Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Interview with 2015 EVAs Finalist Audrey Nation

Audrey Nation, Kenyon College

Audrey Nation, one of six finalists in the 2015 AICUO Excellence in the Visual Art Awards competition, recently participated in a brief interview. Be sure to check out her portfolio at: http://www.aicuoartaward.com/aicuoEVAs15/portfolio.aspx?pID=103

How have you grown as an artist since coming to college?

I have grown in so many more ways than I expected during my time at Kenyon. In high school I had done a lot of photography, so I played it safe and took film photography my first semester freshman year. The next semester, I ended up stepping far outside of my comfort zone and taking an intermediate sculpture class. At the same time, I was in a survey of architecture course - that’s when I came to realize how much I enjoyed working with my hands and the power that a structure can have, and that I loved architecture. I took more darkroom photography classes of course, but I have also taken classes that seemed way beyond my interests, both within the art major and other departments. (How else would I have ended up in economics?) Every class and professor challenges you in such new ways, and the techniques, materials, ideas, thought processes, etc. from each class could be so different - as more and more were introduced, they came to influence and be influenced by each other. I started to experiment with adding sculptural elements to my photographs, and photographic techniques to books, and book-making techniques to sculptures, and each process informs another and it keeps going.

I have had to learn to work with the fear of uncertainty. I still like to know what's going to happen when I start a project, to work towards a mental image of the finished product, but I also know now that it can be more exciting and satisfying to jump into an idea without knowing exactly how or if it's even going to work out in the end. How could we otherwise learn what else works and doesn't work without stepping outside our comfort zones? Even knowing what doesn't work is helpful, it's still learning, and I think knowing that is probably the greatest contributor to my growth as an artist. Of course, I have also learned so many more technical skills and processes than I could've thought, but that wouldn't have been successful without turning the fear of trying something totally new into a good thing.

What type of art do you look to for inspiration?

This is sort of a tricky question - I don’t know that I go to any specific type(s) of art for inspiration. It’s more that I am inspired by different aspects of many types of artwork, and what I look for then depends on what I’m working on. For example, the way an artist treats the lines or colors or light, not limited to a particular medium or style. Even if I don’t particularly like or feel drawn to a piece, I try to look at it in parts so that I can see what is working well and learn from that.

Just thinking about it, it’s hard to say whether there is one medium or style or idea that I go to more than others, but there are at least a few forerunners. Black and white film photography, architecture and architectural drawings, sculpture, and illustration definitely would be at the top of the list. I also just enjoy looking through art magazines and websites and find pieces or artists whose work catches my eye. I can spend hours going looking at art online - bouncing around from artist to related artist - or flipping through art books. It’s so easy to get lost in all there is to look at and looking at a lot of different things, even if only briefly, gives me so many new ideas to think about and potential ways to solve any problems I’ve been having or to get unstuck from a creative block.

What is your favorite piece within the portfolio you submitted to AICUO and why?

Of the pieces I submitted in the portfolio, my favorite would probably be “Elizabeth”, for many reasons. The piece itself is a set of window blinds with the image exposed directly onto them, which was done using Liquid Light to paint the photographic emulsion onto the surface of the blinds. It was made for a Photography of Invention course here, which focuses on alternative darkroom processes, and was consequently full of totally new experiences for me. Before attempting this piece, all of our class had had varying levels of success with the liquid light and from a few test blinds, it was hard to tell how clear the composite image would end up. I had to ignore my worrying that it wouldn’t work out and just do it and see what happened and when, developed blind by blind, the image began to come together, I was absolutely euphoric. It was one of the first major times that I had jumped into a piece so fully without knowing what the end product would be and just trusted myself and the process and it had worked out! The piece was also my first “sculptural/structural photograph” and the first of my pieces which was reliant on interaction with the viewer (opening and closing the blinds) so the creation itself of this piece was incredibly significant to my growth as an artist.

In addition to the personal reasons for this piece being my favorite, I think it is also one of my more successful pieces overall both conceptually and aesthetically. It was made to answer a “conflict of meanings” assignment, and looks at the idea of privacy against the counterintuitive function of the blinds - as the blinds are open further, the image is more distorted until it is no longer visible.

How has participating in this competition helped you develop as a professional artist?

This competition has really forced me to take a step back and look at my body of work over the past few years, to see my own growth, to understand where and how it happened, and to be able to talk about my work in retrospect. In doing all of this, I’ve come to recognize several commonalities throughout my past work that I wouldn’t have noticed otherwise, like in aesthetic decisions, creative processes, and concepts. It’s also made me consider more what has worked in the past and what has not, which has already helped me learn and make better work, playing off of those observations.
I have also been working on my Senior Exercise for art, where we each produce new work to be shown in the gallery on campus. Having this competition coinciding with that process has been very helpful - looking at past work to put together our portfolios was very beneficial, as I said earlier. Also, this has provided invaluable experience in the arts outside of our small college town, which will undoubtedly prepare me for a (hopeful) transition into a larger and professional art community.

What are your plans after graduation with the arts?

Thinking long-term, I'm not sure what I want to do after graduation. I'm not even sure yet what I'll do in the short term either. I would love to end up working somehow in the arts - teaching art, working in a gallery, going to graduate school and pursuing architecture, etc. etc. But I’m also keeping options open on the economics side of my interests. Career-wise I don't know if I will end up directly in the arts, but I would definitely like to be doing something that is creative in some way, where I can challenge myself and where every day is not the same. I do know that I will keep making art and exploring new things and that I will be involved in the art community wherever I end up - so many people who are close to me are artistic in so many ways and we will undoubtedly keep each other thinking creatively. As strangely related as studio art and economics have turned out to be for me, and as important to me as they both are, trying to combine my interests into one career seems somehow more limiting. I would love to find a way to keep both actively prevalent in my life, and that is probably my only concrete plan looking ahead right now.

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