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Interview with an Artist

September 18, 2015

Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, recently interviewed Lea Anderson, an artist whose work, Memoryfeeld, touches upon many of the Great Ideas. The interview is posted in its entirety following a short introduction of Lea Anderson.

Lea Anderson, a San Diego native, has lived and worked in the New Mexico art community for over a decade and has discovered much during her adventures in the dramatic, colorful, and wild desert environment. Fluent in both two-and three-dimensional visual languages, she creates living, philosophical worlds that echo the formal variations seen in natural systems. These themes are explored through individual works, full-scale ambitious mixed media installations, and solo exhibitions using a wide variety of both digital and traditional media. She has exhibited throughout New Mexico and the United States, as well as internationally in Bangkok, Thailand in 2010. A recipient of numerous awards for her artwork, she was also awarded “Albuquerque Local Treasure” in 2010. In 2013, Anderson was the Guest Curator for the exhibition Flatlanders and Surface Dwellers at 516 ARTS in Albuquerque. Anderson has just completed her tenth solo exhibition, the installation piece “HOLOCENE GARDEN” with Santa Fe’s mobile gallery Axle Contemporary in Spring 2015 (4/17-5/17), and she has been invited to create an installation for the Albuquerque Museum of Art & History as their 2015 Summer Artist-in-Residence.

 

Image: Memoryfeeld, Copyright: Lea Anderson.

 

Alissa Simon (AS): I am struck by the way that humans age. We do not know exactly why organic matter weakens/degrades as it ages. Looking at a piece like Memoryfeeld, I am curious about the effect of emotion on organic matter. How do you see emotion combining with physicality in this piece?

Lea Anderson (LA): Most of us are aware that our memories fluctuate, degrade, and even re-surface over time. In Memoryfeeld, the physical materials are significant to the meaning of the piece. Each of the 1000 pieces is made using a method called “Image transfer”. Image Transfers are made using an ordinary b/w toner-based photocopy and clear acrylic gel. To get the photocopy image to transfer into the gel, I had to spread the gel (mayonnaise consistency) on top of photocopies of past images of my own artwork (to represent my personal memories). Once the gel dried, I soaked the paper/gel combination in water for a few minutes until the paper could be scraped away. The black toner was then embedded in the clear gel- and in effect, my memories were then trapped in the semi-transparent membrane-like gel pieces. One of the important things about a photocopy is that it is not an exact replica of the original - it is a simplification and a generalization – another appropriate metaphor for how we store our memories. While imprinted and stored somehow, our memories are not exact replicas of the original experiences. In Memoryfeeld, some of the individual forms are large and colorful (I added paint), some are clear, some are cloudy, some are buried, some sit on the surface, and some are incredibly tiny. This differentiation could demonstrate both the degradation of certain memories over time, or through aging, or through trauma, as well as the exaggeration or embellishment of certain memories based upon intense emotional resonance.

 

AS: The idea of love is often ennobled...meaning that humans make extra allowances for love. It appears that love ranks as a more powerful emotion than any of the other emotions. In addition, there are various types of love: mother/child, husband/wife, love of self, friendship, etc. Do you feel that your work represents an emotion of such diversity? And if so, how? Is it the sole emotion represented, or do emotions bleed into one another (desire, fear, hate, jealousy, etc)?

LA: Because each individual piece in Memoryfeeld is made using photocopies of older artwork (and segments of older artwork) that I had made over many years, there are many representations of my own experiences - love is certainly there (in certain pieces) in many forms. If I had the time, I could talk about each ‘memoryshape’ individually and reference all kinds of emotional, philosophical, and symbolic content. One of the things that may lend authenticity to this piece is that each individual component still represents a range of experiences and time periods from my past. While a memory might be experienced as a point of focus, the boundaries of where it begins and ends or what the sights/sounds/sensations that are associated with that memory are never 100% defined or even fully repeatable, even if you call up that memory again and again. Likewise, I believe no singular emotional experience is really possible, either definitively in Memoryfeeld or in our own internal collection of memories. Emotions absolutely bleed into one another, and can even change over time (our interpretation of them) as our own values or understanding of the world continues to evolve.

Image: a single memoryshape in Memoryfeeld, Copyright: Lea Anderson.

 

AS: When we create, what are we trying to create? A type of wisdom? Knowledge? Understanding? Human connection? Truth? What do you contemplate before/during creating a piece of artwork as complex as Memoryfeeld (or other works of your choice)? You demonstrate a vast emotional journey, perhaps a unique and singular journey...for what purpose? To better understand emotion? Self? Humans?

