Conceptions of Plant-Life: An interview with Giovanni Aloi

August 17, 2016 · Print This Article

Giovanni Aloi, The Window. Photo courtesy of artist.

Giovanni Aloi, “Windows,” 2014. Photo courtesy of artist.

In one of my earliest conversations with Giovanni Aloi, he described the problem of being a plant studies person at an animal studies conference: by entertaining the subjectivity of plants, any moral high ground previously associated with vegetarianism/veganism get a little complicated. Undaunted, Aloi explores the mess of that new territory, tracing their appearance in contemporary art and art history. He is the Founding Editor of Antennae, a Journal of Nature in Visual Culture, teaches at The School of the Art Institute, works for Sotheby’s Institute of Art, moonlights as an art expert on the BBC, and is on the verge of finishing two books on taxidermy and art, and plants and art.

Caroline Picard: You work at the intersection of philosophy, art history, and contemporary art. Why is the animal interesting to you within those fields?

Giovanni Aloi: Since I was roughly three years old two things would excite me like no other: nature and art. I drew animals, I looked for animals in paintings, photographs, documentaries, and everywhere else—there was nothing better than finding a grasshopper, a beetle, or a tree frog! Plants caught my attention a little later, but back then, I used to spend most of my evenings drawing animals.

CP: So art and animals were joined at the start in a way…

GA: As I grew up I fostered both interests but struggled to combine them in my work; animals in art were not taken seriously as an academic/artistic subject (and there’s still much to be said about that lack of serious engagement today). In the late 1990s the emergence of animal studies placed that subject on the map. Jonathan Burt and Steve Baker have published important work in relation to animals and representation in art and film. Both, along with other scholars, contributed to the emergence of new aesthetic paradigms and practices challenging anthropocentrism and animal objectification in art.

CP: How would you characterize those early conversations around animals and art?

GA: The first ten years of analysis, which took place roughly between 1995 and 2005, focused largely on the deconstruction of metanarratives, the identification of objectifying tropes, and the representational friction between abstraction and figuration. Both, theory and practice, engaged predominantly in what I have called the “dismantling of the symbolic animal.”

In my 2012 essay, “Deconstructing the animal in search of the real,” I argued that following the dismantling of the “symbolic animal,” a new and productive path of inquiry could involve “tracking animals” through networks of environmental relationships/reciprocal entanglements. Although the non-anthropocentric slant of animal studies was extremely refreshing from a philosophical perspective, I looked at early developments with some suspicion.

CP: Why?

GA: Personally, I believed that animal studies should be very weary of falling into the conceptual fallacy of proposing a zoo-centric system in place of an anthropocentric one. From earlier on, I thought that animal studies inquiries should unfold into rhizomatic networks of interconnectedness in which humans, animals, plants, and environments are equal parts.

CP: Do you feel like the animal studies conversation has shifted?

GA: Today, I am glad to see that contemporary theories and practices involving the non-human are indeed attempting to bypass zoocentrism in favour of a new holistic model. But this is happening outside animal studies. My impression has always been that re-thinking animals entails re-thinking everything. It is a deep ontological undertaking. Connections between the ways in which we treat animals and the ways in which we treat fellow humans have been exemplified by Agamben. But there is much more at stake.

CP: How so?

GA: Karen Barad’s agential realism and Jane Bennett’s vibrant materialism have both, in different ways, reconfigured our gaze to consider the atomic order and the invisible levels of interconnectedness that we are all enmeshed in, including bacteria, viruses, and fungi. This leaves the discipline of animal studies in an odd position. I am not entirely sure if this new shift could be incorporated by animal studies as a move away from the values of the first revisionist wave of animals in art, or if there will be space for an expanded scope that considers animals on similar ontological levels as plants and bacteria. Would that change optics in a productive ways? And of course, there’s object oriented ontology, Morton’s notions of hyperobjects, broader notions of anthropocene…I am yet to see any animal studies scholar engaging with these philosophical tools. The challenge is to adapt them to fit the task. My forthcoming book on taxidermy in contemporary art attempts to do just that. But in any case, I think that the disruption of anthropocentrism caused by animal studies, posthumanism, and by the new waves of speculative realism is essential to the definitions of new cultural directions. We have clearly messed up—the planet is telling us that very clearly. Global warming and mass extinction are clear symptoms of the urgency with which we need to find new ways to think about our relationship to what we call nature. But changing people’s minds is one of the hardest things to do—especially when utilitarianism is involved.

