Today we are pleased to feature author Carolyn Guinzio as our Authors Talk series contributor. Carolyn discusses both her inspiration and her writing process for her poems from OZARK CROWS.
In particular, she discusses her encounters with crows and how her love for them has “grown into a book length exploration.” She is fascinated by the ways crows converse with each other and with her. She discusses the strike of inspiration after reviewing crow photos from a gloomy day. The dark crows reminded her of letters, and she began experimenting with the unique format of crow images and text. She emphasizes that the pieces in this project have forced her to be truly engaged with the outdoors, which is a great comfort. She concludes that watching the crows makes her feel “as if the world will keep turning and time will move forward.”
In her poems from OZARK CROWS, Carolyn uses a creative format that intertwines text and images. Her podcast reveals this process as she captures her screen and shares the way that she constructs her poems.
I haven’t written a “creative” word in a month. That might be an odd way to start a blog post about writing, but it’s the truth—and wherever there is truth, there is a puzzle for a writer to examine.
I can point to several reasons why I haven’t been writing, of course. Aren’t there always reasons? First, I just returned from a two-week trip to Alaska, so I was away for two weeks of the month in question. Second, every moment of the two weeks before the trip felt busy with preparations and tinged with anxiety—after all, my husband and I would be traveling on four flights, a train, a bus, two small boats, and a medium-sized cruise ship.
A third reason goes like this: feeling relieved at the opportunity to disconnect from the Internet, I left behind my laptop, which would have been difficult to tote on and off planes and from one place to another on the ground or at sea. I did pack a small, handmade notebook from a Tanzanian craft shop that employs people who live with physical challenges. I thought the notebook’s history would motivate me to write, but its pages remained blank throughout the trip.
All of these reasons sound good when I write them down, but the truth is I can’t explain the lack of writing. I have never before traveled to such an inspiring place without writing a single word while I was there. Each day I thought about writing (and I did dictate journal entries into my iPhone), but day after day I avoided that little notebook and wondered, in the back of my mind, why I was doing it.
What I was doing was taking photographs. My camera, I’d always known, was coming with me to Alaska regardless of how awkward it would be to carry it. From the moment our plane landed in an Anchorage flooded with daylight at 11 o’clock at night, I snapped photo after photo after photo. I captured images of snow-covered mountains, of rivers carrying glacial silt through scenic valleys, of seagulls chasing the spouts of humpback whales, and of seals resting on ice caps recently calved from retreating glaciers. I took photos of a wolf tailing a grizzly bear across a mountainside, of a herd of caribou on a hilltop, of 20,310-foot-tall Denali on a rare sunny day. And the bald eagles! I had only seen four in the wild before this trip, but in Alaska, the sky and the trees and even the rooftops seemed filled with them, and I couldn’t stop clicking at their magnificence.
A number of writers I admire also take photographs. As I captured image after image in Alaska, I wondered about this impulse. Why was I obsessed with my camera, while the little notebook languished, unopened, in my suitcase?
Somewhere between Anchorage and Denali and Seward and Skagway and Hoonah and Ketchikan, it occurred to me that my goal with a camera is pretty much the same as my goal with a pen. I’m trying to capture the world around me in all its beauty, its glory, its sadness, and its grit so that I can save and relive the moments, and then share them with others. Like any writer or photographer or artist in any media, I can’t recreate the world as it actually exists. I can only interpret it through the filter that is—for better or worse—me. A bald eagle exists in all its magnificence in and of itself. All I can do is try to capture its essence and the wonder I feel when I see it. Then I can show it to others with an unspoken question: “Do you see what I see?” I want someone else to see it, too, so I can share the experience—and also so I’m not alone in that wonder.
With creative writing (whether it’s fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, or dramatic writing) the process, I think, is much the same. The writer observes something or feels something or experiences an event, and then captures, frames, interprets, recreates, or re-imagines it based on a personal understanding and sensibility. Through this process, the story is infused with the meaning the writer attaches to it. Finding the right sharpness or clarity or beauty in the delivery is what requires click after click after click of the pen or keyboard.
Of course, there is one central difference between photography and writing. Photographs are visual images made up of (or at least based on) shapes and colors and light that exist outside the photographer, out there in the world at the moment when the shutter is snapped. How the photographer perceives those images and frames and interprets them with a camera is, of course, the art. Written texts, on the other hand, are born of observations of the outside world that become stories when they merge with the ideas, memories, and imagination in the mind of the writer. The texts won’t exist unless the writer makes use of that complicated, beautiful, difficult, and (for me) often dreaded tool: words.
Words. There are so many words! And writers have to choose just the right ones every time! And the choice of which words to use makes all the difference.
Sometimes, for me, the words just don’t come. While I was in the great, vast, wild state of Alaska, they eluded me completely. The wilderness was so stunning that words failed me. One definition of the word “stunning,” by the way, is to be “able or likely to make a person senseless or confused.” That is what Alaska did to me. It stunned me. It left me senseless and confused…wordless. But, I have to say, happily, ecstatically so.
