can’t start there. I have to break down my ideas to the most simple thing and just go from there to see what I get.

ES: I’m super impressed with your work on the “Daddi” Video + Coachella animations you made in collaboration with Danny Cole.  How do you go about taking ideas from 2D to 3D thinking and what were those projects like for you?

DL: Danny Cole actually found my artwork through reddit, specifically the Kaytranada video. He messaged me saying “This is so cool. I need to do some visuals for Coachella. Would you be interested?” At first I was skeptical, but we had an initial call and I was like “Oh woah! He’s actually serious.” From there, he wanted to make sure that I could do what he was asking. The scope of the project was 30 – 40 animated loops. I got the job after making a test animation. From there, I knew I couldn’t do 40 animations by myself so I recruited some friends to make it possible.  

In terms of idea creation, it was a mixture of a lot of things. Danny knew exactly what he wanted for some loops, but for others he would ask me for feedback. It was a back and forth process working to figure it out.

For the Cherry Glazer video, it was a bit more work. Me and the guys that I worked with for the Coachella animations did some rough 3D storyboards and then did a similar back and forth with Danny to see where his head was at and if our vision was matching his vision. From there we picked and chose what worked and built it up. 

It was really just a super lucky opportunity; kind of the right place at the right time. I just happened to post the week that he was looking for animators. 

Still from Portugal the Man’s Coachella background 

Still from Portugal the Man’s Coachella background

ES: What is the biggest challenge you face when making work?

DL: Usually, the biggest creative challenges I have are time-related. If I’m super stressed out and feel like I don’t have enough time to do something, I’ll kind of shut down and freak out. It’s a matter of managing that stress and feelings of inadequacy. Every creative has imposter syndrome, feeling that they don’t belong, and I feel that all the time. 

Screen Printing is really more than anything for personal enjoyment. It’s largely a creative outlet for me to actually have agency to do whatever I want. Whereas my full time job is the complete opposite. I have no freedom and basically am just told what to do. 

ES: What is your current job?

DL: I work at a small business design consultancy that uses design thinking methodology applied to business structure. It’s basically therapy for big business.  I’m essentially a UX designer but less digitally focused and more person-to-person based. We work with a lot of big health care companies and consumer packaged good (CPG) companies. We do sprint workshops, identify problem areas and identify ways to move forward with companies and I help with visual components, like animations or videography. It’s a really small company so I’m constantly wearing different hats; doing different things. Before COVID, any given day could be random. I could film an event or run sessions. It’s cool but it’s also draining. 

ES: How has your style changed over time? Especially since graduating school, how has your practice changed? 

DL: I think I’ve grown a lot more into my own personal style. I feel better about the direction that my work takes. Since graduating, I’ve definitely gained more confidence in my work. A big issue I had in school was that I really couldn’t understand what an office type job would be like. I was always over romanticising the freedoms. I had a really big reality check when I got my first job. I feel like what’s changed the most is that I’ve kind of just grown up. 

Blue Drive Split Fountain (Collaboration w/ Tyler Schatz), Screenprint, 2020

Blue Drive Split Fountain (Collaboration w/ Tyler Schatz), Screenprint, 2020

ES: Does your job have any impact on your personal work?

DL: It does have a lot of impact. A big part of my process is learning and constantly growing and if I’m not doing that then I feel really stagnant. Having a full time job in the animation field is really helpful at times but at times it’s really stressful and makes me question if I really like doing what I’m doing or if I’m just telling myself I like it. I think there’s a lot of goods and bads but the experience has been overall positive. 

Before this full time job, I really was “head in the clouds” all throughout school and I had really not grasped reality. 

ES: When you were a kid, what was your “dream” job? How does what you’re doing now compare to that?

DL:  I remember being in 6th grade and for class we had to pretend we were adults, find an apartment, and make a budget. It was a really cool idea. I forgot everything about the assignment but I do remember wanting to be a newspaper comic artist at the time. It’s some connection to what I’m doing now with animation.

ES: What do you want to explore more in your own practice? What do you want to keep pushing towards?

DL: My big dream is to print big. I’ve never printed anything bigger than 11 x 17 so I would love to print something cataclysmically huge. I’m trying to go through and review a wide variety of sci-fi books. A big goal is to be more well read, not just sci-fi. Reading is valuable and makes you a more interesting person. I’ve been reading this book called a Primer of Visual Literacy, and it’s super interesting. It’s about visual communication as a language and how we should be treating visual communication the same way that we treat language and writing. It has the same capabilities and the same complexities. 

ES: Do you have any current projects in the works?

DL: Lately, I’ve been super interested in optical illusions and visual math. I took an online animation class three months ago about geometry and math and how they are related to animation. Ever since then I’ve been super interested in math’s relation to visual layout.  Last week I got super interested in obstacle illusions and gestalt theory mainly because this book I’m reading. I don’t want to say this and read this article in a month and not have done this but I want to do some optical illusion prints. I have a few in the works, so stay tuned.

Member Interview Series: Yasaman Moussavi

Yasaman Moussavi holds an MFA with two emphases on Painting and Printmaking from Texas Tech University, where she explored and developed her skills in papermaking, printmaking, and installation art. She also holds an MA in Art Studies from Tehran University and a BFA in Painting. In her art practice, she explores the socio-cultural in-betweenness as a capacity and disposition to participate in meaning-making across cultures and languages. For her, transitional spaces are the performative embodiment of spatial mapping and in-betweenness. Her works have been displayed in many national and international solo and group exhibitions. She has been a member of the Spudnik Press Exhibition Committee since 2017. She is a co-founder of Didaar Art Collective, a Chicago-based Iranian art community. Yasaman currently lives and works in Chicago. 

Yasaman was interviewed by Aidan Ciuperca as part of his Spring 2020 Internship at Spudnik Press Cooperative. Aidan is a printmaker pursuing his BFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Aidan Ciuperca (AC): How would you describe your practice to someone who has never seen your work before?

Yasaman (Yasi) Moussavi (YM): I’m interested in concepts of space and place, and how these two things convey a common kind of experience. Place can be defined as where we physically live and where we find security, but space is more of a subjective kind of experience about sensation and desire. For instance, in my recent work Intervals, I explore creating the sense of space through architecture and linguistic structure. My goal was to make sense of the feelings we have when we are in a place and allow it to be experienced through a tactile material like paper. This is a subject matter that’s not tangible, so the materiality is important in order to make sense of those feelings. 

AC: What led you to working with printmaking and papermaking?

YM: When you think about traveling through places, you are in between two different locations. The important part of that experience is not where you start or where you want to end up. It’s how you move through the space, what you are experiencing, and all the steps you take. Printmaking and papermaking both have those technical and psychological qualities, which is why I started using them. When I studied in Tehran, Iran, the education was focused on the academic study of figurative painting and drawing, but when I traveled to the United States, everything changed. I started to think about the ways the material I work with can be important in the process, and in the creation of the material.

Intervals by Yasaman Moussavi

Intervals Installation at the Beverly Arts Center

AC: How does your work with printmaking and papermaking connect to installation? 