CP: Do you mean that people have to change their way they think about the environment somehow? In other words, maybe like animals, there is a need to resist making the natural world purely symbolic? Even as I say that, it seems tied up with consumer culture…

GA: Capitalism has alienated us entirely from the plants and animals around us to a degree that, for too many people, looking into their phones or tablets is more interesting than looking at anything to do with the natural world. How can you care to preserve ecosystems when you don’t even care for what’s in your backyard or on your way to school or work? Capitalist normativity has reduced nature to a curiosity in urban reality and to a sublime escape in holiday adventures—this is the root of the problem.

CP: It’s hard to think of ways to shift that paradigmatic approach to nonhuman (or more than human) landscapes. I’m always interested in articulating openings for agency but it’s easy to feel daunted by the scale and conviction of capitalism.

GA: In truth, I believe that our anthropocentric miseducation begins in kindergarten or at primary school. The traditional education system is based on affirmation: children are trained to develop confidence through a “That is/I am” approach that promotes a pre-encoded identity formation necessary to the functioning of society. At this stage, nature is introduced as a series of objects to possess and exploit. Everything is thus reduced to cliché through the pre-coded work of symbolism. Children are taught that lions are brave, bears are ferocious, leopards are fast, butterflies are beautiful, spiders are scary, and snakes are disgusting. Thereafter, as John Berger famously argued in his essay “Why Look at Animals?”, we grow up to become constantly disappointed with the lack of the promised sublimity of animals. We expect them to somehow perform for us or engage in emotional exchanges they have no stakes in. Beyond dogs, the animal world is generally understood as dumb or as edible. Thereafter, not being interested in animals becomes a key moment in the rite of passage to adulthood. Adults should be concerned with other matters: work, buying a house, careers, children… animals become the object of hunting or entertainment.

CP: What do we do with that? It seems sort of impossible to work out an alternative approach, especially if you are talking about a problem that starts in kindergarten.

GA: This is where the idea of unlearning comes from in my book Art and Animals (2011): you have to undo that very normative process that you grew up in, shattering certainty and picking up the pieces thereafter to re-configure yourself all over again, allowing for a different conception of non-human/human beings to arise. This conception is one in which representation is at a point of crisis, and to make things more complicated, you cannot rely upon the tropes of anthropocentrism to rebuild what has been dismantled. The process is long and laborious, and it involves the making of new and difficult ethical choices—choices that you might have to define for yourself in relation to your specific geographical situation, cultural make-up, and personal sense of urgency.

CP: Can you describe a bit about your transition from Animal Studies to Plant Studies? What are some interesting comparisons between the fields for you?

GA: I don’t think I have transitioned from animal studies to plant studies. I am very critical of animal studies because I cannot ethically justify its zoo-centric scope anymore. Its reliance on post-structuralism almost 20 years on is becoming embarrassing. Personally, I don’t care anymore about what Heidegger thought of lizards, Agamben of spiders, and Deleuze of wolves, as they all knew very little about these animals. They wrote about them in transcendental terms—in the singular/plural chimeric catch-all form that the word ‘animals’ inscribe. 10 years ago it was interesting to recover these animal-fragments from the thought of continental philosophers, it was necessary to validate the subject of scrutiny for the field, and to lay its foundations—but we should be done with that phase, now! In any case, I’m still in the field, as I understand animal studies to be an important component of posthumanism, but I like to think of myself as a “grumpy dissident” within the system. Some of my colleagues also share my views—I think something interesting might be happening soon. But ultimately, I am not very interested in the discourses of a discipline that places animals first in front of plants and other levels of interconnectedness between human and non-human beings.

CP: Why?