Now I am home. Now, as a writer, my job is to make sense of what struck me senseless. The weeks, months, and maybe even years of translation and interpretation through the imperfect filter that is me must begin.
But why? Why not leave Alaska to be remembered through the hundreds of photographs I came home with, the eagles and the glaciers, the mountains and the waterfalls, the seals and the wolf and the whales? I certainly love the photos, and if I were a better photographer, photos would rightfully be enough.
But for better or worse, I’m a writer. And ever since I was a little girl, all I wanted was to find the right words.
Tempe, Ariz. — On Jan. 14, 2016, the Arizona State University Art Museum (10th Street and Mill) opens the exhibition Participant: Photographs by Spencer Tunick from the Stéphane Janssen Collection, which includes more than 20 photographs by Spencer Tunick from 1997 to 2013 drawn from the collection of Stéphane Janssen. The exhibition will be on view through May 28, 2016.
Since the early 1990s, Tunick has traveled the globe to create staged images of multiple nude figures in public settings. And since 2000, collector Stéphane Janssen has been a participant in Tunick’s photographs, which have ranged from a handful of figures in an art museum to more than 1,000 volunteers in the Dead Sea in Israel.
Janssen, who is now 80, posed for the first time on a street in Harlem, New York, with 25 other people. Most recently, Janssen was one of 1,000 people covered from head to toe in dramatic red and gold body paint in front of the opera house in Munich, Germany, a project commissioned to coincide with the presentation of Richard Wagner’s operas Der Ring Des Nibelungen, also known as the Ring Cycle.
All of Tunick’s participants are volunteers who respond to an open call to appear at a time and place. They are carefully arranged and then photographed by the artist. The gathered human bodies sometimes recede, sometimes dominate the built and natural backdrops. They meld into a unified composition of abstract patterns and challenge conceptions of nudity, privacy and the ideal body.
These human installations combine elements of performance art, sculpture, land art and photography. They also reference street art and flash mobs, which bring temporary art and experiences into the public space, expanding the reach and impact of the work. Tunick’s art practice explores the social, political and legal issues surrounding art in the public sphere.
The exhibition and the accompanying artist’s book are generously supported by Stéphane Janssen. The book is available in the Museum Store or from http://www.nakedpavementbooks.com/.
Tunick will give a gallery talk Wednesday, Jan. 13, at 1:30p.m., and both Tunick and Janssen will attend the exhibition opening Thursday, Jan. 14, from 5–7 p.m.
About the ASU Art Museum
The ASU Art Museum, named “the single most impressive venue for contemporary art in Arizona” by Art in America magazine, is part of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at Arizona State University. The museum has three locations across the metro Phoenix area: the ASU Art Museum at 10th Street and Mill Avenue, on ASU’s Tempe campus; the ASU Art Museum Brickyard at 7th Street and Mill Avenue, in downtown Tempe; and the ASU Art Museum International Artist Residency Program Project Space at Combine Studios, in downtown Phoenix.
Free at all three locations
The ASU Art Museum and ASU Art Museum Brickyard are open 11 a.m. – 8 p.m. on Tuesdays, and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. The museum is closed on Sundays and Mondays.
Our Art Editor, Regan Henley, conducted an interview with Artist Ashley Czajkowski, whose work appears in Issue 15. They discuss Ashley’s post-grad work, her artistic process, and her involvement with the Creative Push project.
Regan Henley: Last time we saw you you were finishing up your MFA within the School of Art, and completing your thesis show. Now that you’ve graduated, what are you up to?
Ashley Czajkowski: I’m adjunct teaching, I teach Photo II Darkroom at ASU which I absolutely love. The amount of energy I can put into teaching now as opposed to when I was in grad school is so much more that I’m giving a lot more to the students, and because of that I’m getting much more back. I’m also adjunct teaching at Scottsdale Community College which is a totally different and amazing experience teaching one large 5-hour studio class with Photo I, Photo II, Photo III, Photo IV, advanced projects and alternative process in one five hour block. I’m working on the Creative Push project with Forrest Sollis interviewing and editing women’s labor and delivery stories. It’s amazing. I feel like I’ve honed a lot of skills with that, but I’m also meeting people and talking to other other women and artists. It’s almost like a curatorial thing as well. I’m also an event coordinator for eye lounge now.
RH: Your thesis show “Unbecoming” was about animalistic instincts, and the human connection with “wildness.” You made a whole installation of found birds and exposed them on light-sensitive paper. Are you continuing the series?