YM: The shift in my work from 2D to 3D is tied to the way my life changed when I moved. I initially moved to Lubbock, Texas in 2012 to get my MFA at Texas Tech University, but in 2014, I returned to Iran for six weeks before coming back to continue my education. I went to see the traditional architecture in Isfahan, where my dad is from. There is a mosque there that I visited many times as a child called Sheikh Lotfolah. It has a narrow hallway with windows that bring light into the space. As you walk through that hallway, all of a sudden you see that a bigger space opens up to you. When I experienced that transition, I felt like there was something more than just the patterns, the colors, and all the interesting details of Islamic art. It’s not about that anymore. For me, it was about something bigger than myself, something that I experienced by moving through that space. That was the moment that I felt like painting just wasn’t something that could share that experience with my audience. In the same year, I was lucky enough to experience another architectural space: James Turrell’s Breathing Light at LACMA. I went into the space and there was nothing there but light. In that moment, I experienced a feeling similar to what I discovered at the mosque. These two different kinds of architectural spaces and places got me thinking about creating something that’s not just about the visual work, but about that experience. 

Shadow Facing the Light Installation at Texas Tech University

I ended up making my first installation piece called Shadow Facing the Light as part of my thesis for my MFA. For about a year I was drawing and painting on big sheets of paper, about 6 feet to 8 feet tall. In the installation, I played with the effects of light on engraved plexiglass and copper plates to build the space. When you asked about how my work changed and how I transitioned from painting to installation-based work, it was because I started to think about what I’m experiencing right now and how I want to share it with my audiences. 

As for my relationship to printmaking, I started to explore the process more during my MFA. During my last year I was making drypoints on wood and thinking about the process of the work. I started working on wood because, at that time, I was thinking about the effects of nature and its networks. As I created those drypoints, I started to think that I wanted to use the plates as a work of art because all the steps in printmaking are also part of the work. So, I started to print from the plates and then use them in my installation. I would cut them, shape them, and color them to create a new space. The Passengers Series, created from my wood drypoints, is all about the process of the work, nature, and how I can make use of the cliché of printmaking, the blocks, as a work of art. 

Passengers Installation

AC: What part of your work do you find most fulfilling?

YM: The most important and fulfilling part of the work for me is when I am creating and developing the work. It’s that process of thinking, producing, and critiquing yourself that is really enjoyable for me. Because sometimes I’ll discover something in my work that wasn’t intentional, and it surprises me! For instance, last year when I started to work on the Interval Series, I was making large papers at Spudnik. I wanted to build big sheets, but it was really hard sharing the space with other people, not having the studio for yourself. As I started to grow, I started to consider how I should handle this situation and discovered something new about the process of the work. I was thinking about the central courtyard architecture of the 17th-18th century in Iran and the family house in Isfahan. But when I started to make them, I faced challenges with the space that I was working in. It even changed the way that I was thinking about the place in space. 

The other important part is when you see your work, as you visualize it, in the gallery space. That is really, really enjoyable for me especially because I don’t have a studio right now, and as an installation artist, it’s very hard. I have a corner in my house where I work, and if you come to my house, you’ll see that that corner is just covered in nails. I have been making small maquettes of my work and then nailing it to the wall. I think that it’s hard for me to experience and explore the space in the smaller version, but it works.

AC: The way you’ve been working in this corner of your house brings up the issue of how artists have had to adapt to making work at home because of the pandemic. I was wondering if there were any skills or hobbies that you’ve been working on.

YM: The corner has been getting too crowded because of the pandemic, because before that I went to Spudnik and I made work there. But now during the pandemic I haven’t had that chance, so I started to work with the paper and stories that I already have. I’m working on a series of small squares made from scraps of my handmade paper. As each day passes, I take one of those papers, pin it to the wall, and another one, and another one. They’re getting really thick and they’re getting really big. 

I also started to read more in my own language: short stories and my great grandparent’s diary. When the pandemic started, each week I would read two short stories with a group of colleagues. I started to use them in my work: the sentences, the words, what they mean. I started to analyze how I can use them, how the structure of the language can relate to the structure of the work that I’ve created. I started to ask questions and explore Farsi and English and how language creates a sense of communication. In a pandemic especially, you don’t have the kind of social connection that you find physically in an environment. You experience it differently in virtual spaces like Zoom and also in writing, like texting your friends or writing for yourself. We are exploring and experiencing an era that is making history. All of these things for sure have influenced me and my work. At the same time, it’s really hard to think and work, so for me all of these are sketches and questions. 

“Constructing space through words, sentences and written forms” work in progress from Instagram

AC: Yeah– like the work on your Instagram!

YM: Yes! Let me explain the process of the work. I’ll read a story, short stories or even my own journal or my grand grandparent’s diary. All of those stories are interesting, but sometimes I’ll just have a feeling with a word or sentence. I’ll think about it more, about the letters, about the meaning of that word, about its different meanings in other languages. It’s all about the communication, how you communicate through words, how the words and sentences work for me and what the difference is between visual images and text. Working with text, especially text that other people are not familiar with, is really, really risky because people might just pay attention to the aesthetic beauty of it. I used Farsi text because it is my first language, therefore I have a deeper understanding of it in comparison to English. Through the process of my work, I analyze the words by deconstructing them, breaking them down into pieces, and then putting them on different supports. Sometimes the support is handmade paper made out of hundreds of pieces of scrap paper, sometimes it is the wall, sometimes it is a handmade book, or sometimes it is the printing block itself. For me using language is a form of research. 

“Exploring the sense of space and place through architectonic and linguistics structures” from Instagram

AC: Didaar is a Chicago-based Irainian arts collective. How has being a part of that community influenced your work?

YM: The aim of Didaar, meaning meet-up in Farsi, is to create communication and cooperation between Iranian artists and those active in the field of Iranian arts. Relying on the exchange of experience with and reflection on modern and contemporary art, Didaar’s goal is to help with professional development, both in art theory and practice, by promoting art-related discussion and criticism. On the last Sunday of each month, we have a lecture and discussion series. Currently, we have had four sessions in which we focused on the concept of trauma in contemporary art. We started to discover and explore this concept when the pandemic started in March. This series is continuing through November. You can find the details on Didaar’s website.

AC: Outside of the pandemic, what kind of work happens at Didaar? Is it a studio space? Is it more of an artist social space? 

YM: We started Didaar in my friend’s studio and from there, we started to critique the works of artists. After that, we started to grow and think about what we wanted to discuss and explore together. For instance, we talked about art and business, art and social media, along with many concepts and questions about contemporary art. We had a really big event last year in partnership with the MCA, in which we celebrated the life of a well known director, Abbas Kiarostami. For that event, we curated the work of Abbas Kiarostami’s students and screened three of his pieces. That was a really big milestone for our group. The MCA was really supportive of the Iranian community and we have started to work together more. Other than that, we create platforms for Iranian artists, like with our recent open call. We just finished accepting work with a focus on drawing and printmaking. We asked participants to submit their work and we challenged them to explore space, what space means for them, and how they explore that concept through two-dimensional techniques. The exhibition is going to be in April 2021, with a local gallery in Chicago, Oliva Gallery in West town. It was great to see the work of Iranian artists here in the United States, here in Chicago. This will be the first chapter of this exhibition and we’re going to have more chapters in the future. Another part of the work at Didaar is the discussion sessions we host on Instagram, which are in Farsi, interviews with the artists and curators, and so on and so forth. We also have a website, which has created a platform for art historians and people who want to write about art share their articles and ideas. 

