Fantastic Voyage: An Interview With Christopher Kardambikis

May 8, 2013 · Print This Article

Christopher Kardambikis (with Eben Eliason), Atom Style Variation 2, 2013. Animation. 6:40.

There are about nine people in the world who can pull off a Clark Kent outfit – you know, the button-down business shirt that is unbuttoned to reveal a giant S. Christopher Kardambikis is one of those people. The Superman reference can point to a number of things: Christopher’s dashing good looks, his nerd-level interest in comics, and/or his weakness to Kryptonite.

While his solo artistic practice is an ever-evolving exploration into the higher realms of mythology and absurdity, his collaborations with other creative folk are consistently grounded in the community zeitgeist. I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve RSVP’d “no” (because I was busy!) to the various happenings and events put on by Christopher and Co. From book binding parties to book fair receptions, his collaborative projects reveal a passionate interest in generously sharing and showcasing the wonderful work of various artists.

Jeff: I just drove down from San Francisco to Los Angeles, and boy are my arms tired!

Chris: Wouldn’t it be your feet because you drive a Flintstones car?

J: Well the car that I rented was terrible. I’m not going to mention the brand, but I will never rent it again. Anyway, it’s funny that I’m in Los Angeles interviewing you when I am supposed to be covering the Bay Area for Bad at Sports. Why did I drive all the way here for you?

C: Because it’s warmer here and you like fire. The whole city is on fire right now.

J: Wait, are you serious?

C: It’s hot and dry. The city is full of fire. There’s a danger at every turn.

J: Yikes. There’s been a heat wave in San Francisco for the past week. You know why?

C: Why?

J: Because we’re preparing for your arrival! There it is – that’s how I segue you as a Los Angeles-based artist into my Bay Area-centric column (segue #1).

C: I’m pan-Californian. Southern California cannot contain me.

J: Before I ask you about what you will be doing in SF, what are you up to in LA these days?

Christopher Kardambikis, Mundus Subterraneus (installation view), 2012. Visual Arts Facility Gallery.

Christopher Kardambikis, Squaring a Circle (detail), 2012. Multiple Digital Print on Paper. 100 feet.

C: Outside of working my day job, I’ve been collaborating with various artists on different publications. I’m so new to the city! It’s so big and I’m so small. It’s so expansive and I’m just trying to find my place here. LA is a very strange animal.

J: You moved up from San Diego. Any differences in the art scenes?

C: San Diego doesn’t have a huge art scene. A lot of what I was doing was centered around UC San Diego where I went to grad school and the various awesome spaces setup by alum of the program.

J: What brought you out to LA?

C: It seemed like the next logical step for me. While I was in grad school I was able to drive up to LA frequently and I got to know the city a bit and I liked what I saw of the art scene here. Many people I knew moved to Los Angeles – from San Diego and Pittsburgh, where I did my undergrad – so it seemed like a good support network. I’m not ready to leave California yet.

J: I have the same feelings about San Francisco. I should have moved back to New York after grad school, but I fell in love with California! Have the clichés of surfer life and pot smoking affected your work?

C: Ha, no. I mean, it’s Silver Lake – we’re so far from the beach. I can’t surf the LA River.

J: There’s a river here?

C: It’s really tiny.

J: Speaking of tiny (segue #2), your artwork is super detailed, super tiny pen strokes, super tiny lines – tiny tiny tiny.

C: The whole endeavor is diminutive.

Chris is distracted by a DVD of the film Fantastic Voyage on a table.

C: Fantastic Voyage!

Fantastic Voyage, 1966.

Fantastic Voyage, 1966.

J: What? What is that?

C: Five people in a ship are shrunk down and injected into the body of a patient who needs brain surgery.

J: Tiny! Tell everyone how this movie is super linked to what you do, because from the cover of the DVD case, I can clearly see the connection, at least aesthetically.

C: I’ve been looking at the history of science fiction – early Jules Verne as well as ideas that people have overturned, like debunked science. An interesting thing about Fantastic Voyage is how they’re constructing the sets as these incredibly abstracted versions of what the body looks like – what the respiratory system looks like, what the inner ear looks like, what the brain looks like. I wish movies looked like this now, where you can’t rely on computer graphics to make things look “realistic”. Here, there’s a trick to use material that is at hand to craft a mood or a real three-dimensional environment that has to be interacted with and is utterly transformative, like hanging cotton candy from the ceiling. It looks so lush! They’re crafting a visual language to deal with these environments – these shapes and colors that we can’t readily create.

