Thursday, January 29, 2009

Lilli Carré and Alexander Stewart

Lilli Carré and Alexander Stewart will be onsite at the MCA working on a collaborative project on Tuesday February 3, 2009 from 11am-7pm.

Lilli Carré currently lives and works in Chicago, making animations, illustrations, and comics. Her animated films have shown in various festivals in the US and abroad, including the 2007 Sundance Film Festival and her previous book of comics Tales of Woodsman Pete is a collection of her stories surrounding a hermit who's slowly losing his wits.

Alexander Stewart received his MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago through the Art & Technology Studies department. His 2005 experimental film Errata was screened at film festivals and galleries in the US, Europe, and Japan, including the Tribeca Film Festival, the International Film Festival Rotterdam, and the Ann Arbor Film Festival. Alexander currently teaches at DePaul University, and curates work at Deadtech and Roots & Culture galleries in Chicago.

1. Could you describe an average day in the studio? Do you have any routines?
L: On my workdays, I’ll wake up around 8 or 9, eat breakfast and drink coffee, and then start working on whatever project I have in the works at that time, be it comics, animation or illustration. Often I work at home, but occasionally I’ll hole up in a coffee shop for the day—sometimes with people buzzing around me it gets me to focus on what I’m doing better than if I’m alone at home with lots of my own distractions all around. I’ll work through the day until the late evening, taking lots of little breaks.

A: I usually only manage to squeeze in one or two studio sessions per week, often at odd hours, so I don’t have an “average” day. Mostly, it relaxes me. There are few things more pleasant than knowing you have an afternoon free, sitting down, and totally zoning out on a drawing project or animation.

Image of Alexander's Studio

2. What do you collect and how does it inspire you?
Comics and old children’s books. I get really excited and inspired by comics of course; I read them a lot and revisit the ones that I own frequently. And I’m really into the design of early to mid-1900’s children’s books. They are beautiful objects, and often really peculiar stories. I’m really into Wanda Gag’s books at the moment; they’re so richly patterned, both elegant and congested simultaneously!

A: My most time-consuming habit is collecting records; I mostly collect 60’s soul and psychedelic rock. I love the feeling of coming across a crate of grimy records and diving in. The fun of it for me is finally finding a record I have been looking for, and knowing that someone else used to own it, and maybe used to love it. I have a record wall up in my apartment for showing recent finds and interesting cover art. My favorite covers are the designs Ronald Clyne did for Folkways records in the 60’s and 70’s. Really beautiful compositions.

3. What do you like to listen to/watch while creating?
It depends on what part of the process I’m in: if I’m scripting something or structuring the story, I can’t listen to anything at all, but if I’m simply inking or coloring pages, I need to listen to something. It makes time feel like it’s moving forward, and I can get lost in what I’m listening to while I work, which is good. Lately I’ve been listening to books-on-tape, which has been great. I like to hear the readers do slightly different voices for different characters. I also often listen to NPR or programs like Radio Lab.

A: A couple of years ago, I read Richard Williams’s book The Animator's Survival Kit , which is really an unparalleled collection of knowledge on the subject. In it, Williams relates a story about legendary Disney animator Milt Kahl. When asked if he listens to music while he animates, he yells, “I’m not smart enough to think of more than one thing at a time!” I tried to take this to heart, and found that, in fact, listening to music while I worked was distracting me from thinking about my work. So now I rarely listen to music in the studio.

4. What would you consider to be Chicago’s best kept secret?
L: The Butterfly Room at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. There’s hundreds of butterflies flying free and landing on you and everywhere else; moths the size of your fist!

A: Not exactly a well-kept secret, but something I insist that all out-of-towners try is a good Italian beef. I like to go to Mr. Beef (666 N. Orleans St., just south of Chicago Ave. – near the MCA!) for an Italian beef and an RC. Really debilitating stuff. It will knock you out for a couple of hours if you aren’t ready for that much meat and grease in your system.