AC: I am, but I started changing them. So, I’m exposing them on fabric with liquid light and putting them into these [embroidery hoops]. I’m not sure how I feel about them yet, but I’ve been thinking a lot about this idea of domesticity, and domestic acts. I think it’s interesting, the idea of taking something wild and making it tame. It’s that idea of domesticity as it relates to femininity, but also in the act or making them, and collecting the birds. Using the fabric, they become more abstract, which I like. They start to look like celestial bodies, or moons.
RH: Was it natural to just continue this work? Was there a struggle to decide to move on or forward with it?
AC: It was actually the easiest thing to continue doing what I was before, I think there’s a lot of pressure as artists to reinvent the wheel every time we make something. I was thinking about having a new show, and I definitely want it to be different than the way it was before, but there will be some overlap because I’m still thinking about a lot of the same things. Just because I’ve finished a thesis show doesn’t mean that work has been fully explored. There is a common thing though that happens after grad school, and I’ve talked to a lot of other people about this, but there is this weird lull that happens. But it didn’t take me long to pick it back up. I just have to be making, but I’m trying to push it further.
RH: What about your process now? You’re not in school, your schedule is very different and no one is making you create. What’s it like working with less structure?
AC: In some ways it helps to be home a lot more. I’ve found the video-making to be a lot more difficult, but the object-making has been a lot easier. It’s a weird sort of balance. The pressure to make in school is much different. But part of what grad school is, and I’ve had lots of professors tell me this, is that before you leave you should understand your studio practice and being able to perpetuate that without “goals.”
RH: Without that structure, how has the critique process changed for you now that you’re out of school? Now that you don’t have structured spaces to refine your work?
AC: That was the thing I realized I was going to miss right away, that community and those conversations. Luckily, my partner is also an artist so that makes it nice to bounce ideas off of. But that’s one of the reasons I’ve joined the eye lounge. We’re actually working on setting up some 17th century style salons, where people come and put up a bunch of work and have conversations. It will be early spring, it’s a cooperation between the art grads group and eye lounge. So I’m forcing that critique space to happen.
RH: Does your art making feel less intense now? Or, I should say, do you feel less pressure to create?
AC: In grad school you feel like you never have enough time, I always felt like I always have to be more prolific than I was. I think that kind of external pressure is gone, but I don’t want to say that it’s less intense because I feel like that implies it’s conceptually less intense which isn’t the case. I have more time to really investigate more. I’m making stuff, but really I’m feeding myself more, reading theory and external things but also reading into my own work more. Which I think is really beneficial.
RH: What have you been reading?
AC: It’s been a combination of lots of things. I’ve been reading some psychoanalytical theory about pregnancy and childbirth as I’m working on the Creative Push project. I’m also constantly referring to this book, “The Book of Symbols” by the archive for research in archetypal symbolism which I jokingly call my bible. It’s basically an anthology of archetypal symbols and imagery. Every time there’s something that comes up in my work, I look it up in this book. I’ve also been reading a lot of photography theory which I got in my last year of school, which goes into poststructuralist theory, which gets into some pretty heavy stuff.
RH: The Creative Push project seems to be particularly close to your heart at the moment. Can you tell me a little bit more about that?
AC: Forrest Sollis started this project called the Creative Push after she had her first child, and she was going to make a body of work about the experience, and she was having a hard time finding artwork out there that was about the genuine labor and delivery experience from a woman’s first-hand perspective. So, there are some stories out there and recent critique about it, but she wanted to create a platform where women could share their stories and artists could make work in response to those stories. The platform really is the website, which is creativepush.org, but we will eventually has some physical exhibitions in the spring. It’s been an amazing experience. The stories are incredible. I feel like this whole pool of knowledge used to be an oral tradition that women would pass on to each other, but it became really taboo in history, so it’s kind of something that you don’t really talk about. It’s just supposed to be this magical experience – which it is in many ways – but it’s also traumatic and transformative.
RH: Are you still looking for participants?
AC: Yes! That is a great question. We are still looking for participants as storytellers and artists, there is a participate form you can fill out on the website.
RH: Fantastic. Last question here: Where else can we see you these days?
AC: You can always see my work online on my website. Now that I’m a member of eye lounge, I will be participating in a group show in December, I will have my solo show at eye lounge in Phoenix in February, another group show in March. Definitely check it out.
Interview Editor Erin Regan recently had the opportunity to interview Edgar Cardenas, a photographer and Ph.D. candidate in the School of Sustainability at Arizona State University who integrates art and science in his work. His photography, taken from a collection titled “One Hundred Little Dramas,” which explores his own backyard as a natural place, was published in the 12th issue of Superstition Review.
Erin Regan: On your website you included a statement about the project that’s peppered with quotes by Aldo Leopold. What has your relationship with Leopold’s work been like?
Edgar Cardenas: I grew up close to Madison, Wisconsin but I didn’t know who Leopold was until I started my Ph.D. in Sustainability. I started, like most do, with Sand County Almanac which struck home. I related to his musings of being out in the woods and close to farm life.