J: Hearing you speak about their techniques makes me really curious to know what your techniques are when you’re figuring out how to create the environments and backgrounds in some of your work.

Christopher Kardambikis, Mundus Subterraneus, 2012. Hand bound accordion fold book. Multiple digital print, silk screen, india ink, and graphite on paper. Silkscreen on Bookcloth. 21 inch x 34 inch page size. 28 feet unfolded.

C: Think about Mundus Subterraneus.  I’m trying to figure out a way to describe something with printed images and drawings that is pointing to a larger system that I can’t actually describe or show all at once in two dimensions. I’m trying to break apart an image-making process with the tools or the material that I have at hand.

J: What do you have at hand?

C: Well right now I don’t have much of anything, but in San Diego where I made that book, I was working with a large format printer and trying to make it function and operate more like a physical printing process like silkscreen.

J: What were you printing?

Christopher Kardambikis, Mundus Subterraneus, 2012. Hand bound accordion fold book. Multiple digital print, silk screen, india ink, and graphite on paper. Silkscreen on Bookcloth. 21 inch x 34 inch page size. 28 feet unfolded.

C: I was smashing together several reference images. I was looking at celestial maps. I was looking at the visual systems with which thinkers like Kepler and Kircher used to describe the interior of the Earth.  I was using a lot of my own photography of the desert area around San Diego. I was using Photoshop to abstract all of this information, and then I would break apart the digital images in order to print the actual colors separately. Then I was trying to trick the machine to do something it’s not supposed to do.

We continue to have a lengthy discussion of the process.

J: Oh my God, that’s amazing!

C: Anyway, I didn’t break the printer, but there were a few instances where it looked a little hairy.

J: I want to focus on the “book” part. Why a book?

Christopher Kardambikis, Mundus Subterraneus, 2012. Hand bound accordion fold book. Multiple digital print, silk screen, india ink, and graphite on paper. Silkscreen on Bookcloth. 21 inch x 34 inch page size. 28 feet unfolded.

C: There are a few answers for this. Specifically, this is an accordion fold book. The amount of space it can take up varies. When the book is closed, it’s almost 2 feet by 3 feet with a spine that’s 1 inch.

J: That’s a big book!

C: And it gets bigger! Now we’re going in the opposite direction of Fantastic Voyage. When my book is open all the way, it’s 28 feet long and there’s print and drawn information on both sides, so you can’t ever see the full-thing all at once.

J: Chris, what’s your problem? Just make a normal book!

Christopher Kardambikis, Mundus Subterraneus, 2012. Hand bound accordion fold book. Multiple digital print, silk screen, india ink, and graphite on paper. Silkscreen on Bookcloth. 21 inch x 34 inch page size. 28 feet unfolded.

C: It functions as a normal book! Any viewer can pick up the book and move the pages around – you have to go through the experience with each turn of the page. You don’t see everything all at once – it’s not like an event horizon. And that’s one of the things I really like about artists’ books – it demands a more active engagement from the viewer. No matter what, everyone knows how to interact with a book. It makes the whole thing relatable as opposed to walking into a gallery where someone might be unfamiliar with the space or how the space functions. I’m an artist and sometimes when I walk into a gallery I don’t know what to do with myself. Artists’ books are immediately engaging even if the information is complex or dense.

J: Speaking of dense (segue #3), you are coming to San Francisco with a book that has like, ten thousand artists in it, right?

C: 70! Artists! Writers! Video and Film Makers! From all over the country!!

J: Tell me about the project. Wait, don’t. Let me copy and paste from the website right now.

According to recent scientific reports, there may be between 8 billion and 13 billion life bearing planets in our galaxy alone. With numbers like that we will certainly encounter living beings from outer space someday. When we do, what will they look like? What special parts will they have, and how will they “do it?” Will we find what they do sexy, incomprehensible or just plain gross? You can find the answers to these questions and more in Strange Attractors: Investigations in Non-Humanoid Extraterrestrial Sexualities, an extraordinary 288 page, full color, book and 120 minute DVD encompassing art, writing and film.

Can you tell me about the collaborative process behind Strange Attractors: Investigations in Non-Humanoid Extraterrestrial Sexualities?

Strange Attractors: Investigations in Non-Humanoid Extraterrestrial Sexualities, eds. Christopher Kardambikis, Jasdeep Khaira, and Suzie Silver, 2012.