GA: That approach seems extremely out-dated considering the times we live in and the challenges we face. That is also why multispecies ethnography and new materialism are more interesting to younger scholars at present—these philosophical waves are at the cutting edge of contemporary thinking whilst animal studies currently seems to have shaped itself as a questionable ethical-minefield for vegan/animal rights ideologies. Those agendas are also mostly out-dated. Veganism refuses to acknowledge plant-intelligence because it causes the emergence of new and hard to negotiate ethical problems, whilst animal-rights is still bound to obsolete concepts like sentience, consciousness, and agency.

CP: Does plant-studies as run into similar problems as a defined field?

GA: I don’t think a field of plant studies has actually shaped up yet. Michael Marder has done some important work recovering plants from a number of philosophical texts, thus mapping a base for discussion on the subject whilst a number of artists have—for years—engaged with plants, knowing that we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg. But there’s no unified field yet. Plants still carry a cultural stigma imbedded in a number of popular culture-layers of validating disregard: the association between sociopaths and plants is a recurring cliché. There’s also the gender connotation between plants and women imposed by patriarchal systems of value that still gets in the way. And the recurring notion that caring for plants too much would require an entire revision of ethical values involving animals and humans…the implication that self-aware (or even sentient) beings must act as an exploitable base for us to feel ethically relieved through the acts of basic subsistence. I am sure that things are just about to shape up; hopefully, plant studies will be a freer space in which to seriously consider non-human alterity beyond obvious anthropomorphic strategies and imbedded/obsolete ethical agendas.

CP: What do you mean?

GA: In a sense, animal studies and plant studies have thus far been shaped by the desire to recover specific narratives and reconfigure ontological strata. And that is pretty much what Marder has accomplished with his body of work for the field of plant studies already. Plants are the new animals—they push all the concerns involved with agency and anthropocentrism to a breaking limit: alterity, reciprocity, communication, co-existence, intra-action, and so forth…These are all new paradigms that have been explored in human/animal relations. But simultaneously, thinking about/with plants requires a more ambitious leap of faith. The hope for meaningful plant responses; responses that we can fully comprehend is very slim, much slimmer than in animals, but this should not put us off from being inquisitive and curious and from attempting, for instance, to envision what it might be like to be a plant beyond the tools of mimicry.

CP: I want to go back to the question of education again…like, how would plant-sympathy be taught if not through mimicry?

GA: One of the most glaring contradictions of animal studies is that the discipline, through its marked non-anthropocentric drive has identified science—and Cartesian thinking more specifically—as the humanist tool by which distance and objectification between animals and humans occurs. Yet, animal studies implicitly relies on the scientific definition of “animal” in order to retain topicality. That’s a critical problem of some proportion. If the premise is to re-think animals beyond the scientific realm of inquiry, at what point do we begin to find the strength to tamper with the very last question (which should have perhaps been the first): “What is an animal?” Or is that taking the whole thing too far for the philosophical framework? At what point is an animal plant-like in a way that becomes interesting to us beyond scientific taxonomy? This gray area between zoology and botany contains a number of disregarded beings who rarely, if ever, emerge in scholarly discourses. Animal studies claims to have recovered repressed subjects, but it simultaneously represses those at the fringes of its implicit mammalian-normative approach. I guess that more generally, plant studies polarizes the already charged questions of animal studies through a stronger desire to develop a holistic approach, rather than a phito-centric one.

CP: How have you noticed plants appearing into contemporary art recently? Do you think plant’s contemporary art appearance differs from past examples?

GA: Yes, there has been a substantial shift. One category I am interested in is postmodernist plants, like with Anya Gallaccio and Marc Quinn, whose work, in a sense, laid the foundation for what is being problematized today. Gallaccio was concerned with decay. Dutch still-life paintings, the beautiful vases of flowers that reminded us we would all eventually die, were painted at the height of their beauty and freshness. Postmodernism threw this lovely poetics up in the air by haunting viewers with the raw ugliness of decay in the gallery space or by upstaging the representational notion of the memento mori through the shock of materiality. Marc Quinn’s Garden from 2000 amazed viewers by representationally suspending the lives of a multitude of wild and greenhouse-grown varieties of flowers in a massive tank of frozen silicon. The illusion was mesmerizing—but the shattering of the utopian narrative resounded loud and clear through the darkened gallery space. I feel that most postmodernist work involving plants, and I hate to generalize here, was more concerned with notions of realism expressed through materiality. Because of that, postmodernism laid the foundations for speculative realist tendencies in art.