AC: I think we got to everything. The only thing that I wanted to ask more about because of personal interest was your book series Seed Stories.

YM: Seed Stories was something I made at Spudnik during my residency. When I moved to Chicago, I lost the community I had in Texas. It felt like another immigration, but something that really helped me find myself was nature. It made me think about nature as a source of my work and I started to create the book series as a component of my exhibition Roots. The thing that influenced my decision to work with stories of life and death specifically was losing my grandmother. She was the person who taught me about traditional literature in Iran and she also had a really green thumb. In my Seed Stories series – one is an accordion book and the other one is made from kenaf and handmade paper – all of the images are related to the concept of origins, creation and the cycle of life and death. These works are really small, and I enjoyed making that space and the work was so intimate for me. Those very private and intimate moments are experienced by the audience as they pass through the pages and feel the tactility of the paper and the smell of the paper. It was a different way of creating space on a much more personal level. 

Seed Stories – made at Spudnik with kenaf and handmade paper

Copies of Yasaman’s accordion book Seed can be purchased through Spudnik for $10.00.

Keep up with Yasaman on Instagram @yasi_moussavi and check out her website. More information about events and discussions at Didaar Art Collective can be found on their website and on Instagram @didaarartcollective.

Member Interview Series: Sean Mac

Sean Mac is a Chicago-based illustrator, cartoonist, and muralist. He uses comic books and zines as a platform for storytelling and narrative. His work uses loose linework and vibrant colors to tell humorous and intimate stories within each panel. In addition to self-publishing his comics his work includes screenprinting and public art. He graduated with a BFA in Illustration from Columbia College Chicago.

Sean Mac was interviewed by Andrew Mariscal as part of his Spring 2020 Internship at Spudnik Press Cooperative. Andrew is a printmaker and graphic designer pursuing his BA at Dominican University.

Andrew Mariscal (AM):What pushed you to the comic format?

Sean Mac (SM): Video games and geek culture got the ball rolling. Being a kid with a Nintendo 64 growing up, I played a bunch of Super Mario. That and Saturday morning cartoons were huge–you know, “Cartoon Network junkie”.

I would draw all the time. In middle school, I would make fan comics for the cartoon Teen Titans, but never considered it as a career path until I went to Columbia College and met teachers like Ivan Brunetti andChris Eliopoulos. They helped me realize that I could make a career in comics.

Another influence was Chicago cartoonist Jeremy Onsmith . He introduced me to the independent comic artist “Zine World”. I started by helping out at CAKE, an alternative comic festival. The first year I was just setting up tables, but I learned that a lot of the people selling there had a similar story to mine. It was just a community of artists making their own stuff and tabling it. I realized that I could do that too!

Comic covers (Yoga, Thief Brothers of Thif, Lizards Country, Buppy The Alien)

AM: What is your process when making a comic?

SM: My process can be all over the place. My comic Thief Brothers of Thif started off on a whim. I drew one page in my bed, not really planning on a story.  Eventually, I got into the habit of adding a page to it nightly, but that made for a chaotic way of creating a comic.

Others start differently, where I develop a storyline and try to follow it.Still,a lot of my work starts off as a random idea in my head. For example, my character Buppy started off as a pen drawing on a receipt and has since evolved into a series. That happens a lot.I’ll draw a little character or comic page and think, “this might make a cool story”.

Lately, I’ve been trying to start my comics with a clear idea of how they will end. This is especially important when working on large format comics, as finding a conclusion that doesn’t feel tooabrupt is always a challenge for me.

Lizard County (detail)

AM: Is there a particular reaction you want from your work?

SM: There are all sorts of reactions I’m going for. I create comics to work through ideas, make people laugh, smile or just have fun.

AM: Do you ever feel stuck when producing stories?

SM: I try not to believe in writer’s block. Sometimes it’s going to just suck for a bit. There are times where I try to chug through a story to see what happens. Other times I’ll feel like I lose motivation and need a break from drawing or anything artistic. Usually, sitting down and getting started is the hardest part because I may have no idea where the story is going. But after working at it for a few minutes I’ll start to feel like I can manage.

AM: How has risography been implemented into your work?

SM: Getting into risography has changed things for me. In the past, I’ve made comic books using companies like Overnight PrintsandI would get a comic book back that was super glossy or twice the size I originally intended. Through risography,I’m a part of the printing process and have full control over the final product.

Buppy The Cowpoke (detail)

AM: What role has animation played in your comic development?

SM: My animation work has developed through my interest in comics. Like with comics, I started off just having fun and making random gifs, but recently, I’ve been working on a storyboard for a project I want to pitch. This process has changed the way I format comics. I wanted to avoid a position where I would be drawing with no end in sight while facing a deadline. SoI outlined the project and listed important jokes and story points. After I finished, I realized how helpful writing and storyboards can be for developing my approach to animation and comics.

Doodle animation

AM: What do you do in your free time? How does that influence your art?

SM: Well, lately I haven’t had much free time, but my daily life does find its way into my stories.

The Buppy comic that I am currently working on presents him as a business man working in an office. While I don’t have a job that is anything like that, I have been in a more administrative position recently and that experience is reflected in the comic. I have also made many short Instagram comics with jokes based on past life events. Other than that, my free time is spent goofing off with friends and drawing.

AM: Tell me about your mural work.

SM: I did one mural at the Co-Prosperity Sphere, and one at Columbia a while back. But lately, my mural work comes from my position as a teaching artist with the company Green Star Movement. They do mosaic murals all around Chicago. This work has shaped the way I look at more “serious drawing” since a lot of their murals are of important figures of the community or of monuments. Drawing mural designs for the Green Star Movement required a more realistic style. At first, this felt completely outside my wheelhouse since I typically produce more cartoonyimagery, but the experience taught me a lot and was a very helpful exercise.

AM: Favorite artists?

SM: There are so many artists I look at. What I’ve been blown away by lately are Claymation artists on YouTube. For example, Lee Hardcastle does great work that captures a darker theme. I find the visual result of Claymation feels more “real” than a traditional animation. The style takes a lot of effort and the work individuals put into a finalized animation always blows me away.

AM: Due to the stay at home order, I followed up with Sean to see how his work and plans have changed since our first discussion. How has the recent stay at home order affected your work?

SM:  There have been a mix of effects due to the stay at home order. Some great, some bad.

First, the bad; I was planning on getting my master’s degree in the fall at either Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) or the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). SCAD is planning to have on campus classes, but that can change at any point. UCLA has yet to tell me if I’ve gotten into their art program and contacting someone for a response has been difficult. Overall, the fall semester is filled with uncertainty, which is frustrating to say the least.

Some great news is I’ve had a ton of time to work on my own art. I was able to finish a “Pitch Bible” (format to pitch an animation) that I poured a ton of time into. This project wouldn’t have been possible without all the extra free time. I submitted this Pitch Bible to a cartoon studio and will be having a video conference with them at the end of the month. I’m excited to see how this project will progress!

