April Childers is a young Brooklyn-based artist whose work is currently on view at New Capital in Chicago, as part of an intriguing two person show with artist Max Warsh. Childers’ works were both strange and enticing to me because I couldn’t quite make sense of them – they evoked certain qualities that I don’t often think of in terms of one another, like sadness and silliness, melancholia and glee. I wanted to try and make sense of those conflicting emotions within the context of the artist’s practice, so I asked Childers a series of questions about her work and where her imagery is coming from. I’m grateful to her for taking the time to answer my questions.
Claudine Ise: Can you tell me a bit about how your different pieces in the New Capital show are meant to work together? There seemed to be a kind of a melancholic outer space theme going on, with the wall of pencil drawings filled with eyes (alien eyes??) staring out at you, but it also also looked like a constellation of stars, and there was that very sad little extra-terrestrial-looking figure in the blonde wig hunched over, the first object you see when you walk up the stairs to the gallery space. There seems to be a strong emotional undercurrent to the works here – one that, for me anyway, feels melancholic and goofy at the same time – a really bizarre combination but somehow it works.
April Childers: There is a melancholic tone to these works. The idea ofÂ existing in such a melancholic emotional state has always been in question for me and visually inescapable for years. I love believingÂ that such a state can be overcome and I am interested in the process of doing so, however emotionally exhausting it may be. I’m rolling around ideas of absence, loss, existence and non existence. Navigating a space between the concepts of the visible and invisible, experimenting with relationships that revolve around human expectancy and animal intuition.
CI: Can you tell me what you were thinking about when you decided to put these particular objects in the show?
AC: My past work involved a lot of self-taught taxidermy.Â Up until about 8 months ago, I was living in Tampa, Florida, driving around picking up roadkillÂ to take back to the studio, skinning and treating the skins various ways.Â I wasn’t interested in recreating the animals’ previous living appearance (as perhaps a traditional taxidermist would).Â I was stuffing the animals’ bodies with old socks, plastic bags– anything I had on hand to swell the animal’s form.Â It was great for me because I saw the process as something to contend with emotionally. I found it very easy to “flip the switch” regarding any emotional reaction to the bodiesÂ I was working with.Â It’s a very freeing experience.Â I would reanimate the bodies by having them drag around a platform, shake and twitch from crystal chandeliers and float with balloons. The monthÂ before I moved to New York I began replacing the taxidermied animals eyes with mirrors. IÂ became more interested in the underlying ideas and elements of the previous work. Shapes of the eyes, mirrors, absence, re-habitation. My current work at New Capital is a progression of these ideas.
CI: Tell me about the painting, which I was very moved by in that same weird, inexplicably melancholic yet goofy way. It is a very roughly executed picture of what appears, to me, to be a school yard with a basketball hoop out front. There’s something very institutional about the blocky architecture of the building that makes me think “school” as opposed to “home,” but I could be wrong. The paint is thin and drippy, as if it got left out in the rain. Also, the sheet of paper is cut at the bottom as if part of the picture were cut away, almost like a piece of poster paper hanging in a school hallway that got partially ripped away, or someone purposefully cut it. It is amateurish-looking but weirdly, for me, it was the most powerful piece in the show. The effect is of a story that’s there, yet that can’t be understood because something important has been taken away, lost, or intentionally cut out. That blood-red line of spray-paint also has this emotional signification of danger or distress for me. Am I reading too much crazy shit into this piece?
AC: No way!
CI: What does it mean for you? Why did you excise the bottom right section of the paper? It makes it look so awkward and wonky and yet again, for me, there’s something about that part being cut out that “makes” the piece, makes it successful I mean.
AC: This is actually a painting of the house that I spent the first five years of my life in. It’s drawn from memory. When my family and I moved out of the house, furniture, closets of clothing, dishes, food and other things were left.Â In many ways it’s very much like we just never returned home. The house has since become a time capsule of sorts.Â Still owned by the family, the house’s lawn gets mowed and its pipes replaced when busted.Â There are lights on timers and other, moreÂ heavy, security measures have been taken. For meÂ the house functions for the invisible people that live there, ghosts in a way.Â Other times I think of it sitting and waiting to be filled, this thought usually brings on a feeling of guilt and anxiety.Â The house has become the skin of a hollow body.Â The memory and ‘want’ of the house has become a weight to bear and has created a bit of an unrequited relationship that I haven’t been able to console myself about. The house exists like an island.Â It is its own type of living being.
CI: How did you divvy up the exhibition space at New Capital – did you know from the start you wanted the “white cube” room? To me, your work seems to require that and wouldn’t work as well in the raw space, but I can’t say exactly why I think that.
AC: Ben and Chelsea curated Max and me into those spaces and we were in agreement.Â It wouldÂ make too much sense to have my work on the ground level raw space.Â Where this work lives inside my practice and thought pattern is already like aÂ basement.Â The pieces would have been too comfortable in the raw space.Â My work needed that escape to function successfully.
CI: Where did you grow up?
AC: Strawberry Plains, Tennessee. It’s about 30 or so minutes outside of Knoxville in a valley at the bottom of the Smoky Mountains.Â I usually say that I grew up close to Dollywood. Funny how people seem to know where that is.
CI: Tell me about your project and website Destineez Child, which you run with artist Carmen Tiffany. I’m not even going to venture an interpretation – I’m honestly too WTF?? about it to try (I watched the promotional video though). I like the site however, and personally were I to purchase something from the shop, the designer dime baggies and the panties that have “Proud” written on them would be at the top of my list. Do you set up shop at real places in real space (like markets or art fairs or festivals?). Or is this project mainly virtual?
AC: Carmen Tiffany and I began working on Destineez Child in Tampa, Fl,Â while hanging out in a local strip mall bar.Â There was a man and lady trolling the bar advertising that they were outside selling knock-off designer pursesÂ in the parking lot.Â We started thinking how, why and when that type of entrepreneurship starts and how it works.Â We had the idea of purchasing a knock-off designer purse, then chopping it in half (one for side for yourself, the other side for a friend) then rebuilding the missing side with duct tape to make the two purse halves whole again.Â We began to produce further products of the same sort. Producing our own cute bread, energy drinks, drug baggies, pickles, previously owned underwear, food for old people and food for babies, pimped-out baby strollers, oscillating ashtrays, home wall decor, the list goes on!….just playing with the concepts of trickle up/trickle down marketing to another strange level all together. We’ve been involved in several performance projects in New York and Florida.Â We set up our ‘shop’, produce product, and serve the public convenient items.
Childers/Warsh is currently on view at New Capital and runs through July 8th.