CP: How?

GA: It is the mistrust for metanarratives and the iconoclastic slant nurtured by postmodernism that paved the way for what is happening today. Yet, Gallaccio’s and Quinn’s works are largely concerned with symbolic registers of representation that, despite the material presence of the plant in the gallery space, end up leaving the living-plant behind, so to speak. The symbolic order in which they operate, as it turns out, was not deployed towards a new conception/understanding of plant-life and its interconnectedness with humans and environments, but it ultimately was transcendental and inherently anthropocentric.

CP: Didn’t you explore this question in the online journal you edit?

GA: In 2015, we dedicated two issues of Antennae to the importance of agential realism in contemporary art. We especially focused on the work of artists interested in reconfiguring the boundaries of nature within networks of inter and intra actions. Artists such as Janet Laurence have produced eco-artworks in which “care and caution” enable the abandonment of a human-centered view for a broader multi-species awareness. Patricia Adams has explored the challenges and productivities involved in transgressing the scientific protocol to tap into the potential to modify the human body through biotechnology. Claire Pentecost has turned her attention to the soil and to how what we take for granted from our anthropocentric conception is perhaps one of the most important sites of interconnectedness that we urgently need to reconsider. One of the most interesting and captivating works I have recently encountered surely is Revolutions by Céleste Boursier-Mougenot (2015) exhibited at the last Venice Biennale. The installation enabled three pine-trees to move around and outside the gallery space through a wheeled-base guided by a complex electronic interface, which measured the speed at which their sap flowed. This type of work produces new connections between the old categories of nature and culture, and object and subject, blurring boundaries and posing important questions about agency, perception, ontology, and epistemology. There’s a major difference between the new, speculative interest for plants now and past approaches.

CP: I’m always curious about what these artistic gestures do, somehow? Like, if it’s true that the world is ending, why bother making art at all?

GA: Ultimately, I think that contemporary artists involved in this new register of criticality are mobilizing their efforts on two fronts: the conceptual and the methodological. Conceptually, a substantial urgency to solicit awareness in the viewer has become paramount. Artists seem to think more carefully about their local reality and the connections between their specific situation and ones that are broader and further afield. They aim to push their thinking, and the viewer’s, toward under-scrutinized areas of discourse and practice in order to configure new connections between polarities. Sometimes these configurations reveal the absurdity of naturalized systems of knowledge, discourses, and practices; at other times they propose new alternatives.

Methodologically, artists like Heidi Norton, Jenny Kendler, Alyce Santoro, Suzanne Anker, Pierre Huyghe, and Andrew Yang are committed to rethinking our relationship with the non-human and are not interested in shock tactics or unnecessary theatricalities. Attention to their medium of choice is, in all instances, paramount and solidifies relationships that are developed over time, slowly, and meditatively. Thus the process becomes an intrinsic part of the artwork—sometimes this is visible in the works; at other times, it is embedded in the layers of complexity that characterize them. The general tendency, however, seems to revolve around time and slow consumption and production. This methodological choice implies that the speed at which our lives are consumed nowadays is one of the main factors that has led to the current climatic situation. Contemporary art thus becomes a place to experience a different rhythm in the hope of transposing that model to at least part of our chaotic everyday existence.

CP: You have two books coming out—one on animal taxidermy and one on plants. Since you have been working on them simultaneously, I’m curious about what kinds of connections you are making while working on both, even if those connections might not be apparent to readers?