Yoga Comic (detail)

To keep up with Sean, follow @sugar.bro on Instagram!

Member Interview Series: Willa Goettling

Willa Goettling is an artist originally from Seattle, Washington. Willa moved to Chicago for three years to partake in the Columbia College Book and Paper MFA Program. During this time, Willa interned at Spudnik Press and worked at Spudnik briefly before moving to New York City.

Willa Goettling was interviewed by Ashley Houghton as part of her Spring 2020 Internship at Spudnik Press Cooperative. Ashley is a printmaker pursuing her MFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Ashley Hougton (AH): What do you do in New York? 

Willa Goettling (WG): I am currently working at a paper making studio called Dieu Donne. They primarily work with artists in residence–some big names like Ann Hamilton and Richard Tuttle and some more up and coming artists. Dieu Donne was created by Susan Gozin who typically works with established artists without paper making experience to produce an edition. I’m the Education Coordinator for them, so I’m working on building up their programing, creating new classes and syllabi, training teachers, that kind of thing. 

Dieu Donne paper studio 

Dieu Donne paper studio

AH: What made you want to get into education?

WG: There is always room for learning. Teaching yourself new skills, teaching other artists new skills, and helping them expand their practice is something that is really exciting to me. I’m also really interested in accessibility and working in education outside of universities and colleges. Universities and colleges are expensive options for education and limit who feels accepted and welcome in those institutions. Working for a smaller organization, like Spudnik or Dieu Donne, that offer classes to the community on a workshop to workshop basis, is something that is really interesting and exciting to me. 

AH: How does the art scene in New York compare to the art scene in Chicago?

WG: When I was living in Chicago, there were so many small pockets of artists supporting each other and on a smaller scale. The DIY circuit and the smaller gallery circuit is really supportive and accessible for new artists in the city. Your entry into the Chicago arts scene may be quicker and less focused on credentials compared to a city like New York. In Chicago there is more room to operate on your own terms. In New York, there is so much competition. There are so many art institutions and artists that there is more focus on where you went to school, where you trained, and what galleries and museums you have shown at. New York artists are a little more focused on being “professional artists”. 

AH: What was your introduction to art?

WG: Ever since I was a little kid I identified as being a creative person. I don’t know if I would have called myself an artist, but creativity has been wrapped up with my identity for a long time. 

I didn’t study art in undergrad. I studied medical anthropology and global health. The reason is that, besides it being an interesting area of study, it was hard for me to justify going to school for art as a first generation college student coming from a working class family. I felt like art was something that I could always do on my own time, continue developing myself, and build a community around outside of school. I don’t know if I have any regrets towards that, but I definitely second guess it every once and awhile. The more I’m in the art world the more it feels like having both, an undergraduate and masters degree in the arts, means more opportunities are open to you. 

AH: What inspires your current art practice?

WG: I went to the book and paper MFA program at Columbia College because I have always been interested in communicating narrative through art. If I’m not reading or writing, putting a series of ideas into a book, or self publishing, I like to use printmaking to make multiples and have multiple pieces of art all be in communication with each other. I’m interested in art as a form of storytelling and a form of spreading information.

Recently I’ve been interested in looking at my own relationship to my body and the cultural, economic, and societal impacts that the body absorbs–especially the feminine body. Being someone who came from a working class background and has a bunch of laborers and craftspeople in my family, capitalism has definitely affected the way that we move throughout the world. We have developed a sense of self within a world that does not value labor or the people who have jobs that are heavy in manual labor.

Surface Tension Artist Book

Surface Tension Artist Book (Cover)

Surface Tension Artist Book (Detail)

Surface Tension Artist Book (Detail)

AH: Can you tell me more about capitalism and its impact on the body? 

WG: Capitalism is tied to systematic oppression of who has access to money, health, power and jobs and who doesn’t. Capitalism affects bodies very differently depending on race, class, sexuality, and ability. For me, I have a pretty disconnected relationship to my body because it’s so wrapped up in our access to health care and health care being a money making industry. As US citizens do not have equal access to health care, there is a huge disparity in who has time to address physical or mental health issues. The “American Dream” of being able to work your way up to another bracket feels like the carrot that is always being dangled in front of you. Depending on which economic class you are born into, the “American Dream” is extremely hard to actually achieve. Further, if you do make it out of your class bracket it’s at the expense of your body and your health. 

AH: In your bio you mention that you are “motivated by a desire to feel more connected to and in control of your body”. Are you motivated to explore that connection as a concept or does your art making process make you feel more connected to your body? 

WG: I think it’s a combination. When I was in grad school it was more theoretical and I explored the person-body relationship as a concept rather than actually developing a closer relationship to my body. Because grad school is so time consuming, I pushed off my relationship to my body in a lot of ways and denied my body just because there was so much else required of me. However, making art and using that time to reflect on the disconnect has become really valuable to me. 

Connective Tissue Artist Book 

Connective Tissue Artist Book

AH: What are you working on currently? 

WG: Currently I’m working on a project centered around handmade paper. This medium feels very holistic to me. I can grow and process my own fibers for paper making, and there is a huge variety with what I can do with those fibers after I turn it into pulp: I can work sculpturally, I can make two dimensional pieces, I can paint with the pulp, I can embed things into it, and so on. The project I’m currently working on is still in the idea phase. I want to work with my dad who is a stonemason and take some of his work clothes and turn them into pulp for papermaking. Then, I want to create casts of the stones he works with on a regular basis in the paper made from his clothes. The casts can pick up a lot of details. A lot of my process also has to do with focusing on the process itself and whatever is the end-all-be-all, or the product of the process, feels a little secondary to me. 

Surface Tension Installation

Surface Tension Installation

Sometimes the product is more directed if there is text that I want to put into a book. I have an idea of how I want that text to be laid out and what the book would look like. With something that is more of an installation or a group of objects, the process is a really big part of figuring out what the end product will look like. I like the idea of having some sort of document of my dad’s labor and turning that labor into something beautiful. 

AH: How has your work shifted since graduating from graduate school?

WG: Having just graduated from a graduate program and coming back to myself and my art practice outside of school, there are subtle shifts happening in my work. I’m trying to figure out what space my work makes the most sense in; if gallery spaces are best, or if I would rather stick to independent publishing and continue working in education at non-profits. Sometimes it’s harder to justify making work out of school, but I definitely believe in continuing to make art just as a way of better understanding the world. I think that is reason enough.

AH: Can you tell me about your experience as an intern at Spudnik? 

WG: I basically had no screen printing experience when I was at Spudnik but I did have some relief printmaking and etching experience. I got to work with Angee Lennard and Nicolette Ross to edition some artists’ prints. The most complicated and exciting of those projects was by Edie Fake. It was an 8 layer screen print and half of those layers were rainbow rolls, in which multiple colors are blended in one layer. As an introduction to screen printing I arguably started with the most complicated technique. I learned A LOT while I was there and I really loved Spudnik as a model. Being in New York I’ve realized there are no studios that offer open studio hours to the public for as cheap as Spudnik does and I think in that way Spudnik is extremely accessible. 

