A conversation between the artists exhibiting in The Uncertainty Principle and Krista Schoening
KS: Here is a question for all of you: this show takes uncertainty as its organizing principle, specifically noting the challenges provided by the uncertain era we are living through. Are there ways that uncertainty is an asset in your artistic practice? Has living with increased uncertainty shifted the way you make your work? If so, how?
PM:The sense of ongoing uncertainty led me to question my intention. Who am I making this work for? Why am I making it? This seemed like an ideal time to dive into my process with a little more trust and a little less judgement, to make the work I want to see without offering any apologies.
SS: As a new member in these extremely uncertain times, I was inspired by the philosophy of the gallery to “Shift” and consciously reexamine and reevaluate my artistic practice. The uncertainty of the pandemic has allowed new ideas and forms to emerge.
SK: Uncertainty is an important aspect of my practice. As I make my work, I am actively seeking the unknown. I almost never have an end point in mind when I start; my process is very experimental. Interestingly, the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic made my practice more certain as I became increasingly disciplined about recording my experiences in the work.
SIC: Of course I had a tough time during this pandemic, but this current uncertain era allowed me to look back and think about the real value in my life that I’ve been passing by in regular life. This period of time allowed me to focus on my practice. Now I am more used to it and kind of found a way to get through the period.
KS: Peggy, I am curious about the way you chose to hang the small works in a grid, almost like a comic strip. This format combined with some repeated imagery seems to hint at a narrative. Is there a narrative here? And if so, is it one that you intend for us to decode… or not?
PM: I worked on these in groups and they do have a bit of a quasi-subconscious narrative. The expanded grid plays on this idea. The repeated figures reference objects I have in my house which, as I draw and redraw, have taken on a certain, almost magical significance for me. I think of these grid pieces more as a visual dictionary of forms, ideas and relationships waiting for me to decode, rather than the viewer. I can only hope they resonate with others.
KS: Peggy, the larger works are composed in a way that I might describe as a cluster — as if the center of the paper had gravity that were pulling on the brush marks and keeping them within the bounds of the format (as opposed to an image composed as though cropped from a larger visual field). It seems that this might reveal something about your process. How do you build these paintings?
PM: My original intention was to have a cluster of forms surrounded by an equal amount of space. As I worked on these pieces, the central cluster seemed to expand and eat up the space. This happened repeatedly. I realized that it is just easier for me to trust the value of the stuff rather than the space—an idea that might be worth exploring in future work.
KS: Sue, your ceramic figures have both organic, expressive gestures and geometric, almost mechanical-looking aspects. How do you achieve a balance between the organic and the geometric in these works?
SS: The ceramic sculptures evolve in a series, at times more figurative and sometimes more geometric. They are informed by the clay and the technique of slab building. I roll slabs and often begin to build with only a basic idea of the form. I try to respond to the forms as they develop. I combine, paddle, attach and rearrange the forms and am often surprised by the results.
KS: Sue, you have chosen to present your Corona Diaries in a beautifully sculptural way — it hangs in space like a mobile, assertive in its presence. It takes up space, and as a viewer I felt that I had to reckon with it on different terms than I would a book, which sits patiently waiting for someone to open it. Can you talk a little bit about the way this work is displayed and how you decided on it?
SS: The Coronadiaries began as a personal daily journal to respond to the pandemic, forcing me to use entirely different materials and imagery. Early in the pandemic I brought paints and papers home from my studio and began to work in my dining room. I never intended it to be displayed in any way, which allowed great freedom and unexpected combinations of materials. The work became very immediate and I rarely even looked at a page after completing it. When presented with the opportunity to show at Shift Gallery in February, I considered presenting it as a book, as well as featuring individual selected pages on the walls in a specific display. However, the assemblage of images and the nature of it as a journal in a specific time encouraged me to devise a structure to hang the pages in a chronological series. Because the pages are two sided and each page has equal importance as it reflects a particular moment, I thought about it as if in a river of time.
KS: Stephanie, these works have a real visual density — the longer I look at them, the more I feel that I’m looking into them. Am I correct in sensing that the uncertainty here isn’t the uncertainty of the void but rather the confusion one might feel in the face of superabundance? What is it about layering and density that speaks to you as an artist in this moment?
SK: That’s a great observation! In a way, these works are like time capsules—I add to the work daily, laying down new layers that represent my experiences at each point in time. So some of the density you see is because, in a way, you are looking back through time. It also hints at how much is packed into these works that isn’t visible anymore. Below the surface is an overflow of emotion, worry, etc., and it can feel overwhelming. I’m motivated to record and encapsulate as much of the experience as possible, especially now, when things feel so abnormal.
KS: Stephanie, how did you arrive at the palette you used in these works? What inspires your color choices?
SK: The main inspirations for the color choices are the feelings of the day I’m working and the natural world around me. And because I layer these pieces over time, the palette evolves over time. The works in this show span the period from May 23 to June 9, 2020, and the palette become increasingly monochromatic as I’m processing injustice spotlighted by the deaths of George Floyd and others.
KS: Sung, in your statement you talk about the unpredictable action of light on water and your works in this show evoke that phenomenon. Can you talk a bit about the way you approached this subject? Did you study the way light reflected from a certain body of water? How did you experiment with materials as you sought a way to achieve these effects?
SIC: I often go to the waterfront and spend time staring at it. The amorphous surface of water reflects light and abstracts the reflected image. In such forms as lakes and oceans, water is the biggest mirror on Earth that reflects the sky. Wind and the moon’s gravity wrinkle its surface and disturb the images reflected upon it. The deformation of its surface is not the same at every location and time, which results in distinctive experiences in every circumstance, similar to how different individuals’ perceptions can be. “Lake Michigan” was a successful piece that achieved this effect. Initially it was done in oil but as I scaled up, I began to use materials that are more appropriate to the purpose that I am trying to achieve. Yet, I am still in the process of experimenting with materials.
KS: Sung, some of your works, depending on the distance from which they are seen, could be understood as either sculptures or pictures. Is this duality intentional? Do you think of them as more one than the other? If so, why?
SIC: I would say my pieces often can fall between painting and sculpture. The painting methods are used in my process to create the specific surface that often appears in my works.