GA: Yes, I do …and it is not something I would recommend. When I handed in my taxidermy in contemporary art manuscript to my editor she said: “Great! Now you can enjoy your summer!” to which I responded: “Not quite—plants have been haunting me for the past few months and I am not quite done with them yet!” But I think that in a way, one book has been productively informing the other. My book on plants in contemporary art is an odd hybrid between a monograph and an edited collection. I am basically writing a backbone for each chapter and have invited “guest authors” to contribute their own voices/experiences to each section. I wanted the reader’s experience to be as varied and idiosyncratic as possible. I wanted to move away from pretending to own a truth about plants that is universal and singular. I truly believe that if we begin to seriously value personal experience as valid epistemic tools in the reconfiguration of anthropocentrism, we then have to also question the monographic approach to writing. Fragmenting and interspacing one voice with those of others seems essential to me, especially in certain circumstances. But my books also wanted to take animal studies to task and address its approaches to central question “what is an animal?” that it still evades.

CP: How does that tie in to taxidermy?

GA: Thinking about taxidermy, the ultimate “animal-made object” has substantially shaped my ideas on agency and passivity in contemporary art involving the non-human; whilst Jane Bennett’s and Graham Harman’s work have substantially expanded my views on objects and agency. I have also been thinking a lot about surfaces in contemporary art. Taxidermy is all surface—a practical and metaphorical totalization of animality whilst plants are all-surface in a more, “helpless” but nonetheless related way. So far these ideas have filtered in my “plant book” and are being further problematized by the elusive/ambiguous essence of plant-being. Foucauldian biopolitics is also essential to both books—there is something of an ontological parallelism between animals-made-objects and plants that can be explored through the materiality of bodies. Notions of space and epistemology define the encounter between us and plants or taxidermy objects. This approach replaced the more general idea of the “encounter in the gallery space” that characterized my earlier animal studies writing. In both books I am concerned with notions of materiality and resistance as well as power as a productive/shaping agent that actively molds human/non-human bodies, ecologies, and intermingling. Don’t want to say much more yet…But I’m glad they came in that order: taxidermy first and plants after.


The Reappearance of Humans: An Interview with Steve Seeley

February 8, 2012 · Print This Article

"untitled (faker bear)," acrylic on panel, 8" x 10", 2009

This Friday, Steve Seeley’s painting show opens at Rotofugi (who not too long ago moved to Lincoln Park, so check the website for their new address if you’re unsure). Seeley’s figurative work often features the juxtaposition of human bodies and animal limbs, or heads. Sometimes alien parts make an appearance as well. He integrates old and new surfaces, incorporating the nostalgia of his childhood into a present assemblage. I grew more and more interested in something we didn’t talk about, namely the idea of the hero and how it charts through these visual, narrative landscapes. Seeley’s icons adopt the iconography of saints and superheros with all of the mystical proportions childhood bears with them. To re-erect and reexamine the Gods of childhood in effort, perhaps, to examine those ancient power structures. In Seeley’s case, they often become hybrid.

Caroline Picard: I’m really interested in the way you combine natural elements with mythical ones: for instance, the way your work often offers a kind of misty (and almost traditional-painterly) background with a vibrant superhero, or animal, alien or hybrid in the foreground. It kind of reminds me of old cartoons; in the Smurfs, for instance, you could tell the background was fixed to one surface, and moving figure(s) interacted on a clear gel over top. How did you come upon this strategy in your own work? 

"untitled (zone fighter w/ bear and bird)," acrylic on archival print, 14" x 19", 2009

Steve Seeley: The backgrounds for me are definitely an homage to animation cels. I’m a child of the 80s and I grew up on cartoons; He-man, Thundercats, Thundarr, and the like, so that sort of nostalgic animation occupies a huge section of my creative mind.  I started the “delicate matter” body of work in 2004 with the backgrounds being multi-layered and muted, almost ghost like, paintings, and at some point maybe three years ago, I transitioned to printed matter. I have always integrated things I collect into my work, I guess in a way bowing to my inner nerd. Thus the action figure-y, comic book-y and taxidermy look and feel. I also happen to collect antique chromolithographs. Mainly landscapes. So it was only natural for me to eventually  incorporate/appropriate these into the work. The process involves buying a lithograph, scanning it in, messing around with it, and printing it out to paint on. By printing them out (opposed to painting directly on the print) I can control overall scale, color, direction and halftone size. And after all the other elements are painted, I get that stark dichotomy with the digital print and the paint, given that animated feel I grew up on.