The Processing Department, Edie Fake (Published by Spudnik Press)

The Processing Department, Edie Fake (Published by Spudnik Press)

AH: When you’re not doing art what do you like to do for fun? 

WG: If I’m not making visual art or writing, I play music very casually. I play drums. I’m not playing in a band right now but that’s something that I like to do with friends. It keeps me socially accountable and it’s also just nice to get together with people and work on creative problem solving with others. I also like to read and have been watching a lot of Schitt’s Creek lately. 

AH: Willa’s artist book, Notes From My Body, is part of the Joan Flasch Artist Books Collection at the School of The Art Institute of Chicago, which is available for viewing by appointment.

Member Interview Series: Andrea Carlson

Andrea Carlson is a visual artist from Grand Portage, MN currently living and working in Chicago, IL. Through painting and drawing, Carlson cites entangled cultural narratives and institutional authority relating to objects based on the merit of possession and display. Her current research includes Indigenous Futurism and assimilation metaphors in film. Her work has been acquired by institutions such as the British Museum, the Minneapolis Institute of Art, and the National Gallery of Canada. Carlson was a 2008 McKnight Fellow and a 2017 Joan Mitchell Foundation Painters and Sculptors grant recipient. 

sienna broglie: What was your introduction to art?

Andrea Carlson: That’s pretty easy. My dad is a painter. All of my family, if not painting or drawing, is beading or crafting things. I know some artists had parents who wanted them to pursue a different field; who discouraged them from developing their talents. I never really experienced that. I was encouraged to make art from a very young age. It was something that I took for granted growing up. I always had good support and was lucky in that way.

sb: What mediums did you first explore?

AC: At first it was a little bit of everything. In elementary school I started painting with oil and acrylics but before that I was drawing. I started drawing to learn the rules: how to draw a human’s face or figure out human ratios and form various objects. They became a kind of language or grammar with which to render. Once the rules aren’t a challenge anymore, you want to break them enough so that what you’re making is odd or interesting; so that people can’t look away. As opposed to a fully formalized drawing of a bouquet or landscape that we’ve seen before, there has to be dissonance. The design has to frustrate the viewer in order to hold them a bit longer. 

sb: You obviously have your own style.

AC: It took me a while to break all of the rules. Even now I fight some of the formal drawing tendencies that I’ve learned. Sometimes I have to sit with my own paintings and drawings for a while before they grow on me. There will be something that I hate in a piece so I’ll try to antagonize what it is that’s frustrating me while simultaneously I will like a bizarre aspect that everyone else hates so I’ll fix it just enough to let the piece remain a bit broken. I often play around with my comfort level design-wise. 

Vaster Empire, 2008, 44″ x 60″ acrylic, ink, gouache, and oil on paper.

sb: What does your process look like when you make a piece?

AC: Right now we are looking at Red Exit. This piece is 30 sheets of paper that were cut in half and stacked to make 60 cells. I divided the bottom of each cell into fifths and each element in the piece will be introduced at one fifth of the page in from its corresponding position in a cell above or below. That on-fifths rule is true in Red Exit for everything except the bat symbol. This is the sister piece to Ink Bable which had a kind of doom pig that also broke the one-fifth rules. There is a slight variance between repeated elements so that it doesn’t look like wallpaper. Instead it seems sequential or as if something will move and is able to fight the static nature of the imagery. 

Each piece is hand painted. Print makers often assume that a bit is printed but realize it’s not once they get close. It wouldn’t be any easier if it were printed considering each element has a slight variance. I think it would be just as maddening. 

sb: How long does a piece this large take to finish?

AC: Ink Babble took a year to finish and I have been working on this piece for quite a while. I have so many projects going on at once, it’s hard for me to tabulate how long it takes. 

sb: What does your studio routine look like?

AC: Lately it’s been terrible! I would love to do a 9-5 in the studio every day. There have been times when I would do a 9-5, seven days a week. Now I am doing a lot more arts writing, traveling, and speaking about my work. All of that takes a toll on my studio practice. I should probably be a fierce protector of studio time but I also absolutely love writing and speaking about work. The writing and traveling makes it so that I won’t get burnt out in the studio. You can get burnt out on either side. I think my practice is pretty well balanced but I do crave getting in more often. 

sb: Can you expand on the kaleidoscopic mirroring pattern in all of your paintings?

AC: So if each column was a film strip of a panorama shot taken out of a celluloid camera you would see information repeat itself at an angle from cell to cell. If each row was a still panorama shot of a landscape you would have one linear horizon line. Then across would be static space dominant (photography) and up or down would be dynamic time dominant (video.) Each piece is essentially a bifurcated panorama in two directions that together make a continuum. I was thinking about the possibilities of getting into a film and changing what was within. What would that topologically look like? This is the best I could do. That is why there is a repetition. See figure below.

INK BABLE, 2013, 10′ x 16′ ink and oil on paper. (edited diagram, 2019.) original image

sb: You mention in your bio drawing from iconography in film. Why film specifically as a media as opposed to other public media?

AC: Filmmaking is like contemporary storytelling. It can really craft how people view the world and relate to other communities; it socially forms us. I also have this curiosity surrounding movement and life in image making. I’ve always wanted to fight the static nature of my paintings. With my landscapes you move around them with your eyes and there is an inability to take them in all at once. Like films and movies they are time based; you can’t take them in all at once. The viewer is fed slowly. 

The imagery I am propagating and putting out into the world acts almost reflexively to the propaganda of film and the ways in which that has been devastating; specifically among Indigenous communities with the promotion of blood libel, accusations of cannibalism, and other gruesome stereotypes. These films, like Westerns among other genres, do not give native people a voice to speak for themselves. Sometimes I reference these harmful films in the titles of my work as a means to say “we see you.” I make a record of the wrongdoing in my work. It is almost like a gaze reversal, documenting that violent representation and incorporating it into my landscapes as a part of the story. 

sb: How do you choose the symbols and iconography included in a piece? Is each piece curated individually or are the symbols curated within the greater body of work as a whole? 

AC: I am like a collector of things. Often when I find something I want to include I’ll pull an image from the internet and put it in a file on my desktop. I will draw from that and curate the relationships between the material. The relationships between some of these objects will surface just by having them close. They will be in my thoughts and connections will arise naturally. 

In Ink Babel I incorporated a teleprompter. I was going through a phase where I was focused on old machines that were used to disseminate or capture information. Another element I use a lot is the brown bat, they might go extinct within our lifetime, so I’ve been charmed by them. 

One of the ideas behind Red Exit is celebrating Indigenous spaces or spaces that native people make for ourselves. Oftentimes we are the subject matter, people will talk about us or we will be included in someone else’s project, which is fine, but I wanted to make a piece that really just celebrates native knowledge and native spaces. Particular to this piece there is a beaded medallion that I’m going to put alongside the brown bat. When I was in the Venice Biennale, an Indigenous artist made this beaded medallion with a golden lion. It was an award to be given to an Indigenous scholar, a riff on the official Golden Lion. It is like we have to make our own because there’s no way we’ll ever be given the main stage. 