In Sand County Almanac,Leopold makes clear his intent to integrate aesthetics, ethics, and ecology; I had and continue to have similar sentiments regarding the integration of art and sustainability science. I think he was using the terminology of ecology but his interest was the overall health of the community, which included humans. Many would identify his sentiment with a “strong sustainability,” one focused on ecological integrity that places humans in the system, not above it.
This initial introduction to his work led me to read more of his essays and biographies as well. He was a pragmatist, his attempt to unite aesthetics, ethics, and ecology were based on an understanding that holism is the way forward. He pushed against the reductionist methods of understanding the world and realized they were insufficient for understanding, not only the ecological system but our place in that system. He also pushed against preservationist or conservationist ideologies, there was nature to be found just as easily in the city as there was in the wilderness, it was a matter of looking curiously at the world and understanding how things connected to each other.
His essays weren’t the impetus for beginning the backyard project but they definitely kept me company as the project unfolded. They became ways of understanding and exploring the backyard. I would, often times, say to myself, “If Leopold was in my backyard what would he say? What questions would he ask? What would excite him? What might confuse him?” Sometimes I would make changes to the backyard or begin to get a little controlling about how I wanted things. Playing out his presence in the space helped reset my intentions and I could go back to openly observing and discovering. This openness to discovery was critical because the backyard is a small space, I worked on it for 3+ years, so you have to find new ways to look at it continuously. Leopold was one of the influences in exploring and eventually framing what the edited work would look like.
ER: I love how your work reclaims backyards as wild spaces. Would you describe the process of discovering your own backyard as a wild place?
EC: As my artist statement mentions, my backyard was a very undesirable space. Growing up in the midwest and then moving to the northeast, I was unfamiliar with the desert’s ecological pulses. The backyard looked dead when I left for a 10-day project in the Czech Republic. It rained practically the entire time I was away, so I returned to a very different, and green, backyard. The realization that the desert was alive, just waiting for water, started me photographing. I wanted the starting point to also have an ecological connection.
I was also grappling with what sustainability meant at the time. We often think about sustainability in a large and abstracted human-environment interaction manner and in a simple, “we should recycle and compost” manner. I was interested in the inbetween space, what “personal sustainability” looked like and what it meant to be engaged in it, not just studying it; the backyard felt like a good start.
I was also interested in what someone with very little money could do; most of our current sustainability solutions seem to require significant capital investment. I collected wood that was thrown out to build my planter boxes. I also collected food waste from the School of Sustainability and sustainability students to keep my compost going. Tree services would drop off chipped wood in the frontyard and I would take it to the back one wheelbarrow at a time. I would dig up seedlings in the frontyard and replant them in the back. I collected seeds from several places for planting in the backyard as well. My intention was not to restore the backyard to some previous desert site but be ecologically minded in its design. Humans and animals engineer the environment regularly so I was aware that I wasn’t returning it to a former “wild space.” I was becoming mindful of how I would use the space. That meant compost for nutrient-cycling, planter boxes for food, as well as drought-tolerant trees and plants that provided food, shelter, and a habitat for the small critters that shared the space with us. I wanted to bring the biological diversity up to a maintainable level, which also meant being mindful of the water usage, and nutrients. By the end, I was supplementing the plants exclusively off the compost I was making.
That process really got the “discovering” going; I learned a great deal about my relationship to the space as I worked in it and changed it. The process really became a ritual of stepping out into the backyard with the camera and looking, exploring, and engaging. The most important realization, to me, was that personal experience connects you to the land. I was learning to see ecological principles at play, but I was also growing to care about the ecological health of the space, from the compost, to the insects, to the lizards, to the birds; they mattered to me.
ER: Animals and insects are very much present but sometimes hidden in your photos, which seems to mirror our relationship with animals. What was it like searching for those creatures in your yard? Did invisible things become visible to you in the process?
EC: I think the natural assumption for most people is that not much is going on in the backyard. I was fascinated by the fact that the more time I spent in the space the more I saw; it wasn’t just things, it was processes as well. I knew when the house sparrows were mating and when to be looking out for fallen nestlings; we took several to a bird rescue. I knew where lizards were laying eggs in the yard and would be conscious to stay clear of the space so that I didn’t step on their eggs.
My “seeing” developed, I learned what to look for. Often times I was on my hands and knees looking or standing in my plants. I would go out at different times of day, so much happens just before the sun rises, so often times I would be outside waiting in the dark so as not to miss anything. To me the whole thing is resonant in the quote by Proust, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” I had to learn to see in new ways. That has transferred to how I see the desert when I go out too.
ER: In addition to being a photographer, you are earning your PhD in sustainability. Would you explain how these pursuits intersect in your life and work?