C: The book is a collaborative effort between three of us: me, my former professor at Carnegie Mellon University, Suzie Silver, and Jasdeep Khaira. This project started almost four years ago. I was getting ready to go to grad school and Jasdeep and I were running an artist book publication project in Pittsburgh called Encyclopedia Destructica. Suzie pitched the idea of Strange Attractors to us.  She had founded a blog called The Institute of Extraterrestrial Sexuality and wanted to work with us on a book project where we would prompt people to use the lens of science fiction to think about sexuality.

J: How did you find so many contributors to the book?

C: We started inviting people whose work we were familiar with through our combined and extended networks of creative friends. We encouraged people to pass it along to anyone they thought would be interested in it, as well as use it as an opportunity to contact people we didn’t know but whose work we enjoyed. It’s really humbling to see so many people get excited about a project like this – contributing to it as artists or supporting it through the Kickstarter campaign that funded a large portion of it, or learning about it through events like what’s happening in San Francisco.

J: An art event about alien sex in San Francisco? Sounds really normal.

C: There’s going to be a screening of eleven of the works from the DVD that comes with the book, and a reading by Suzie Silver. It’s at the Center for Sex and Culture.

J: I don’t remember planning anything at my house!  Just kidding. Anything in particular you like about the San Francisco art scene?

C: I think the art scene is really vibrant and unique.  It’s interesting to me because San Francisco is much more dense than Los Angeles.  I frequently come to San Francisco for zines or book projects and I feel like these things are ubiquitous to the city – you can’t get away from them.  I recently participated in the first LA Book Fair with Encyclopedia Destructica and my current publication project called Gravity and Trajectory, which I collaborate on with Louis Schmidt.  It was shocking to see how many people were actually from LA.  I thought more people would be coming from San Francisco or New York – places with a strong reputation for publications.

J: And with the screening of works at the event – any particular ones stand out?  Give me two. I know – it’s hard.

Luke Meeken and Andrew Negrey, Video Science 7: Space Love part 3 – Unregistered Planet 311OPEL, 2011. 11:00

Mike Harringer and Joshua Thorson, Masturbation in Space, 2011. 4:00.

C: The videos are so wonderful. I love them all.  Video Science 7: Space Love part 3 – Unregistered Planet 311OPEL by Luke Meeken and Andrew Negrey. Luke and Andrew both have separate mixed-media contributions to the book, and their collaborative video work pulls from their individual practices to create a richly textured environment. The other is Masturbation in Space by Mike Harringer and Joshua Thorson. How do I even describe this? It’s a story about an alien abduction seemingly told over the telephone. I don’t want to say too much about it because I want it to be a surprise.

J: You’re so dramatic. Just like Fantastic Voyage! (segue #4)

C: Way to bring it full circle.

J: I’m the king of segues.

C: We’ve gone on such a journey during this talk.

J: Just like Fantastic Voyage! (segue #5)

Strange Attractors: Investigations in Non-Humanoid Extraterrestrial will be presented at the Center for Sex and Culture in San Francisco this Friday, May 10 from 7 to 10 PM. To view more of Christopher’s individual artwork, visit

Blissed Out: An Interview With Brooke Westfall

April 10, 2013 · Print This Article

Brooke Westfall, Old Fashion Honeymoon from the series The Way We Never Were, 2010. Watercolor, gouache, and ink on paper stretched over wood panel. 24 x 48 inches.

When I curated a group exhibition in 2011 that mimicked Tate Britain’s Turner Prize, one of the first artists I selected was Brooke Westfall.  Not only does her artwork reflect everything I die for from an artist working on paper with pencils and watercolor, but she also possesses a fun, light-hearted spirit that is necessary for a neurotic exhibit like mine.

In the last few years, Brooke has established a presence in San Francisco, having worked at the Walter and McBean Galleries at San Francisco Art Institute and being an Artist Studio Resident at Root Division.  Regardless of her contribution to the community, her legit studio practice is the kind of behavior that makes me feel bad about my own post-studio practice (or the fancy way of saying that I don’t have a studio – my life is my studio!).  It’s no wonder that someone cooped up in a studio into the wee hours of the night would want to start her own interview talking about me.

Brooke: I think it’s a smart idea to start my interview talking about you.  Why not, right?

Jeff: I love that idea!