LA: Hmm. Maybe a chicken/egg question here…. I believe all of those are mixed into the recipe. While I can’t speak for all who create, I think most generally the act of creation provides an experience for the creator, and for those who encounter the creation, in order to make all of those “whats” possible. The physical/productive creative act itself is one aspect of that experience, and then the contemplation of, final function of, or interaction with the creation is another arena for more experiences. For Memoryfeeld, I can’t say that the idea was in any way fully formed when I began. I had a short time period in which to make it (6 weeks), so I had to act/produce immediately. Knowing the transfer technique was a way to produce a lot of material somewhat rapidly, I began with the technique and associated materials, and then the ideas were born as I pondered the conceptual implications of those materials. I believe most of my work begins with a general decision about materials (or for an installation piece relates to the space I’m given to create within). The development of the idea and process of actually making are intertwined. Idea development feels as though I’m attempting to solve a 100-sided, morphing Rubik’s cube, and yet I’m not really sure what the “solution” state is supposed to be. The various possibilities are turned around and around, shifted, revised, reversed, and fiddled with until I finally come to a resting point; maybe never solved as neatly as I’d like, but to a certain level of satisfaction.

What is my purpose in this creative journey? I see the creative act as a form of literal magic; of evidence that there is more to our world and existence than we can possibly understand, that there is some kind of “other” - a place, a dimension, or a source that we are feeding from, transforming energy from “there” and bringing it “here” through creativity into physical and/or virtual and/or ponder-able reality. This is true of Memoryfeeld and of all of my other works.

 

AS: How does the mind of the observer enter a complex work of art such as Memoryfeeld? Does it logically enter, and then follow a logical/reasonable path? Are logic and emotion bound together in some complex form? Is there a correct way to enter a piece of art?

LA: I do think there is an immediate physical response to Memoryfeeld. Logically, the mind of the viewer is going to associate their response with something familiar. Because Memoryfeeld is not an actual “thing” from the tangible world that anyone has seen before, they must begin to make connections to stored knowledge to interpret it. This is incredibly interesting to me, because there are an infinite amount of associations that can be made, each person filtering their visual response through their own personal Memoryfeeld and finding similarities. Any emotional response would also be connected to this set of stored associations. I’m fascinated to hear what those are, and if they are similar or completely different than what I ascribed as the original meaning in the piece. No, there is no correct way to enter a piece of art. It really depends on their cultural background, their visual sensitivity, and their learned behavior (or lack of learned behavior) around anything labeled “art”.

 

AS: As the artist, do you remove yourself from the piece of art in order to maintain symmetry? Or is it better to feel presence? Does it depend upon the piece?

LA: I assume you mean symmetry in an ideological sense, not in a visual sense, and you mean it as another word for ‘balance’ or ‘democratic ideological availability’. I believe that I am ‘in’ the piece when I look at the work, and if someone is exposed to my ideas surrounding the work then I am in the work in their understanding of it to a certain extent, but someone who doesn’t know me or my ideas about the work can access it on completely open terms. By removing/intentionally not including/distorting recognizable and potentially loaded imagery from most of my work, I assume that viewers tend to have to respond instinctively and associate more generally. Both the informed and the naive reaction are valid. It is highly unlikely that anyone would read the piece exactly as I intended it without an explanation, and that’s perfectly ok with me. Some people like to know what the artist was thinking about and some people are just as happy to find their own meaning. I think that’s an especially exciting aspect of art viewing.

 

AS: Sarah Lewis, author of The Rise of Creativity, The Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery, claims that a person's will is moved by beauty. What 'aesthetic force' (Sarah Lewis) changes us as artist and as viewer?

LA: It seems that ‘aesthetic force’ refers to a ‘powerful response’. It also seems that any discussion about the conditions that foster the creation of an ‘aesthetic force’ consistently includes the debate about the quality of ‘beauty’ as either an important ingredient in art or a quality that diminishes the legitimacy of art. I do believe that those of us using contemporary English language as our way of interpreting the world around us have come to most often connect the word beauty with the word pretty… which is frequently used as a light compliment but also quite regularly in terms of shallow or morally insubstantial. It might be true, at times, that something that is beautiful is also pretty, but I propose that we more intentionally use the word beautiful instead as a synonym for powerful. I believe that something powerful might also be pretty, but something powerful might also be horrifying, tragic, offensive, confusing, and so on. By using the adjective beautiful as a synonym for powerful rather than for pretty, then beauty can more accurately be called a necessary ingredient in art and in ‘aesthetic force’. “Power” is what changes us… beautiful Power.