5. What is your favorite piece in the MCA collection?
Maybe the William Kentridge original drawings from his animations. They’re such beautiful artifacts of his films. I like being able to see the history of all his charcoal mark making from a scene, it’s like the passing of time is drawn into the paper. Plus, they’re huge! Or at least much larger than I imagined, I was really surprised when I first laid eyes on them.

A: I am a sucker for those elegant diagrams and proposals for 70’s conceptual installation work. I love when the Museum puts out any kind of Sol LeWitt drawings on paper.

6. What do you do in your studio when you are procrastinating?
Float around on the internet, eat cereal, go on walks.

A: I’m always procrastinating when I’m in my studio. I hope to one day catch myself not procrastinating so I can make a note of how it works.

7. Who (living or dead) would you invite to a cocktail party?
The Marx Brothers.

A: I imagine Harry Nilsson would be a really great party guest, especially if there was an upright piano in the apartment. Maybe Werner Herzog if I was feeling up to it. And of course David Lynch would be a real laugh riot.

8. Do you keep a sketchbook?
Yeah, I’ve carried a sketchbook around with me since middle school. I’d feel weird and naked walking around without one.

A: Yes, but it’s not something I am able to use very consistently. I use it less for sketching and more for planning out projects and mapping ideas. When I have some idea that I would like to sketch out or write down, I more often than not have left my sketchbook at home. So I scribble something on a scrap of paper, and then carefully put that scrap of paper where it will get lost as soon as possible.

9. What's the last great book you read?
White Noise by Don DeLillo. I’m in love with the character of Winnie Richards, the neurochemist who is always blushing hard and running to avoid being seen.

A: The last book that caused me to change something about my life was M.F.K. Fisher’s How to Cook A Wolf. I adjusted my whole thinking about food and eating, and I am probably the better for it. The author I have been most enjoying lately is John Cheever, I have found his work to be a great thing to read while traveling. I love how people in his stories seem to be always fixing drinks.

10. What do you do when you hit a creative block?
I’ll put away what I’m working on and not look at it for a while… maybe for a day, maybe a week or longer, so that it will feel fresh again when I pull it back out. It’s hard to get a good sense of something when you’ve been so close to it, so creating some space and cleaning the slate every now and then is what I have to do to even get a sense of what a project looks like—too much proximity can make it invisible.

A: When I am struggling with something, I have learned to put that project down for an indefinite period, until I understand it well enough to pick it up again. I think it’s important for me to know I can leave something alone if it’s frustrating me, without the expectation that I have to resume work on it, ever. Unfortunately, this has led to an accumulation of many half-finished pieces in piles in my studio and in my head.

11. If you weren’t an artist what would you be doing?
More adventuring and less sitting.

A: Something that involves honing a craft over the course of a lifetime. For a while I thought the way to go was to be a wooden-boat builder.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Sadie Harmon

Sadie Harmon was our Works In Progress artist on December 2, 2008
Sadie Harmon creates multimedia installations from drawings, collages, and sculpture. Her work investigates the connections between the lexicon of cultural references such as Twin Peaks, sideshow performers, and 'the abyss.' Harmon's work illuminates obscure connections within her dynamic subjects and maps out their hidden associations through delicate yet powerful installations. Her work unfolds as a specific portrait of one's interior reasoning, laced with sufficient evidence to entangle the viewer. Sadie Harmon received her BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2008.

1. Could you describe an average day in the studio? Do you have any routines?
I like to get all of my materials out, even if I only have one thing that I’m working on. Generally, I spread myself out and have lots of paper and paper scraps, glue, thread, etc. I tend to occupy my whole space when I work, so I’ll bring everything into the dining room and spread out on the floor and table and chairs. I have a small room that is supposed to be a studio, but it’s really full of stuff so it’s more like storage for all of the odds and ends that I keep. If I’m spending the whole day working on something, I’ll make a pot of tea in the morning and drink that all day, then break for lunch. It’s pretty boring actually – just like if you’d spend the day working on anything. The nice thing is that when I’m working in the dining room, I have a great view of the abandoned tracks outside my window, as well as the apartment building across the way. There’s a person whose window is opposite mine and they will spend hours rocking back and forth, so sometimes I’ll sit and watch that for a while. I tend to get into a zone where I lose track of time and just work, but I’m easily distracted, so if someone makes a noise, that’s it. Then I’ll watch my neighbor or drink my tea.