B: I read your first three interviews with Bad at Sports, and I liked that you started Pete’s interview with how you absorbed his exhibition without the art school checklist, started Renée’s interview with her influences and watched YouTube clips, and started Rachel’s interview with your confession about how you had no idea what her work was about.

J: Thanks for researching the interviewer!  You’re so prepared tonight.

B: You’re welcome.  I was nervous to meet with you, so I took a shot of whiskey, brought you cookies, and now we’re drinking beer.

Brooke Westfall, Tiny Bubbles from the series The Way We Never Were, 2011. Watercolor, gouache, and ink on paper stretched over wood panel. 24 x 18 inches.

J: You’re so kind!  I’m surprised to hear that you are nervous given the fact that I’ve worked with you on multiple occasions in the past.  Do you remember when I spread a rumor to our entire class that the Dean of our school purchased one of your artworks?

B: That was annoying!  Yes, I remember that prank.

J: I don’t know why I did that, except that you were superlatively the nicest person in our class, and I thought it was only appropriate to attack you.

B: I think we should explore that idea more.

J: My aggression or your niceness?

B: Well, both, but mostly the niceness. [giggle] I’m just kidding.

J: See!  Right there!  So nice!  Why are you so nice?  Is it because you’re from Hawaii?

B: You mean my “Aloha Spirit”?

J: “Aloha Spirit?”  What is that?  Is that a real thing?

B: Yeah, I have the Aloha Spirit.  It’s positive vibes.

J: Is the Aloha Spirit in your artwork?

Brooke Westfall, Hawaiian Airlines Ticket from the series Revised Inheritance, 2010. Watercolor and acrylic ink on paper. 16 x 16 inches.

B: Before I moved to San Francisco, all my work was about Hawaii, possibly the Aloha Spirit – maybe that can be interpreted as my home and culture.  When I moved to San Francisco, I shifted my focus away from Hawaii and onto my observations about mainland culture and haole [pronounced how-lee] stereotypes.

J: Haole?

B: Haole in Hawaiian originally meant “white ghost”, and today it commonly refers to a white person or foreigner.  It’s used as a descriptive term, but it underlines a racist connotation.

J: That is so fascinating!  I love white people and racism!  Now I can say I love haoles. 

B: A lot of people think that it’s interesting and unique that I grew up in Hawaii—

J: Myself included.

B: —but I do the same thing to mainland people.  I actually exoticize mainland culture through mass media, television sitcoms, magazines, etc.  That’s how my artworks started.  A lot of the images that I work with are borrowed from these idyllic scenes – they’re staged scenes of a bedroom, a lady in a kitchen, kids playing in the living room.  But, there’s always a twist that you have to find.

Brooke Westfall, Grandfather Resting from the series The Way We Never Were, 2009. Watercolor, gouache, and ink on paper stretched over wood panel. 24 x 18 inches.

Brooke Westfall, Grandma’s Secret Recipe from the series The Way We Never Were, 2009. Watercolor, gouache, and ink on paper stretched over wood panel. 24 x 18 inches.

Brooke Westfall, Horseplay from the series The Way We Never Were, 2009. Watercolor, gouache, and ink on paper stretched over wood panel. 24 x 18 inches.

J: Okay, time out.  I’m guessing that most of the Bad at Sports readers are haoles.  When you say to them that their everyday lives are idyllic, I think it might sound a little weird and unexpected.  What is so interesting about the everyday of an American person living in the United States of America, minus Alaska and Hawaii?

B: You mean the “contingent”?

J: Uh, what?

B: See, that right there is where language is already separating our biases: I’m describing the contingent United States as the “main” land.  I feel like the outsider when I’m talking about the US.

J: Even though you’re a complete citizen.  Didn’t our president have this same problem?

B: Probably, but he is half-black in a very Asian/Polynesian-centric island, so he probably had a harder time identifying with his culture, or his heritage.

J: Okay, so what is so interesting about the everyday of mainland culture?

B: Well actually, my exploration into mainland culture really stems from the fact that I grew up with my mother’s Japanese family in Hawaii. When I moved here, I became interested in learning more about my father’s haole family.  They had all recently passed away at the time, so I only knew them from a distance through stories and brief phone conversations over the holidays.  I romanticized their mainland lifestyle and started investigating their journals and documents.  Hawaii culture is very different from mainland culture.

J: Like what?  Generalize for me.