CP: Your use of the bear, the deer, and the wolf feels very iconic, somehow, especially in those places where give your figures gold-plate halos. Can you talk about how your engage the animal world? Is the ram-figure any different from superman’s figure? 

SS: Again, a great deal of my work ideas come from a nostalgia. The animals are a nod to growing up in the sticks of Wisconsin. I use animals that I used to see everyday (the deer and specific birds) as well as the animals my brothers and I feared when we played in the woods (the bear and wolves). I grew up in the super small town of Ringle which happened to be home to one of the largest wild dog packs in the state of Wisconsin. So I incorporate any number of dogs that I saw or that may have survived to be part of the wild pack (sorry chihuahua and pugs, I love ya but I you wouldn’t have made it).

As for the difference between man and animal, there isn’t a huge difference for me. In the “delicate matter” series, the story so far is that man has left earth for outer space because he becomes enamored with something he can’t comprehend, something that is entirely different from what he knows. He leaves earth on bad terms with the animals and while he is gone animals become what they were destined to be, a transformation per se, into heavy metal loving, super power using, pop culture loving creatures. When man gets to space he finds it to be less than he had hoped, and he tries to come back but the animals refuse. So man is stuck in space while animals take he’s place back on earth, essentially filling his old shoes, and becoming the new “man.”

There were a few years when I only painted animals (except in the “segue” paintings) but currently man has started to reappear. But only under the guise of a superhero since generally that means your true identity is hidden. Oh yeah and celebrities have always remained on earth, which is why the animals often chill with Miley Cyrus and let Sasha Grey ride around on their backs.

"untitled (saint bear with birds)," acrylic on and gold leaf on paper, 14" x 18", 2010

CP: At the same time, your figures are basically anatomically correct, and feature studied detail. Then of course there are places and points where you interrupt our expectations, creating a hole inside a bear’s chest for instance. Or giving a human torso a wolf head: how do these interruptions come about?

SS: The holes (along with the halos) are meant to lightly symbolize a religion, rather literally. The holes become an extreme stigmata of sorts. I am not necessarily a religious person but I am fascinated by what religion does to societies. It causes rifts and causes people to take sides, which can result in conflict… which is something for years I didn’t have in my paintings. Everything and everyone peacefully coexisted. It was thru adding the religious aspect that I was able to split the world I had created.

The head swapping was a way for me to even more-so humanize the animals. Initially all the human body, animal headed figures in my paintings were referred to as “saints”, figures that were idolized by the other animals and which usually also adorned halos. But once Saint Sasha Grey and Saint Cringer (from He-man) got introduced, I began to play with the animal headed figures as not only religious icons but also celebrity icons. For my upcoming show at Rotofugi there are 25 animal/alien/monster headed human figures all imagined as boxers or wrestlers.  My intention is to make them a whole new breed of celebrity within the world they exist, at the same time causing additional rifts. Sport is such an easy way for people (or animals in this case) to turn on one another and choose sides.

see more of Seeley’s work by going here.

"untitled (batman with dog)" acrylic and pencil on paper, 7" x 9", 2010

Alien Eyes: An Interview with April Childers

June 14, 2011 · Print This Article


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 of  existing in such a melancholic emotional state has always been in question for me and visually inescapable for years. I love believing  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.  Up until about 8 months ago, I was living in Tampa, Florida, driving around picking up roadkill  to take back to the studio, skinning and treating the skins various ways.  I wasn’t interested in recreating the animals’ previous living appearance (as perhaps a traditional taxidermist would).  I was stuffing the animals’ bodies with old socks, plastic bags– anything I had on hand to swell the animal’s form.  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 bodies  I was working with.  It’s a very freeing experience.  I would reanimate the bodies by having them drag around a platform, shake and twitch from crystal chandeliers and float with balloons. The month  before I moved to New York I began replacing the taxidermied animals eyes with mirrors. I  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.