2. What do you collect and how does it inspire you?
I love collecting things, but I’d say that there are a few categories of things that I am most drawn to: images and natural material. I collect images from old books, the image files at the Harold Washington Library, cards for art shows, and old postcards or other ephemera from used bookstores, garage sales, etc. Whenever I travel anywhere I collect natural materials from my trip. When I went to New Orleans last summer, among other things I brought home a large beetle, some Spanish moss (still alive today!) and some Magnolia blossoms. I try to bring home a pine cone from everywhere I visit. This December I went on a trip to the west coast, and brought home some really nice rocks from Eastern Washington. Rocks, pine cones, and sticks are my favorite. Naturally occurring patterns and designs definitely influence my work, and a lot of what I do I think references nature in some way. I also really love getting bizarre images out of context. I’ve tried incorporating them into my work, but now I think it’s easier just to have them around. They’re like a little community for me.

3. What do you like to listen to/watch while creating?
I like to watch reruns of old TV shows on ME TV. My favorites are The Fugitive, The Twilight Zone, and Bewitched. It has to be something that can be on in the background and that doesn’t draw me in too much. I also like British mystery shows on PBS. If I’m not in a TV mood, I’ll listen to radio shows – RadioLab, This American Life, and Anything Ghost are my favorites. I like listening to stories, because the flow matches my work. I tried listening to lectures but it was too distracting. I don’t really ever listen to music anymore while I work. I used to when I was in college, but now I prefer to hear people talking at me.

4. What are some of your favorite websites/blogs to visit?
My all time favorite right now is I really liked their magazine, but every day on their website they will provide about 25 links to different articles and news stories. They do a pretty good job of varying their content and providing a mix of topical news stories, personal narratives, and more obscure things. One of the best stories I’ve read has been about mushrooms surviving off the radiation at Chernobyl. I also like BibliOdyssey, because it’s like being able to spend hours looking through special collections at the library (of course, that takes some of the fun of discovery out of it, but I still think it’s a great resource). I guess I also have to say Wikipedia, because I find it immensely useful. I also like searching for different libraries’ digital collections. I stumbled upon the digital collection of the Alaska State Library and found some really incredible images from the turn of the century.

5. What is your favorite piece in the MCA collection?
I really liked the Drawing show a few years ago that had pieces from the collection. The Henry Darger drawings are obviously great, but there was a Deb Sokolow drawing up that I still remember as well. I also love the Sarah Sze piece that was up this summer. Seeing her stuff installed is always great.

6. What do you do in your studio when you are procrastinating?
Talk to anyone within earshot, read a book, make food, do the dishes, stare out the window, go for a walk. Mostly I don’t procrastinate, but when I do it’s because I’m having trouble solving a problem or because things aren’t turning out the way I thought they would. It’s a lot like trying to do a math assignment that you don’t totally get. When you hit a wall it can get totally frustrating and you have to take a break for a while.

7. Who (living or dead) would you invite to a cocktail party?

I think I’d invite everyone, and then let in the first 100 people. I like a good mix at my cocktail parties.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

About Works In Progress

This blog has been created to be a companion to the Works In Progress program that happens the first Tuesday of every month at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.

Works in Progress started in October of 2007, as part of an effort to explore the creative process of contemporary artists, most of whom live and work here in Chicago. We invite artists to come work on site at the museum for a day in the Robert B. and Beatrice C. Mayer Education Center lobby and encourage museum visitors to talk to the artists, ask questions, and be inspired. To allow people access to the thoughts, work and techniques that go into creating a finished work of art.

We have been incredibly fortunate to have partnered with a great group of artists thus far. This blog is meant to archive the program and also provide a platform to ask the participating artists questions that will hopefully further illuminate the great variety that exists in contemporary art practice. To answer questions about their process and inspiration.