EC: I find that the separating of the arts and sciences has done both of them a disservice. They are both fantastic and divergent ways of knowing the world. When I began the program my intention was to find ways to unite the two. I wanted to bridge the knowledge that is acquired in the sciences with the humanistic interrogations the arts bring to the dilemmas sustainability discourse is engaged in. In many ways, I’m picking up Leopold’s challenge to integrate ecology, ethics, and aesthetics for a holism that is necessary in sustainability. That holism needs rigor though. Herbert Simon states, “If we are to learn our social science from novelists, then the novelists have to get it right. The scientific content must be valid.” We are now in a space where, not only does the science need to be valid, the art must be salient as well. I take both endeavours seriously. For me, art and science are a discourse; my scientific learning helps push my art forward, usually by introducing new questions that I have to grapple with. Then I will make art and that process helps me reflect on the scientific questions I’m asking and how I feel about those questions. I can’t see myself doing one without the other; it would stunt my intellectual growth and creativity.
ER: Since completing “One Hundred Little Dramas,” what does your personal brand of sustainability look like?
EC: It has further grounded me in some of the ideas I had regarding sustainability. I find ecological literacy to be a critical component of understanding how we are in the world. I often felt that I had to somehow prove that art belonged in sustainability discourse. I think I’m beyond having to prove it. Now I am working towards what to interrogate with this way of knowing; it’s so powerful and underutilized right now. One of the big pushes for the project was exploring what an “ethic” looked like. This isn’t about judging people and classifying their actions as sustainable or unsustainable, but of understanding how an ethic develops. Leopold’s work resonates in a significant way for me. Through an ecological and aesthetic development of the backyard project I simultaneously began to understand how and why I cared about a space like the backyard. We go out to the wilderness to see nature and vistas, but the most intimate natural experience I found was the one in my backyard.
The most significant change however was understanding the importance of empathy. We speak a lot about human/environment interactions in sustainability but not about human/environment relationships. I think our relationship, how we care about the world is critical. I also feel we shy away from this idea because it sounds so unscientific and subjective; it’s hard to scale up empathy in a systematically controlled fashion. Nonetheless, if we are to be sustainable we actually have to care about a place. We need to have an intimate relationship with that place, get to know it like you would a friend. That means you can visit it regularly, see it change, know its hidden secrets. You can’t do this with vacation places but backyards are wonderful for this; you take care of them and they take care of you. There was a sense of loss when I moved. I think that’s a very powerful motivator for being more sustainable, having an emotional connection to a natural place.
Phoenix, Arizona is not a place that attracts serious artists the way New York City and Los Angeles do. Some might assume that artists who live there are not as serious as those who re-locate to the important art centers of the world. I admire the artists that make those moves, but at this point it doesn’t look like that will be me. Even though I am living and working in Phoenix, I am very serious about what I do. All the artists I know here are. One of the best reasons for living in Phoenix is that it costs less to do so, and that means more time in my studio. A lot of creative people believe that it is okay to live somewhere like Phoenix as long as you travel. Traveling is interesting, people who travel become interesting, and then they can live in boring place but have interesting things to talk about.
Really, I am not bored when I am at home in Phoenix. There is more to do and experience than one ever could. But spending time somewhere else helps makes things vivid. My current house sitting opportunity in Brooklyn, for an artist friend, is allowing me to experience quality time in a major art capitol.
When I go to an old city I am thrilled by period decoration combined with the patina of age. Like the manhole cover in the basement of the contemporary art space, PS1, in Long Island City.
Also in PS1, is the always-magical Skyspace by artist James Turrell. Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art has one, but each Skyspace is an individual experience. On this day the clouds are smiling at me.
Inside the American Natural History Museum there are endless dioramas. These dramatic taxidermy scenes, that blend real and fake, can be found in lots of museums. But in this museum, there are more, and they are grander. This detail shows a leopard with his peacock kill.
Something I always notice, are mound-like forms, which some very old buildings have at their edges. Usually they are situated on corners, where I assume they are meant to provide protection to the building. This one I found in an alley in the lower east side of NYC.
My last image is a small object that I photographed at The Cloisters, a museum created in the 1930’s by John D. Rockefeller Jr. consisting of re-assembled parts of 5 different cloistered European abbeys. This object is one of approximately 5,000 medieval works of art that is contained within The Cloisters. I have been to this museum before, but on this visit I especially love this object. It is strange and wonderful, but there wasn’t much information with it. It reminds me a little of The Garden of Earthly Delights, the painting in Madrid, that I have been lucky enough to see in person as well.
So I will soon return to Phoenix to continue teaching and making art. And the next time someone asks me, I will be able to say that I recently traveled somewhere important. Which might just justify that I am a serious artist living in Phoenix, Arizona.