The space in which we both showed our work, the Indigenous Pavillion, was a little room in a college curated by Indigenous curators who presented Indigenous artists from around the world. The pavillion was a way to break apart the state system; the post colonial sense of nationalism that the US and Canadian pavilions, among others, represented. That post colonial sense of nationalism does not include Indigenous people or, if it does, will include us within that state system, that colonial structure. The creation of the Indigenous pavilion is really clever but at the same time, Indigenous people picking Indigenous artists in a space that is outside of the main picture creates a marginalized space. As an artist we crave the main door, we don’t want the marginalized reservation space. That’s been my attitude throughout most of my career but then lately I’ve been thinking no- those marginalized spaces that we’ve made for ourselves are also really cool. My desire or aesthetic is changing when it comes to spaces and so I want this piece, Red Exit, to celebrate that. 

In addition to the celebration of Indigenous spaces I also want to show the complicated nature of these spaces. Included in this piece is a cowrie shell etched with the Lord’s prayer. I don’t have any desire for Jesus or anything but I can understand how that has affected the Indigenous community. The cowrie shell is a really important object in Ojibwe spirituality so then to have the Lord’s prayer grafted onto it, what does that mean? I once had a professor who said “I can teach you about Ojibwe spirituality and Ojibwe teachings but when 85-90% of Ojibwe people are Christian, then what is authentically Ojibwe?” There is a kind of tragic commentary on the stick we are all in; there is no going back, we are always making anew. I’m picking up little pieces. Also included in this piece are mica hands and talons that overlap hands. I just can’t get them out of my head because these things were dug up all throughout Illinois and Iowa and the upper Midwest. I wonder about them: where they came from, who created them. A lot of tribes stake claims to them which leads me to wonder about Indigenous presence in the past.

Apocalypse Domani, 2012.

sb: Do you build a narrative of Indigenous futurism in your pieces?

AC: I’m starting to write a paper on this right now. There are various Indigenous philosophical traditions that mess with the Western construct of lineal time. We have this concept of Western lineal time and we have chunky landscape paintings that don’t really reflect the unity of space. Every single one of my pieces has a sea-scape with an infinite horizon line. When you look at a landscape there is no such thing as a “landscape” plural because we live on a sphere. Topologically there is just one landscape and multiples are merely cut-outs of that sphere. 

I really love Indigenous Futurism and I think unfortunately for some non Native people it is a foreclosure of Indigenous histories. To understand Indigenous Futurism it is important to understand Indigenous histories and I don’t want Indigenous Futurism to end the education that everyone needs to have in those histories. 

What I like is the possibility to imagine our survivals richly. When history has tried to screw us over and over again, I like the idea of speculating on future space where so many things could play out differently. We can put our desires into fiction as a space that we control. You can locate joy in that space if it is not being reflected and that is important for survival. 

The human-centeredness in conversations about the Anthropocene and the end of the world is scary. Indigenous people are finally rising up and demanding changes for environments when suddenly everyone wants to declare the world almost over. We finally get to rise up and then game over? Don’t pull the rug out from under us. We still want to live, we want to fight to the bitter end. Don’t tell us it’s over, we’re not ready for it. We have already survived so many genocides and so many failed attempts at that. So yes, it is the end of the world now but it has been then end of the world 16 times over. We have felt the ends of the world and survived them in the past. So I think about that as far as how Indigenous Futurism can answer some of the Western fantasies for the future. The future is still a battleground. 

sb: What are your biggest influences, artist or otherwise.

AC: That is really hard because if I start to notice an influence or if my work feels like someone else’s I quickly try to retaliate. I have a number of influences as far as philosophical work and how I order information. George Morrison was an abstract expressionist, also from Grand Portage. I would apply him as an influence because he always put a horizon line through his abstractions. It is representative of Lake Superior, where our Nation sits. He would discuss horizons as this liminal space, a forever space. Growing up on Rainy Lake and Lake Superior in Minnesota, once you see the lake a lot you get that horizon line baked into how you order information. I haven’t been able to break up with this horizon line and I think that comes from George Morrison. 

I don’t know if you can count the lake as an influence, but it definitely is one. I see a lot of the objects in my work as debris that washed onto the shore. Comic books are another big influence. I love playing with line quality and have definitely leaned into the ways that inkers handle line in comics. I also love storytelling and the ways in which comics tell stories. I’ve also been influenced heavily by Japanese Anime. Those stories can be really beautiful and complex and tragic at the same time which is something I have leaned into. I haven’t yet figured out how to write compelling stories so painting will work for now.

There is a lot that is not so much inspired by influence as it is a product of my bizarre process. Some of the elements in my work are drawings that I didn’t like which got cut up and placed in a new way, leaving me to fill in information from the cutouts like a xerox copy. Then there are elements that I take for granted that I implement consistently so as not to reinvent the wheel each time. Those are sacred things that, when I’m bored in the future, will have to change. 

Sunshine on a Cannibal, 2015, 44″ x 180″ acrylic, ink, and gouache on paper.

sb: Alongside your studio practice, what else are you in the midst of?

AC: I was asked to do an Indigenous read on this Anthropocene project for which a German art house named the Mississippi River the “River of the Anthropocene” because of its numerous dams and locks, the dredging and other human alterations done to it. Scientists have always named past epochs after they have occured. To name the current epoch and define it as being central to humans seems like a self defeating prophecy. We are not waiting for future generations to name this epoch because we don’t believe they’ll exist. There is not a lot of hope in humanity, in the future. Maybe that’s okay, maybe humans are a bit overrated. So I wrote an essay- that I don’t know if they will publish- titled “The Mississippi is the Opposite of the Anthropocene.” Yes, we have altered it in so many ways but there is a river in each of us. The Mississippi gives us water and all water is connected. Let’s not fool ourselves that we have more control than we actually do. In the end, water goes where it wants to go. Floods definitely humble those who think we have it all worked out. In the essay I cite a lot of the activism that Indigenous women have contributed; like Water Walks. There was a woman, Josephine Mandamin, who in 2003 carried a copper bowl of water around Lake Superior, walked the entire distance. Her act spread and later turned into the water walking movement among indigenous communities. Her niece, Autumn Pelier, spoke in front of the UN in full regalia when she was 13 years old. She gave all of these beautiful teachings about women and water and how each of us is born of our mother’s water who was born of her mother’s water so on and so on, creating an ancient river. For my essay I did some video work, thanking Indigenous women in Minneapolis and St Paul for their activism around the Mississippi River. The curriculum of this project included paddling down the Mississippi River. I did 38 miles with a group but not the whole river. The rest are still out there right now paddling. 

In addition to that project, I have been writing a lot of essays. I just finished an essay for the Tlingit/Unangax̂ artist Nick Galanin and I’m in the midst of another essay on Indigenous Futurism. Typically I keep score of how many men versus women I am asked to write or speak on. Nick is a guy so now I am in debt to support three women. I keep this ratio where it has to be three to one because men are so overrepresented in the arts world. Last week I was on a panel for George Morrison’s work which again puts me in debt to three women. I was invited to speak on this man but now I should organize a panel or something that includes women. Actually that panel was a total coup and we ended up talking about women in the art world. So lately I have been doing a lot of arts writing and speaking. I absolutely love supporting other artists.