Brooke Westfall, Walmart Receipt from the series Revised Inheritance, 2010. Watercolor and acrylic ink on paper. 16 x 16 inches.

Brooke Westfall, Report Card from the series Revised Inheritance, 2010. Watercolor and acrylic ink on paper. 16 x 16 inches.

Brooke Westfall, Marriage Certificate from the series Revised Inheritance, 2010. Watercolor and acrylic ink on paper. 16 x 16 inches.

B: We don’t wear shoes in the house.  We eat everything with rice.  We never go to the park – we go to the beach!  Mainland people assume Hawaii is paradise and that we don’t have problems.

J: Do you watch HGTV?

B: No, why?

J: There’s a new show called “Hawaii Life” – homebuyers seeking that epitome of the beachy lifestyle.

B: That’s exactly how people romanticize Hawaii!  Hawaii is always paradise, it’s always lovely, but it’s not to me.  I don’t agree because I didn’t grow up in that paradise.  It’s not believable to me.  But at the same time, it is believable, right?  How do we complain about the weather in Hawaii?  We don’t.  I don’t.  But we still have problems – money hardships, death…

J: I can’t believe what I’m hearing!  I’m having love and relationship issues right now and I just want to move to Hawaii so all my problems can be solved!

B: Paradise…

J: Oh God, Brooke, you’re killing me!  Sigh.  Okay, so I know you mentioned these themes were primary when you first moved out here in 2008.  Are they still evident in your newer work today?

B: My newest series of works are drawings titled White Lies—

J: Haole Lies?

Brooke Westfall, To Overlook from the series White Lies, 2013. Watercolor and gouache on colored lithograph paper. 24.75 x 16.75 inches.

B: Yes!  To me, that word is intended.  However, if you don’t know what haole means—

J: Then you’re confused.

B: Well, you don’t need to know what haole means to understand what white means.  The title is literally about lies that are white – innocent, small.  It’s also a layering of white paint.  Even though the signifiers of Hawaii are not present in this work—

J: Like sandals and sandy beaches.

B: Actually we say slippers, not sandals, but exactly, none of that stuff.  I’m always very self-aware of the fact that I’m from Hawaii and my biases are what make up these images.  My newer works are abstractions.  They’re about the ghosting of things—

J: Haole!

Brooke Westfall, To Weather from the series White Lies, 2013. Watercolor and gouache on colored lithograph paper. 24.75 x 16.75 inches.

B:  I draw an image and then cover the image with another image.  They’re layers of drawings made with white paint on navy colored paper.

J: Wasn’t there, like, a serious navy thing that happened in Hawaii like back in the 1940’s?

B: You mean World War II?

J: There you go – nailed it Brooke Westfall.

B: My idea behind the drawings is: you tell a lie and you tell another lie to cover that lie.  Is it specific to Hawaii?  Maybe not, but it’s an accumulation of all these ideas we’ve been discussing, all these thoughts.

J: Your blissful Hawaiian thoughts.

[blissful pause]

J:  What were we talking about?

B: I don’t remember.  So what do we talk about now?

J: Did you see The Descendants?

B: Yes, I did.  I loved it.

Brooke Westfall, To Sanction from the series White Lies, 2013. Watercolor and gouache on colored lithograph paper. 24.75 x 16.75 inches.

J: Would you say that is an accurate portrayal of Hawaii in media culture?

B: I would say it’s the most respectful portrayal of Hawaii I’ve seen. But I can also say every other person I talk to about it disliked it. I particularly loved the beginning of the movie where George Clooney says something like—

J: Wait.  Let me just google, copy and paste the Academy Award winning quote:

My friends on the mainland think just because I live in Hawaii, I live in paradise. Like a permanent vacation – we’re all just out here sipping Mai Tais, shaking our hips and catching waves. Are they insane? Do they think we’re immune to life? How can they possibly think our families are less screwed-up, our cancers less fatal, our heartaches less painful? Hell, I haven’t been on a surfboard in 15 years. For the last 23 days, I’ve been living in a paradise of IVs and urine bags and tracheal tubes. Paradise? Paradise can go fuck itself.  -The Descendants

B: I think that quote explains how I feel mainland people describe and define me.

J: Whoa, I don’t want to end this interview on such a sad note!

B: I know!  It started off with my Aloha Spirit and how nice I am, and now we’re at this point.

J: Okay, tell me a good Hawaiian joke.

B: I don’t know any.  Google one!

