I never start with the answer.
My art-making is always based in exploration and invention, and in seeing where the materials and processes take me. Much of the work is abstract but has a fundamental anchor in the sciences and math; also to Buddhism and the occult. Materials and strategies are intentionally pared down, to avoid any particular visual outcome and encourage a “discipline of staying open.”
Exhibition at Pioneer Works on Governors Island image by Maxwell Neely-Cohen
I live and work in New York City with my husband, cinematographer Richard Rutkowski, and our daughter Daisy.
My education includes Sarah Lawrence College and an MFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I have an upcoming one-person show opening November 2021 at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and am currently working on Slumber, a year-long project made during the pandemic.
My work is included in the following collections: Centre George Pomidou, The Art Institute of Chicago, Photography Collection; Museum of Modern Art/Franklin Furnace Book Collection; Whitney Museum of American Art, Library; Metropolitan Museum of Art, Thomas J. Watson Library; Groniger Museum, Special Collections; New York Public Library, Print Collection; and Yale University, Art and Architecture Library.
An interview with John Hopper of Inspirational Magazine
What first introduced you to photography as a medium?
In order to document my sculptural work, I took a photography course at the California College of Arts. The laborious performative aspect of darkroom printing was deeply satisfying to me and so were the “alchemical” processes, each step transforming the paper. The print development stage, when the invisible image made of silver becomes visible, was and still is magic.
I grew attached to and adept at the ritualistic printing and processing steps carried out in quiet dark rooms filled with the sound of running water. At the beginning I was shooting film and found myself often disappointed by the realism depicted in the prints. I was dissatisfied with what I viewed as a poor translation and questioned the point of photographing the material world. I was not interested in labeling myself a photographer even though I continued to work in the darkroom. I’ve resolved this conflict since the work I’m making is unique and without negatives, each darkroom print is one of a kind. And even though they are produced chemically and in a darkroom they feel less photographic to me. I view them more as drawings, paintings, sculptures, and with the “chemigrams” produced for LightHouse there’s a performative aspect to the work as well.
Do you see your work as primarily photography, fine art – or something else?
Because of its technical applications, photography is often left out of the fine art canon, or considered less valuable, which I think is unfortunate. We see photography as fine art all the time. I see my work as a merging of processes challenging distinctions between 2-dimensional and 3-dimensional experiences and blurring established lines between drawing, painting, photography, and sculpture. I’m exploring intently darkroom techniques as material.
What intrigues you about the abstract?
The mystery and openness, but I’m not sure I actually view my work as pure abstraction, I think there are representational qualities to the work that evoke the sciences, space, the otherworldly. Abstraction allows interpretation and that sort of generosity is important to me, but I feel the works are anchored conceptually by my ideas and interests. I appreciate how the abstract allows personal connection and not a single way of approaching meaning, moving beyond the everyday with a more dream-like authority. And it may reach a deeper place because it is untethered from our everyday visual expectations.
What do you hope your audience takes from your work?
A shift in perception that opens a gap in the viewer’s mental patterning enabling a larger and more spacious experience. And maybe this openness allows for a deeper curiosity and something unexpected yet familiar enters their vision and consciousness invoking presence. The white areas of the prints glow almost like a light source and when juxtaposed with the dark tonalities a subtle movement or pronounced stillness may be felt. The idea that the visual experience can trigger a physical response is another hopeful outcome of the work.
How personal are the themes of your work to you?
Although my working themes mentioned above might seem vast, the work is very personal. There’s a macro/micro relationship between my larger areas of interest and the way I’ve personalized the material. The imagery comes from a deep part of “me.” My working materials and strategies are intentionally pared down so when I arrive at the studio or darkroom I am as nimble and open as possible. Each print’s mystery is for me the exciting outcome. To quote the writer and poet, Jason Labbe, who wrote a beautiful essay for my exhibition LightHouse, “Things are not represented; things are revealed.”
Can you tell us something about your ‘darkroom drawings’. What exactly are they?
With the darkroom drawings my intention is to sculpt light, time and chemistry recording momentary gestures onto photographic paper. Each part of the image is a unique, split-second, exposure where incremental advances become differences in tonal value and ultimately differences in a perceived visual space. I call them ‘darkroom drawings’ because to me they feel more like drawings than photographs. The heavy penumbra between areas of light and dark reads as shading which creates an illusion of form, space and light.
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