For more information about Anderson's work, visit her website: http://www.leaandersonart.com/ .

For questions regarding this blog or interview, email asimon@hmu.edu.

 

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Experience and the Individual

July 31, 2015

A few weeks ago, we posted a blog about the idea of experience as it relates to ego and sport. To further that idea, today we hope to investigate experience from a different perspective. Namely, how can one gain meaningful experience? In order to investigate this question, we have focused on a few recent experiments that offer a nice bridge between theory and reality. As we wander the globe, feel free to play Led Zeppelin's “California” as background music.

“No one knows America like Daniel Seddiqui”, or so says his website: livingthemap.com . After graduating college, Daniel Seddiqui had trouble finding a decent paying job. And so, after struggling through a few hourly jobs, he decided to travel from state to state, trying out different jobs. From this endeavor, he did not immediately gain money, but instead, he gained something far greater: experience and connection. We often think that life's path is somewhat prescribed for us: school, job, family, etc. But the experiment offered by 'living the map' proves that all prescriptions are a human construct. Seddiqui decided to create a narrative that better suited him. In other words, invention and creation are vital aspects of the human mind, and therefore, of human experience and progress.

Seddiqui's travel is similar to Elizabeth Gilbert's journey in Eat, Pray, Love. Gilbert, on a whim that stemmed from necessity, also jumped into a year long travel trip. Much like Seddiqui, Gilbert did not know what she was going to find, or even what she sought. However, after many miles, lots of good food, some blunders and colorful interactions with lovely locals, she discovered herself. She found a center. The travel sustained her intellectually, spiritually and, ultimately, monetarily. The lessons learned on this journey would have been unattainable if she had not removed herself from her previous situation. She needed actual, physical, spacial separation in order to understand the painful experiences and relationships in her life. This space created room for self-awareness. Many people claim that running from a problem is a bad idea. However, in Gilbert's case, she could not find herself amongst the complexity of the problems themselves. She was not running, but seeking. Hence, travel for her was a necessary experience. She writes of heartache, “This is a good sign, having a broken heart. It means we have tried for something.” It is an important point to realize that self-understanding also leads to empathy. Therefore, her experience offered a wholesome focus on self and, therefore, greater understanding in general.

The iconic novel of experience is, of course, On the Road by Jack Kerouac. It is a novel of listlessness, of travel, of curiosity, drugs, love and error. The book reveals the path of friends as they travel in hopeful pursuit of something greater than themselves, but available only through themselves. Kerouac writes, “As we crossed the Colorado-Utah border I saw God in the sky in the form of huge gold sunburning clouds above the desert that seemed to point a finger at me and say, 'Pass here and go on, you're on the road to heaven.'” Perhaps, then, experience offers a path to heaven.

Obviously, these experiments exemplify the era in which they were created. However, they do more than merely define and discuss a single generation. Instead, they use the individual self as a focal point from which to study and understand the world. They selflessly illustrate their own struggles in a way that offers insight, empathy and connection. They teach of experience through a specific lens. Readers are more than viewers; they become community and participants, for there would be no journey without community.

Experience can be temporal, mystical, out-of-body or solitary. Mortimer Adler writes, “Without experience the mind would remain empty, but experience itself does not fill the intellect with ideas.” The question is, then, from where do we gain valuable experience? It is possible that the value of each experience depends entirely upon the person involved. Experience may be something different to each person, and rightly so. The amount of intricacy involved in making something worthwhile depends solely upon an individual's receptive capability. In other words, at any one time, an individual (and by extension, an individual's experience) is affected by mood, memory, emotion, nature, ego, responsibility, education, etc. For this reason, it is easy to understand why a single experience might become vitally important to some and not others.