Being both a writer and an artist, I often get the question of how can you switch from one medium to the other? To be honest, I don’t consider that I’m switching. It’s all in your head (or mine, I suppose). There are so many elements that cross over from one medium to the other—metaphor, imagery, form, symbolism, etc. that I don’t think I need to belabor that point. And of course there are very narrative artists such as Magritte or Joseph Cornell. And there are many other artists who are also writers or actors or musicians (William Blake, Terry Allen, Tony Bennett, Patti Smith, to name a motley few). And when I lived in New York, it seemed that everyone was writing a screen play, sculpting and playing in a band or photographing, juggling and tap dancing or putting together dance, jazz, projected painting performances or some variation of any of the above. Doesn’t all creativity spring from the same source?
I suspect that I’m sounding a bit defensive, and I guess I am. I’ve sometimes felt the need to justify being a photographer who prints and hand colors her photos, a painter who works in almost every medium (I started to say except printmaking, and then I remembered that I did those mono-prints once) and a writer of both fiction and poetry. “When do you sleep?” I have translated in my own head into “What kind of freak are you?” or “Maybe you should just do one thing…” (“really well”, my ego defense system adds). And then there’s the “prolific” problem—the most commonly used adjective bounced around my studio by new visitors. I have grown to dislike the word, which I associate with weeds. And I hear myself sounding defensive when I answer that the studio contains years of shows with, yes, unsold works still lurking about, and let’s say you put up a show of thirty pieces and you sell two, and you have at least one show a year, well…you do the math. And of course there’s other work that you do that doesn’t go into a show. Other times I just say, “Yes, I’m productive” (a “p” word I can live with).
But I started out to write about the crossover, which I actually wasn’t that aware of until I had to do a presentation for the writing class of a colleague. I got together slides and poems and suddenly realized almost all of my poems and art pieces had some element that reverberated from one medium to the other. For example, I found paintings and photos with eggs and then discovered any number of poems also hatching eggs right and left. Which came first the painting or the egg, or the poem?
One of my most fun and challenging experiences involved a collaboration with a sound artist titled “Out of the Darkness”, inspired by Roethke’s poem of the same name, projecting double exposed slides of scraps of my paintings and other abstract images with a one to twenty second dissolve, triggered by a tape of new music composed on a (at the time) very sophisticated synthesizer. Part of the fun was setting small plastic figures on fire and photographing them and going on excursions to record the traffic or the wind. The final effect was very much like a film, with images overlapping and dissolving into each other at different speeds.
Maybe I should have gone into film, which combines all the elements: imagery, narrative, sound, metaphor, color. Instead, I’m on the board of Filmworks a local group that brings alternative, independent and foreign films to Fresno. Last year, as a fundraiser for our organization I dreamed up the idea of combining jazz (another love) and poetry and invited a local jazz saxophone artist, Ben Boone as part of a quartet to collaborate with Phil Levine and Peter Everwine. I called it THE JAZZ OF POETRY, THE POETRY OF JAZZ. Herding all the people and elements involved together was harder than herding cats, (even cool ones) but it all evolved as probably the best jazz or poetry does in a very casual, spontaneous, and improvisational way and was a huge success. In fact, Ben and Phil have gone on to other jazz/poetry collaborations.
I confess that sometimes when I’m dry in one medium, I just turn to another which maybe says more about my own obsessive/compulsive tendencies than I’d like. But I do think that dipping into another medium can really open up all kinds of possibilities for your primary medium. If you’re a poet, take up piano or painting or puppetry, not necessarily to start a new career, but to stir up the creative waters. Nothing is more exciting or scary or (scary exciting) than the new blank document. When will you find time to do all this? When will you sleep? I don’t know, but when you do, you might have some wild and crazy dreams.
Some words a previous photo professor once said to me really got me thinking about the art I make.
In a certain class I was taking while still in school, I was advised to avoid photographing mountains, since Ansel Adams was already known for doing so. This brought a lot of confusion to me; I thought about it, and all subject matter at one point or another had been photographed before, whether it had been trees, rocks, people…everything had been done. What could be possibly left to photograph?
Brainstorming ideas for creating something new is certainly a challenge that I often face. Looking at the work of other artists and exchanging ideas with them, getting inspired by my surroundings and life are all necessities when thinking of new ideas. Over time, I began realizing that thinking too much about this only prolongs the creativity from flowing; it has to just happen on its own. Allowing the artwork to grow and develop over time is just as important as the idea behind it. An idea may not be completely clear when beginning a new project, but visiting the same piece over and over will open up new ways of thinking about it and will slowly reveal its purpose. It can’t be forced; this is something that has to happen naturally over time. I will sometimes make sketches if I have an idea floating around, but almost 100% of the time, the end result is something unexpected.
Thinking back to what my professor told me, I realized that his comment opened up new ideas on the way that I think about my artwork and how I brainstorm in general. I don’t believe his intent was to keep his students from photographing a specific subject matter, but to have them question why they are photographing it. Even if all the mountains, people, trees, and rocks had been photographed before, there will always be a new way to look at it and perceive it.