J: Okay.  [google]  How many Hawaiians does it take to change a light bulb?

B: How many?

J: None.  Lava Lamps don’t burn out, brah!

Brooke Westfall’s Revised Inheritance is on view at Spare Change Artist Space in San Francisco, California until June 28.  To view more of Brooke’s work, visit

Salt and Bladders: An Interview with Rachel Mica Weiss

March 13, 2013 · Print This Article

Rachel Mica Weiss, Engulfing the Elusory, (installation view), 2013. Industrial nylon net, paint, epoxy, wire, string, plastic bladders, water, dye, LEDs, salt, dry pigment.  Installation space: 11’ x 18’ x 22’.

To be blunt: It’s been quite difficult to write about Rachel Mica Weiss. Her seemingly simple artwork of woven fibers, heavy rocks, and large tapestries of knots deliver moments of considered contemplation. For me, that contemplation reduces my chances of finding something to write about. It’s like taking a really wonderful bubble bath, and then realizing that you’ve just been soaking in all your grimy dirt, so you have to get up and take a shower. With Rachel’s artwork, I enjoy my purposeful visual wandering around the surfaces of her objects and the physical game of hide-and-seek with other viewers around her stationary large sculptures. After an experience with her artwork, the last thing I want to do is sit down and write about it.

Last month, I attended the opening reception of Rachel’s newest work of art at the San Francisco Arts Commission Galleries Window Site – a site-specific sculptural installation titled Engulfing the Elusory. That same night just down the block, Swedish House Mafia was playing a giant electronic dance music concert. As perplexed and hypnotized as I was by the intricacies of Rachel’s artwork, I was happy to be distracted during the opening reception by all the cool raver kids in neon shirts walking around outside. What a coincidence for us, as Rachel was always such a good instigator of a late night living room dance party back in our grad school days. Now that she’s picked up and moved to Brooklyn, it’s so exciting to have her exhibit in San Francisco for a few months.

Jeff: I visited your website, and I noticed that there were already plenty of hyperlinks to different press media in the area. Did you know you were going to get all that press?

Rachel: No, not at all.

J: Would you consider this your first solo show?

R: Yeah, I would, but it takes a really weird format in that it’s a window show. The viewer can’t enter the space or move around the three-dimensional objects.

Rachel Mica Weiss, Engulfing the Elusory, (installation view), 2013. Industrial nylon net, paint, epoxy, wire, string, plastic bladders, water, dye, LEDs, salt, dry pigment. Installation space: 11’ x 18’ x 22’.

J: Did Meg [Shiffler, Gallery Director for the SFAC] tell you that there was going to be press?

R: I knew about the San Francisco Chronicle article because Pat Yollin and I did an interview before it was published. But I didn’t know that the show would be mentioned in 7×7 or the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

J: Those are great publications – really popular. Did they interview you, too?

R: Well I think the SFAC press release that went out in mid-December of 2012 got people really excited about it. 7×7’s article mentioned the event as one of five big openings to attend and the Bay Guardian just kind of wrote a review – it was in their ‘Best Picks’ section. They looked a little bit at my website too and wrote about my past work.

J: On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the hardest, how hard or easy is it for you to write about your own work? Because I have to say – writing about your work ain’t easy!

R: Ugh, uhm… Probably right in the middle. It gets easier as pieces get older and I’ve talked about them more, but I had a really hard time writing about this work because I was taking risks I hadn’t taken before and using processes that were new to me. While I have been working with fibers and textiles for a while, this was my first time using industrial nylon net, which I made into rigid panels by coating it in marine-grade epoxy – also new to me. I had to do this in such large quantities that I loaded it out the window of my Bed-Stuy apartment to work in the brownstone’s backyard. I also carted a load to D.C. to work in my father’s garage – you make things work. Since everything was constructed in batches and pieces and had to be shipped, I never saw the installation as a whole until it was finally all together the night before the opening. So it really wasn’t until then that I knew what it really was.

J: Whoa, that’s crazy to think about writing about your own work before it’s actually completed, but I guess artists have to do it all the time. And to make things worse, you’re writing about the work for a press release that is informing the news media, and then they are basically promoting the work that doesn’t exist yet!

R: Yup. But I also think that that’s the way things go at this stage.

J: What do you mean by that? This stage, like, as an emerging artist?