In the Advancement of Learning, Francis Bacon notes the lack of experience involved in education. He writes: “[A]mongst so many great foundations of colleges in Europe, I find strange that they are all dedicated to professions, and that none are left free to arts and sciences at large. For if men judge that learning should be referred to action, they judge well: but in this they fall into the error described in the ancient fable, in which the other parts of the body did suppose the stomach had been idle, because it neither performed the office of motion, as the limbs do, nor of sense, as the head doth: but yet notwithstanding it is the stomach that digesteth and distributeth to all the rest. So if any man think philosophy and universality to be idle studies, he doth not consider that all professions are from thence served and supplied. And this I take to be a great cause that hath hindered the progression of learning, because these fundamental knowledges have been studied but in passage. For if you will have a tree bear more fruit than it hath used to do, it is not anything you can do to the boughs, but it is the stirring of the earth and putting new mould about the roots that must work it.” Experience is vital to human existence, education, connection, development and growth. It is personal, yet also universal. It can be both painful and elevating. Experience involves perception, thought, memory and fact. It is, above all, developed by a curious intellect. The path of experience is a mystery to be solved by each individual as they gain experience. It seems, therefore, that we will always wonder at what is next, just as the Led Zeppelin song “California” states: “I wonder how tomorrow could ever follow today?”

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Ego and Experience

July 17, 2015

The beginning of the 2015 Tour de France and the completion of the 2015 Women's World Cup introduces questions of the interplay between ego and experience. How does one become more than proficient, become expert, at a specific skill without elevating the ego beyond reasonable bounds? What would a reasonable boost in ego be? What is the purpose or role of the ego? Do we need it in order to achieve success? And what happens if our ego takes a real blow?

Francis Bacon defines success as progress. He states, “[T]he good of advancement is greater than good of simple preservation”. In other words, experience leads to some boost of ego that necessarily coincides with success. Each success must build upon one another until a body of knowledge is formed. The accumulation of failure and success crystalizes into a body of knowledge. Knowledge, then, is transmitted only by those confident enough in their accuracy to abide by it, demonstrate it and/or teach it.

Sports activities offer an easy entrance into the idea of experience. The rigorous training schedule alone creates incredible demands on the psychological system. Competitions, then, are the testing grounds of learned experience and skills. But to what end, one might ask, do athletes pursue sport? Is it purely for enjoyment, some internal self-fulfillment? A happiness of sorts? Respect? Greatness? In “Sleep and Poetry”, Keats addresses the idea of attaining a lofty goal. The narrator desires to reach an ultimate poetic height and 'look upon the face of Poesy'. In the poem, the narrator-poet finally rests from his gruelling tasks and states, “For sweet relief I'll dwell/ on humbler thoughts”. This line introduces a key element of success: humility. Keats suggests that there is a point at which we ask too much of our human form and seek beyond our limits. If we believe ourselves capable of greatness, if we seek to pursue immortality in some form or other, in the perfection of even the smallest skill, then we must also balance our attempts with some form of humility.

The idea of humility also arises in Shakespeare's play Macbeth. Lady Macbeth desires fortune and fame beyond her reach, beyond human reach. She convinces her husband (who did not take much convincing) that he is just the man destined for this immortal purpose. Shakespeare's unnatural portrayal of her desires shows that her ego has reached beyond normal, appropriate bounds. She says, “Come, you spirits/That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here/ And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full/ Of direst cruelty!” Her ego drives a belief in herself that is unnatural, imbalanced and inhuman. As a result, she plots a number of murders to ensure that Macbeth be crowned king.

When Mortimer Adler explains the divisions of experience, he mentions that experience is of two natures: practical and artistic. He says, “In this connection experience is called practical, both because it is the result of practice and because it is a means to be used in directing action. But it is also praised for the opposite reason – as something to be enjoyed for its own sake, serving no end beyond itself unless it be the enrichment of life by the widest variety of experiences”. In athletics, we find both types of experience: both the practical which tests limits of human muscle and ability, as well as artistic, that which serves as hobby. Each athlete must gain confidence in their abilities in order to succeed, and continue the pursuit. Similar to other ventures in life, humans demand a balance between challenge and success in order to maintain interest and stay focused. The balance necessary might just involve a closer look at humility.

There is much to be learned from an athlete's pursuit of perfection. Athletes experiment with their own bodies, as if at play with the laws of physics, in order to push the envelope. Additionally, they repeat demanding, and oftentimes dangerous, skills, memorizing the path to success as tracked through empirical data gained by bodies moving through space. Niels Bohr once said, “[W]hat we observe is not nature in itself but nature exposed to our method of questioning...that in the drama of existence we are ourselves both players and spectators”. It seems that there is always a big event to observe. There is much to be learned from those who have dedicated themselves to the pursuit of perfection.

Image ID: 173018549 Copyright: Dusan Zidar. Shutterstock.com

Image ID: 173018549 Copyright: Dusan Zidar. Shutterstock.com

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