To keep up with Andrea, visit 

Member Interview Series: Jennifer Ackerman

Jennifer Ackerman is a Chicago based graphic designer and printmaker. She is also the designer and owner of PostScript Paper, a stationary boutique specializing in letterpress wedding suites and personalized stationery. 

Sierra Shih: Tell me a little about your background, and how you started PostScript Paper (PSP).

Jennifer Ackerman: I went to school at Loyola in New Orleans on a full scholarship. I was rocking it, and I wanted to take an art class. But I ended up getting a C, and lost my scholarship. I had initially been planning on going to Rome the following semester to study abroad, but my parents said they couldn’t send me there anymore. I was devastated. So I decided that I would go to Louisiana State University (LSU) for a semester, and that would be my Rome. I would take all of the art classes I wanted and have fun, and then I would come back and finish my degree. When I got to LSU, I discovered graphic design, which they didn’t offer at Loyola. I fell in love with it. It was this perfect combination of art and problem solving, kind of like doing puzzles. 

It’s one of those stories I always tell my kids, because it’s the perfect example of when you think the world is over and it’s the worst thing that could happen to you, but it turns out to be the best. I had discovered something that I truly love to do. After I graduated, I moved to New York to work for a while. I met my husband there and we moved to Chicago where I worked at a design firm for around 10 years. After I stopped working, I took a letterpress class and just fell in love with it. I loved designing something and seeing an image on the computer screen become real when I printed it myself. So I started doing little freelance things, mostly invitations, which led me to other design projects, and doing larger print projects like wedding invitations and personalized stationery. 

Letterpress wedding invitation suite with gold foil and custom printed envelope liner

SS: I feel like a lot of PSP and letterpress in general is about patterns and textures. What are you inspired by?

JA: Definitely patterns I see. I’m sort of a preppy aesthetic mixed with simplicity. I love looking at interior design, high end interior wallpapers, and things like that. I look at a lot of fashion to spot current trends too. I’m not creating things from scratch, I’m always getting inspired by things around me and putting it out there. 

SS: What’s your favorite part of PSP, working with clients, and the printing process?

JA: It’s very personal. And I think that’s what letter writing is all about. It’s personal, and people who enjoy that kind of stuff are willing to go the extra mile. They’re willing to have someone design and hand print something instead of just ordering things online. It’s the whole process, it’s me holding your hand through the whole thing. I’m super customer service oriented, it’s always a full service kind of thing when you work with me. Whatever the client needs, I’ll do it. I sort of become their assistant. For wedding invitations, I’m the one who assembles everything by hand, old-school, and takes it to the post office to send it out. A lot of my clients don’t even see the cards until they get it in the mail. It’s a lot of trust, a lot of responsibility. I really value that relationship where they know I’m going to take care of things for them, and I know that they’ll be thrilled in the end. The first few weddings I did, I would get so personally involved that they would actually invite me to their weddings afterwards. I actually did wedding invitations for a Blackhawks player once and they invited me to their wedding!

Letterpress graduation brunch invitation

Letterpress Invitation

SS: Do you mainly focus on letterpress, or do you do other processes as well?

JA: I really want to screenprint but I haven’t had an opportunity that makes sense to do it yet. I’ve done some myself personally, but not for PostScriptPaper. It’s mostly letterpress and I also bought a little tabletop foil press, which has been super fun to have. It lets you stamp little foil details onto your cards and paper. It’s probably why I started doing some of the little trunk show, pop up things where I set up a booth in person because I can bring the press, set type, and even order plates I design on my computer. I have a lot of fun with that. It’s fun and instant, and people can walk away with it. I’m always open if any one wants to use my foil press, or see it. I love sharing what I do and how I do it, and seeing what other people create because everybody does something different. 

Foil stamped stationery. Photo from

SS: What do you like to do in your free time?

JA: I do a lot of crafts. Knitting and sewing, and cooking and baking, that kind of stuff. I watch a lot of Chicago sports with my kids. I also love to travel. Whenever I travel, I shop for stationary. I’m always searching for the art supply stores. Stationary is accessible, you can bring it home with you, and it’s not that expensive. I love finding little ephemera from places I go to, like paper clips from Paris, twine from Amsterdam. That becomes the hunt for me while being on vacation, finding those little objects that inspire me later.

A lot of the times I end up using those things in client projects. I bought some sort of twine last time I was in Amsterdam and I used them in some wedding invitations I was printing!

SS: Are you working on anything right now?

JA: A lot of Christmas cards. I’m also doing a really cool project with a woman who is developing a line of handbags. She travels a lot, and is working with a nonprofit where women in Kenya will bead the bag straps. I’m working on designing the shopping bags that the handbags will come in when you buy them, hang tags, and a little booklet with that shows how your purchase affects the global economy of female artisans. It’s really cool!

To keep up with Jennifer, visit or follow @postscriptpaper on Instagram!



Member Interview Series: Teresita Carson Valdéz

Teresita Carson Valdéz works in fiber, film, photography, printmedia and installation. She received her BFA from SAIC. Recent exhibition sites include Sullivan Galleries, Adds Donna and Mana Contemporary. Her awards include winning first prize for her screenplays Poly Esther, Chucky’s Feast, 1st and 10, Shlomo’s Night Out, and Ratacholo. Her short films have been shown at festivals around the world and at the Museum of Contemporary Art of San Diego.

Alex Janakiraman: In your artist statement, you talk about collective history and personal history – how do you think about time?

Teresita Carson Valdéz: I read recently about the difference between Kronos and Kairos to the Greeks. Kronos is Western, linear time. Kairos are those time-related occurrences that we can’t explain, like déjà vu. Non-westerners – Indians, Aztecs, Mayans – all divide time in different ways. My practice is based a lot in cultural production through migration – not just of people, but objects. I can do a performance with film, paint on film, photograph it, then start to print on textiles or paper and use those images in collage. Time is collage: if you really try to remember your life, you don’t know what you’re remembering, you’re remembering the last memory that you had. 

AJ: Within this framework, could you tell me about your childhood and how you’ve gotten to where you are now? 

TCV: I grew up in Mexicali, Baja California, and immigrated to San Diego when I was a teenager. I took classes at many schools, but eventually started to take my photography practice seriously. When I moved to Chicago 3 years ago, for the first time I felt like an immigrant, because of the segregation of the city. You either have to be this or that — what the white western world tells you is Mexican or what other Mexicans tell you is Mexican — but what we know as Mexican culture was really manufactured by the government after the revolution. I had to do a lot of thinking and dwelling in nostalgia, trying to make sense of where I was. But disidentification happens. Pilsen used to be Polish Czech, and then Mexican communities colonized it, which is visible especially looking at that church that has scaffolding around the towers [St. Adalbert’s, now closed]. This architecture and the negative space remind me of the Mayan arches, and the Spanish-built cathedrals on top. We need to look at culture and life from the side and backwards and in every direction, but that’s not what Western thought teaches us. We’re basically sitting in ruins all the time; we need to think about constant construction and deconstruction. That manifests in the self as well. If you had a traumatic experience and you buried it, to get to it you have to dig. I took this turn in the past three years of working through that, going back to the idea, in terms of time, of being in exile. If your first language was not English but you’re forced to work in English, it’s always filling this displacement, like Kafka and the idea of minor literature. Before I moved to Chicago, my practice was very much a performative, image and text based interplay. Now I’m really into queer formalism. Although I don’t identify as queer necessarily, I think if you’re not a cis white male, then you’re something else. That’s the whole point. Normativity is the thing that’s not normal. 