Rachel Mica Weiss, Engulfing the Elusory, (detail), 2013. Industrial nylon net, paint, epoxy, wire, string, salt, dry pigment. Dimensions variable.

R: Maybe. The SFAC is an organization with a citywide presence and the press takes an interest in the shows it produces. I think that showing at venues like these means that having something published before the project is complete becomes more and more important. I’m not trying to compare myself to someone famous or anything, but take Ann Hamilton for example: she had a huge performance installation at the Armory this fall and banners were made to hang around New York City long before the project went up. I would have to imagine that the details were not all finalized when those banners went to print.

J: Speaking of Ann Hamilton, she’s obviously got to be a huge influence for your work.

R: I’m definitely inspired by her ‘antique aesthetic’ and the way she deals with how politically charged textiles are. I was looking at a lot of her work while making the big rope installation, Torqued Ellipse (After Richard Serra), but I’m kind over that whole thing. For the SFAC installation, I really wanted to change things up. The new work was definitely inspired by Katharina Gross’ huge MassMOCA installation from 2010, One Floor Up More Highly. I’d love to work as large as both of them one day.

Katharina Gross, One Floor Up More Highly

J: Can you share some ideas that were present from the start of the project and then some that emerged post-press release?

R: I guess this project, like a lot of my work, started with the idea of self-containment. I’m thinking about the ways in which we place limitations on ourselves.

J: You mean like self-control? “I’m only going to have one more cupcake.”

R: Sure. This project in particular kind of took on a more global or geologic perspective. It was definitely informed by human practices around climate change, but in a more general way, it’s talking about our attempts to contain that which doesn’t want to be contained. These crates – or what should I call them – these box forms are trying to hold on to pounds and pounds of salt, but it’s a ridiculous task because it’s pouring out of the net. It’s futile. I guess the other side of the installation deals with the opposite extreme: trying to hold on to something so tight that you lose access to it, like the plastic bladders of water that are wrapped in net, and then wrapped in another layer of net – it’s this precious resource nobody can even get to.

J: Just like the space – no one can get inside.

R: Yeah, I think that’s sort of a cool thing about it.

J: That I can’t go inside?

R: Well, that the installation is all about limitations and barriers with its human-sized net ‘cages’ and that the whole viewing experience makes you very aware of the fact that there is the barrier of the window right in front of you. A lot of my past work dealt with that – restricting viewers from moving around the work and making them very self-aware. So I kind of think it’s cool that the structure of the show does that for me.

Rachel Mica Weiss, Engulfing the Elusory, (detail), 2013. Industrial nylon net, paint, epoxy, wire, string, plastic bladders, water, dye, LEDs.  Glacier/figural form: approx. 70” x 36” x 40”.  Install view: dimensions variable

J: Once you did get into the space to install the work, what new ideas started to emerge? Like, what were some things that you could have included in the press release if this weird statement-deadline-before-art-is-completed-issue wasn’t an issue?

R: There were a lot of surprises. I had totally misremembered how the ceilings were.

J: Uh oh!

R: Well, you have to be prepared for unknowns, and I was. But, I had to hang each of the elements individually with string, and so the strings became a major part of the piece.

J: Whoa! I thought that was such a signature Rachel Mica Weiss moment – funny how that happens.

R: The shadows also became really interesting. I adjusted the lighting to try to amplify them. Usually I find intense shadows to be kind of gimmicky, but I felt like they really worked in this space because the shadows made it seem like the net was taking over the room and climbing up the walls.

J: So a lot of surprises regarding technical specifications. Were there any surprises regarding concept or theory or philosophy? Did you discover the meaning of life?

R: Well, I think that the addition of the strings added this layer of precariousness to the whole installation, this sense that everything in the room was sort of artificially held in place and could come crashing down at any moment. During the public conversation about the work, someone commented that they were really anxiety-inducing, so I guess I viewed that as a plus. Hurricane Sandy also happened while I was in the process of making everything back in Brooklyn and so that added a new dimension to the concepts around self-entrapment and vulnerability.

Rachel Mica Weiss, Engulfing the Elusory, (detail), 2013. Industrial nylon net, paint, epoxy, wire, string, plastic bladders, water, dye, LEDs. Glacier/figural form: approx. 70” x 36” x 40”. Install view: dimensions variable

J: With a project that big, I gotta ask: did you have any help?

R: Ha, my God, yes. I really have to give a shout out to my fiancé, Taylor, who is a tireless studio companion.