April Childers. "Project Dog," 2009. (Not on view in New Capital exhibition).


April Childers. "It's Almost Friday (Hang on Kitty)" (detail) 2009. (Not on view in New Capital exhibition).

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!


April Childers at New Capital.

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.  In many ways it’s very much like we just never returned home. The house has since become a time capsule of sorts.  Still owned by the family, the house’s lawn gets mowed and its pipes replaced when busted.  There are lights on timers and other, more  heavy, security measures have been taken. For me  the house functions for the invisible people that live there, ghosts in a way.  Other times I think of it sitting and waiting to be filled, this thought usually brings on a feeling of guilt and anxiety.  The house has become the skin of a hollow body.  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.  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.  It would  make too much sense to have my work on the ground level raw space.  Where this work lives inside my practice and thought pattern is already like a  basement.  The pieces would have been too comfortable in the raw space.  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.  I usually say that I grew up close to Dollywood. Funny how people seem to know where that is.

April Childers, Self-Portrait, 2009.

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,  while hanging out in a local strip mall bar.  There was a man and lady trolling the bar advertising that they were outside selling knock-off designer purses  in the parking lot.  We started thinking how, why and when that type of entrepreneurship starts and how it works.  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.  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.  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.

Wednesday Clips 3/3/10

March 3, 2010 · Print This Article

Matt Saunders, Interview (Hertha Thiele 1975) #2, 2010. From Parallel Plot, February 28-April 11 at The Renaissance Society

I’m bringing this weekly links post back from the dead. There’s too much good stuff out there not to share. So, let us begin:

****Piss Wars: First-person accounts of a performance art kerfluffle involving Ann Liv Young that took place at PS1 Contemporary Art Center last week, over at Art Fag City. Dirty looks, upraised middle fingers, and spilled urine…yup, classic performance art. Follow up reports here and here.

****On the other hand, Wafaa Bilal makes the kind of performance art I can stand behind. Or support. Or whatever. His “….and Counting” will take place at the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts in New York on March 8th. In it, Bilal’s back will be tattooed with a borderless map of Iraq–one dot for each Iraqi and American casualty near the cities where they fell. “The 5,000 dead American soldiers are represented by red dots (permanent visible ink), and the 100,000 Iraqi casualties are represented by dots of green UV ink, seemingly invisible unless under black light.” (via we make money not art).

****A really good think-piece on the questionable status of Outsider Art, by Monica Westin, over at New City this week.

****Anaba profiles artist Margo Mensing, who “studies the work and life of an individual who died at her current age… and spends the year creating artwork responding to and inspired by that person.” Fascinating. She’s done Elizabeth Bishop, Donald Judd–and just check out her fantastic, Joan Mitchell-inspired knitted socks!! I am DYING over here.

****Wanna peek inside The Art Institute’s fashion archives?

****Photographer Luisa Lambri, whose work is consistently amazing, has a solo show titled “Being There” that just opened at the Hammer Museum. The Los Angeles Times profiles Lambri here and here.

****This is from way back in October, but still relevant: F Magazine, itself a student-run art journal, has a nice rundown of other local student-run art journals, including where to find them.

****Still Life: Adventures in Taxidermy, a new book on the art and history of taxidermy by Melissa Milgrom. (Via Morbid Anatomy).

****A really interesting piece (which includes videos and links) on Manshiyat Nasser (Garbage City), a suburb of Cairo, at Provisions Library.  Garbage City is home to more than 20,000 people, many of whom are Zabaleen (Arabic for “Garbage Collectors”). The Zabaleen gather one-third of Cairo’s trash every day, bringing it back to Manshiyat Nasser where it is systematically sorted and recycled into raw materials or manufactured goods before being resold or reused worldwide.

****In Defense of Anonymity. Joanne MacNeill of Tomorrow Museum says, “Anonymity is a good thing. Don’t conflate it with online trolling, it’s good to have a secret life online.” She elaborates why in her podcast, linked above.