This interview was conducted by Superstition Review art Editor Regan Henley, with Ashley Czajkowski, who will be speaking at our issue 15 launch party this semester. Ashley is a contemporary artist and MFA student at Arizona State University, whose most recent body of work focuses on the human relationship with nature, and the animal nature of humans.
Regan: So Ashley, your upcoming show, UnBecoming centers around the animal nature of humans and the reversal of the taming of our ‘wildness’. Can you explain that a little more?
Ashley: I feel that as a species, humans have evolved to reject a lot of our natural tendencies as animals, to the point of refusing the fact that we are animals at all. In doing so, we have become disconnected with a very real part of ourselves as well as nature as a whole. Part of this rejection has to do with fear of the unknown, i.e. all that is “wild.” This sort of becoming, this taming, this domestication, also creates a kind of loss, narrowing our corporeal experience as living beings.
Through object making and other sensory interactions in my work I am trying to reconnect with that inner animal. I’m interested in exploring these intrinsic wild tendencies deep-seated in us all; those that we are supposed to hold back, hide or refuse, because we must be “civilized.” I’m interested in how harnessing these innate primal desires poses the possibility of unbecoming.
R: Do you think this “taming” is socially constructed, or something that happens naturally as we age?
A: Perhaps it is a little of both, but for me, especial if gender is considered, it’s absolutely a social construction. Consider even the term “domestication” and how it is applied most often to animals and to women. All people, but particularly females, are taught from a young age to behave in a certain way; to be proper. “Don’t climb that tree” “Don’t touch that dead bird.” Being “lady-like” is based on repression.
Not only must socially acceptable women look a certain way; orderly, clean, constantly masking or removing any part of our physicality which is deemed otherwise. But women must also behave a certain way, not too loud; no emotional outbursts or questionable body gestures – just stand still and look pretty. Historically, women whose emotions were felt too strongly, who reacted to situations in extreme ways, who were unable to be controlled, were considered mentally unstable. The medical term is hysteria, and even though hysteria is no longer diagnosed, this idea of chastising unbecoming female behavior still lingers in societal thought.
R: You also specifically use your own image in a lot of your works, opting to use your own body over a model’s, what influenced that decision?
A: I think of my videos as sort of evidence of experiences; each one an intimate investigation I have with an animal object including my own body as such. As human adults, we rely on sight as the primary sense for interacting with the world, but I am interested in embodying the more oral and tactile exploratory nature of children and animals. It’s actually my desire to experience the world in this way that fuels my practice, and also results in the use of my own body as both subject and object in the work.
R: When creating these works, do you think you were able to better connect with the animal side of your human nature, or did you find it made the division of the two more in more stark contrast?
A: I actually think of a lot of my work as futile attempts. I’m trying to reconnect to a part of myself that is in many ways impossible to fully attain. It’s a bit analogous to the relationship between human culture and nature. There is a sort of tragic beauty in the sincere endeavor to cling to something that’s already gone, acknowledging the possibility that that which once was, may never again be.
R: Lastly, when is your show, and why should we all go see it?
A: Great question! My thesis show, unbecoming, will consist of video projection and site-specific installation. The exhibition will be up from April 30th to May 16th, with an opening reception on May 1st from 6-9pm. There will also be closing reception on May 15th from 6-9pm with reactionary dance performance, specific to my show installation, by dance graduate student Angeline Young, at 7pm.