J: That’s so sweet!

R: He actually made half of the black forms. And then when I was in San Francisco installing, Pete Hickok, Josh Band, and Evan Adams – who makes awesome music by the way – all helped out and I couldn’t have done it without them.

J: That was a beautiful Oscar acceptance speech.

R: Thanks.

J: What was it like to work between New York and San Francisco?

R: It really defined what I made. In the past, I’d been working with really huge, heavy material but I knew I had to fill this 400 sq. ft. space and had to be able to ship the work. I had to think from the beginning about working with something light and airy.

J: Exactly the opposite of a lot of the work I’ve seen you make when you lived in San Francisco.

R: I couldn’t be pushing around shopping carts full of granite rocks. But I still love working with heavy material. Once I landed in San Francisco for my install, I was able to pick up 500 pounds of salt at Costco and fill up the water bladders which I had custom-made in Australia, so I got my heavy fix.

Rachel Mica Weiss, Cloak Somewhat Soiled, (closet installation), 2012.  Granite, cotton rope, soil.  76” x 50” x 30”.

Rachel Mica Weiss, Gold Sheath for Sisyphus, 2012. Cotton rope and thread, granite. 34” x 32” x 32”

J: How did you get chosen to show at SFAC in the first place?

R: Meg saw this huge rope/cave/sculpture I made for the Murphy and Cadogan Fellowship show in 2011. So when she saw that piece, she thought that something thematically similar would work well in the window site.

Rachel Mica Weiss, Sagging Ellipse, (After Richard Serra), 2011. Hand-woven manila rope and sisal twine. 87″ x 52″ x 46”

Rachel Mica Weiss, Sagging Ellipse, (After Richard Serra), 2011.  Hand-woven manila rope and sisal twine. 87″ x 52″ x 46”

J: Oh right, I was not nominated for that fellowship, so thanks for bringing that up.

R: Oh, sorry Jeffrey. People fly you around the country to hear you talk though, so that’s something.

J: Touché.

R: This show coincides with the last show in the SFAC’s main gallery space before the Veteran’s Building undergoes a huge renovation. I thought it would be appropriate to keep working with ideas around loss and transition.

J: Because you’re my friend, I know I can say this to you: when I hear about an artist working with “loss, and transition,” I get really sad and I want to know how bad their childhood was.

R: [laughing]. Um, if you want me to say my childhood was bad, I can say that, but it was actually really good, though I did grow up in two homes.

J: Damn it, I thought I knew everything. But really, those are some intense concepts! Do you think your audiences read those broad ideas?

R: I guess I don’t usually talk about my work in such broad brush strokes but the piece does deal with that transition between two states – the gallery is literally divided into two camps – and I think that the black crates, empting their salt onto the floor definitely address loss in a broad way. I guess the work is really about so many intertwined concepts.

J: That’s the curse of media, right? In a way, one wants to be written about, but there’s so little information in text when it’s supplementing a visual work of art.

R: What I strive for is for a piece to have multiple resonances with the audience. Those themes happen to be the general themes that underlie the past three years of my artwork, but a lot of different bodies of work were made during that time period. They all have specific complexities.

J: No pun intended but do you see any specific string that ties everything together?

R: String!

J: Do you have a signature thing you like to work with?

R: Oh, totally. I’d say that most of my work involves fibers of some kind, or it uses or refers to a textile process.

Rachel Mica Weiss, Absence/Presence, 2011. Yarn, wire mesh, fabric. 51″ x 66” x 37”

Rachel Mica Weiss, Leaning Wood, (Installation at Phoenix Hotel, San Francisco), 2012. Handmade cotton rope, reclaimed wood. 180” x 66” x 83”

J: Do you make scarves?

R: Yes, but generally not.

J: Have you heard of Etsy?

R: Yeah, that’s not really my jam. Even though I started getting into textiles through weaving, I’m probably a horrible weaver. My work now just kinda messes with that process – interrupts it somehow.

J: Okay, and the cohesive string in terms of themes. Are restriction and emptiness everywhere in the Rachel Mica Weiss oeuvre?

R: Not necessarily.

J: Loss?

R: Pause.

J: Pause.

R: Pause.

J: Pause.

R: Pause.

Rachel Mica Weiss exhibits her artwork, Engulfing the Elusory, at the San Francisco Arts Commission’s Gallery at 155 Grove Street through April 27, viewable 24/7. You can view her other artworks at