When I was given the opportunity to interview Teague Bohlen about his upcoming talk at ASU I was thrilled—his flash fiction/photography pieces were some of my favorites from Issue 10. His stories are compact and powerful.
In just a few weeks Teague is scheduled to talk at ASU about a topic of personal expertise—Superheroes. If you enjoy this interview, don’t miss the opportunity to hear Teague speak at the Polytechnic Campus on February 13 from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m.
Brooke Passey: Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions, we are all so excited to hear you speak at ASU in February.
Teague Bohlen: Thank you for having me, both for this interview, and at ASU in February. It’s always good to come back to Tempe, and February is quite possibly the best time of the year to do it. Especially from Colorado.
BP: The title of your talk is “Superheroes in Narrative: Comics Come of Age in Print and Film.” That is intriguing to say the least! Can you tell us a little about where you plan to focus the discussion? Will you talk about the craft of writing with superheroes, the history behind it, the transition to film…? Give us a teaser.
TB: The idea behind the talk is how the archetype of the hero—specifically, in this case, the superhero—has changed over the many years since its modern inception. I’m going to start with a bit of the history of the superhero itself, how it’s changed, and how those changes have been reflected not only in the comics from which those heroes come, but also in traditional literary narrative. It’s an interesting parallel, I think; there’s been a specific maturation of both media over the last few decades–for sure, more for the previously kid-focused comic book medium, but there are certainly parallels. Now that the geeks have inherited the pop-culture earth, so to speak, this is becoming even more apparent, from a book like Chabon’s Kavalier and Clay to a deconstructive film like Whedon’s The Cabin in the Woods.
BP: On your website you mention reading Peanuts comic strips in high school. When did Superhero comics become important to you?
TB: I’ve been reading comic books since I was a young kid. Some of my earliest reading memories were of comic books. My uncle once brought me a huge box of comics when my grandfather passed away—I was five. My grandfather was gone, and my uncle—in some wonderful gesture of love and sorrow and sympathy—brought me a box of comics. There were Archie and Batman and Scrooge McDuck and Spider-Man, the last of whom I already knew from the PBS show The Electric Company, and from his Spidey Super Stories books. A couple of years later, I remember getting hold of the issue of Amazing Spider-Man in which Gwen Stacy—Spidey’s girlfriend—is killed. I remember that blew my mind. They killed someone; someone important. She wasn’t coming back. It was just like real life. I remember it was like a world opened to me—these weren’t just stories where everything worked out (which was true for books like Superman, etc., where the status quo and the cast rarely changed).
BP: This might be slightly off topic but I have to ask you about your upcoming collection of flash fiction/photography. Three of your flash fiction/photography pieces were featured in our last issue (all of which I adored, especially All His Shirts) but what inspired you to combine these two artistic mediums?
TB: I’m glad you enjoyed those. I’ve really come to love flash fiction. I edited for a great journal for a few years—Quick Fiction, now sadly defunct—that really made me appreciate the form. I’d been working in the medium for a while, and a lot of my flash work seemed to be centered around the Illinois Midwest, as was my first novel. It’s where I grew up, and where my heart still very much lies. The idea of adding photography came about when my cousin, Britten Traughber, chose to focus her own artistic bent on the same region. So much of her amazing work is set there, and it seemed like a natural pairing-up. We both wanted to allow the fiction to stand alone, and the photos to stand alone—and to be able to appreciate a new third thing, this alchemy of the two together, when they appear next to each other on the page.
BP: On a similar note, after reading your very serious and compelling stories I was surprised to find out that you were such an expert on comics. How do these two very different styles work together in your life?
TB: For a long time, I wasn’t sure they did! But then I moved from being a TV critic to being more of a pop-culture critic, and then a pop-culture humorist of sorts, and all that’s come together in interesting ways. I have a comic-book novel floating around in my head, which I want to get to at some point–that’s a book about people who like comics, who live in that world and speak that cultural language. People always try to pigeonhole your work into one thing–oh, he’s serious, or oh, he’s funny–but the truth is that most of our best writers are both, and more. Sometimes I spread myself too thin, but I think the range is good. It works for me, anyway.
BP: I read your pieces on Terrian.org and noticed that those photographs were also taken by Britten Traughber, who you just mentioned is your cousin. Did she take all the pictures for your upcoming collection?
TB: She did; the book is very much a collaboration between her and me, and the coming together of our work in rural Illinois. I come from a close family, so I feel like she’s more my sister, really. I’ve always admired her work, and since we share a Midwestern focus in some of each of our work, it seemed like a natural partnership.
BP: And last, but not in the least bit serious, let me end with a question about sugary snacks. I came across an article you wrote in 2009 titled, “The 10 Dumbest Comic Book Hostess Ads.” You made some very pertinent points, but what insights would you add to that article if you had written it after Hostess took their tumble?