Salvage: After T’ho. Multidisciplinary installation made from thinking about the negative space in architecture, specifically the scaffolding around St. Adalbert’s.

AJ: Could you talk more about your process and why film photography works for you?

TCV: I love the magic of seeing the image appear, and also the fear that you did something wrong and nothing is going to be there. If I know how it’s going to turn out I’m not interested. I’m very experimental with medium, always. When I’m weaving I’m not interested in repeating the same structure; I set it up and see what surprises come. Even etching or screenprinting is not about editioning, it’s about the high of the surprise. To me there’s process, and what’s made is just the evidence of that. If I can’t push it further, I move on to something else. One of my professors always said: you don’t adapt the idea to the form, the form adapts to the idea. 

A recent weaving by Teri.

AJ: What reactions do you want from your work? Do you think people need to understand the context and histories that you’re referencing?

TCV:  Sometimes I struggle with that, because people are attracted to my work on an aesthetic level.  My last installation was about a very horrible ugly thing: feminicide in Mexico. Femicide and feminicide are not the same thing. Femicide is killing a woman because she’s a woman. Feminicide is the killing of women in a system that creates the perfect conditions for it to happen. I printed silk and at first glance it’s very beautiful, it’s pink, bright, and moving… but when you get closer, you hear women talking about their daughters and the sounds of protest in Mexico.

Monument for the Disposable, Or, Declaration of Value.

But it’s not about who I am as an artist or what I am trying to say. That installation is for women and if you want to get more specific, for Mexican women, or women from countries where violence against women is state-sponsored. I don’t think you have to know a lot to understand when you hear the pain in a mother’s voice. 

AJ: What was your process of making that installation? 

TCV: That was such a process! I was living in Logan Square at the time, and feeling segregation, I started looking for signifiers of culture. When you go to Mexican businesses you always see the Guadalupe Virgin. I started excavating the histories behind her. The Catholic priests colonizing Mexico had to come up with a narrative to unify Mexico. The indigenous people were pretending to come around to Catholicism but would still worship the Aztec goddess, so priests made this brown virgin that was  Mary but also incorporated symbolism from the indigenous goddesses. They created a myth that she appeared to the city and said to build a church here. You go back and start looking at the female deities of the Aztecs and they were very feared. Monster is what men, if you start misbehaving, call you. It’s that idea of the “monster” – which the patriarchy has tried to squash – which is powerful. To me it was about creating sort of like my own deity, who women that are suffering at the hands of the patriarchy can look up to – bring her back. I did a drawing and many iterations of Coatlicue, the famous sculpture at the Museo Nacional de Antropología, and started to distill that image. How did we get from all powerful deities to women being powerless and disposable in Mexico? Different cultures have similar stories, and to me it’s important to move through these mythologies so we can enter consciousness in a different way. We can talk about feminism in many ways, but storytelling always make people think. 

Todos Somos Hijos de la Chingada y Todos Queremos Bling!

I’m also trying to interplay the migration of violence. I had a panel with a map of a product from a maquiladora to a suburb in Illinois, a migration parallel to feminicide. It’s caused by NAFTA and the migration of people who have to work in factories because of the dissemination of agriculture from the center of Mexico. Are we not complicit if we’re buying products made in Mexico or working for companies that use Mexican labor? Young women are trying to get to work and that’s when they disappear. It could be a serial killer, a cop, anybody, and they’re protected by the state sponsored creation of this system. You think that things have gotten better, but for who? Which women? When Trump became president, people of color were like well it’s expected and we have to keep doing what we’ve always been doing, because nothing has changed. But white liberals were losing their shit, because, finally, their way of life was being threatened. And all this is really inherent in the voices of the women; it’s all in Spanish but pain has language. You can try to create a container with the way that you arrange an exhibit or an installation but really sound is what calls to you. I think that when you distill it to installation, art can really reach beyond the trained artist to any audience.

AJ: What are you working on currently?

TCV: Everything is based on what I’m experiencing in the moment. There comes a certain point where the sense of urgency is too much to bear. So, do you just retreat and check out of life? Or do you use your knowledge and your resources to do something? You just make a gesture with what you have and what I have is a lot of skills and a lot of knowledge. But I can’t keep it to myself. I think that’s the most important part. I have this coffee shop, Intersect, in Pilsen, and in the back I have a space I try to activate with gestures that extend to the community. Sometimes it’s just me at the table making. I look at that table as a site that needs to be activated by people’s interest – asking what I’m doing, wanting to sit down, make together, and talk.

Front cafe space at intersect.

Inside the back room at Intersect, with two large tables for working or creative workshops and collected art all over the walls.

Every conversation is different. Photography, film, and installation can be a little too much. Some people check out of contemporary art because they don’t understand it or want to understand it, or they feel intimidated. Craft is the perfect entryway to art aesthetics and conversations. We all start at the same point and know that sensorial experience from the warmth of the womb directly into the warmth of a blanket. I’ve had a four year old weave on a cardboard loom. She did it because kids like to do stuff, but then when she started to see that cloth, she realized oh, I’m making a blanket for my unicorn. That’s how we all begin. It doesn’t matter what her ethnicity is or what color she is or what she comes from. Once the cloth starts to build, the amazement and discovery in people is . . . you just have to be there to feel it. 

The space is filled with small fiber pieces made by Teri.

AJ: Do you feel like you’ve built a community around Intersect and in general in Chicago? 

TCV: It still hasn’t become what I thought it would, but I see it like I see my practice: it’s just about having it, being there and being surprised. We’ve had performance artists, open mics, experimental sound night. You do what you want to do; tell us how we can help you and we’ll make it happen. I’m empowering myself by empowering people because that’s the way I’m coping with what’s going on. I just want young people to get out of that funk of anxiety, get out of bed and not be afraid. Teen girls come in and they don’t even want to talk to you. Then we start the workshop and they’re writing poetry. And at the end of the day they’re standing in line to get up on stage and read. To see that happen in six hours is amazing. 

Stage space in the back room at Intersect, with fiber work by Teri visible in the left, covering her office window.

I guess right now I’m using people as material, but that’s just the way I’m coping with what’s going on in this country and getting worse and worse. I think it’s important for anyone who reads this to know that I have the space and it’s available. It’s ready to be activated in any way you want to. I aspire to put art in a public place where people can have access to it. Access is important. I want to give opportunities to people, do whatever I can do with whatever I have. That’s the goal.

Keep up with Teri on Instagram @dizzydentfilms, check out her website, and be sure to head to Intersect at 1727 W 18th Street!