TB: Ha! What a good question. You know, just to go back a bit, I love that series of silly lists I did for Village Voice back in the day. I miss doing them. They were crazy fun to research and write up. I’d like to do it again sometime. As for how that particular piece would have changed today, given the apparent demise of Hostess and all its wonderful products…well, honestly, the whole disappearance of Ho-Hos and Fruit Pies has me too depressed to even think about it. Though maybe I should write up something about where Hostess mascots Twinkie the Kid and Fruit Pie the Magician ended up–I’m thinking a lounge act on some ’70s-throwback cruise line.
BP: Thank you so much for your time. It has been a pleasure and we look forward to hearing from you again very soon.
TB: Thank you for the questions, Brooke! Looking forward to coming to ASU and talking comics. We’ll nerd-out, academic-style.
Superstition Review would like to welcome faculty advisor Betsy Schneider. She will be advising the art editors starting this fall. As an introduction to the staff and readers, we interviewed Betsy and we are very glad to share the interview with you.
Betsy Schneider is a photo-based artist and educator. Her artistic concerns range from trying to understand time, decay and the body, to exploring childhood, culture, and relationships and looking very closely at strange visceral things such as candy, placentas and the mouth. She uses a variety of photographic tools including APS, digital, medium format and view cameras and digital and computer generated video. Her work manifests itself through exhibitions of rectangles on the wall, video installations and books.
Her work is in several private and public collections including that of actor Jamie Lee Curtis, Museet for Fotokunst in Denmark, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston and the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City. She has taught and lectured across the US, Scandinavia and the UK. She is a 2011 Guggenheim Fellow and an Associate Professor in the School of Art at Arizona State University.
Superstition Review: What is it about the medium of photography that first drew you to it?
Betsy Schneider: My mother always encouraged me and my sisters to express ourselves through art. My birth interrupted her PhD program in psychology focusing on children’s art. So I had a crayon or a pencil in my hand from as early as I could hold it. But I was a very active child and didn’t have the focus to be good at drawing. I was a cartooner—a doodler. My notes from school are covered with intense little doodles—even now at faculty meetings I can’t stop making these little drawings. But they don’t go anywhere.
So when I was about 11 I was picked to be a yearbook photographer—and I loved it. At the time I didn’t really see it connected to art—but it seemed like something I did well and enjoyed. But even photography took patience and I didn’t have enough through high school. So throughout high school I kind of forgot about photography and art—thinking I would be a lawyer and later a writer (yeah—that doesn’t take any patience at all).
While I was trying to write I realized that my ideas flowed so much more well, so much more fluidly through photography. This was at the end of college—and I thought –this is it. That was when I was about 21—and to waaay oversimplify it—I’ve been here making photos ever since.
SR: What are some of your influences and favorite artists?
BS: Why is this always the most difficult question? But it’s a good and important question. I tend to be influenced in waves and by a huge variety of things. First the people in my life (and I’ll get to that in the later question). But also wider cultural influences like politics and history and cultural history. I don’t watch that much TV but when I do I can’t stop talking about it. I tend to be totally overwhelmed by my life experiences and I flow with them.
But specifically—literature—I majored in English at Michigan. William Blake, William Faulkner, Emily Dickinson, James Joyce, Maurice Sendak,–but also TV shows from my childhood, like MASH and MAD magazine.
Photographers and artists—Emmet Gowin, of course Sally Mann, Nicholas Nixon, Michael Apted’s 7 Up Series. I could go on and this is only the tip of the iceberg. Ask me tomorrow and I’ll have a new list.
SR: How long have you been with ASU, and what are some of the classes you teach?
BS: I have been teaching at ASU since 2002—and I teach the range of photo classes from basic photo black and white to the graduate seminar in photography. A few of my specialized classes are Portraiture—which focuses on the meaning and purpose of making pictures of people and a class in Digital Culture which addresses the ways in which digital technology does and doesn’t change the meaning and function of photographs. Some of my areas of concentration are time and the relationship between the still and the moving image, childhood and family, relationships, but also the visceral. I’m interested in why we make pictures and what the result of making pictures is.
SR: What do you enjoy most about teaching in your field?
BS: The energy and ideas from the students and the feedback between what I do, my life, their ideas, their work and my own. I love that I teach something that connects so closely to life and I love that I form strong bonds with the students and that I think I make a difference in their lives; they certainly make a difference in my life.
SR: It seems that much of your subject matter is very personal and very simple, like for example, your children playing. Would you say that your art is a part of your lifestyle?
BS: Yes—its essential. The fluidity between my everyday life and my work is essential to who I am as both a person, a parent, an educator, and an artist. They are all intricately connected. I thrive on connections.
SR: Your Guggenheim project is now drawing to a close. What can you tell us about the experience?
BS: That’s a subject for a long interview. Intense and moving. I’m exhausted right now. Will be finished with taking the photos and interviewing 250 13-year-olds by the end of October. I am exhausted and thrilled and ready to give birth to this work.