Featured Artist Interview: Whitney Lorene Wood
PB: Please tell us about your work and talk about the materials you work with. What is your relationship to them?
WLW: Most currently, I have been using found objects to create “figurative” sculptures, which I hope viewers can relate to or empathize with. I am particularly interested in the figures relationship to their created environments. I think of the overall installation as a stage for these characters to exist in, which is often culturally specific.
As for materials, I definitely have a material language. My material choices are always particular to the environment or feeling that I am aiming to create. For example, in one installation I used multiple 8.5” x 11” pieces of paper and a florescent light, which I hoped would allude to an office. In another piece I used a hand-cut fur rug underneath a television, which overall adds up to a living room but there is tension between the elements.
PB: How did you first become interested in installation art?
WLW: That’s a tough one! It was sort of a natural progression. I was always making sculptures for specific spaces even if it was just the critique room in undergrad, so eventually they just started turning into installations. My interest in art also started with minimalism, which is as much about the arrangement of space and the environment as the actual objects.
PB: Do you feel that there is a message or experience that can only be revealed through installation work?
WLW: Absolutely. Installation inevitably confronts the space it exists in, allowing for a corporeal experience rather than a representation or an illusionistic space like a painting. Needless to say there is also physicality to a painting, but it is encountered differently. A viewer confronts a painting, where as an installation confronts the viewer. One is not better than the other they are just experienced differently.
PB: Tell us about your studio and how you work.
WLW: My studio is often quite a disaster! I really use it as a space for experimentation and play. There will often be material sketches and pieces of plans for a larger installation. My work is so site dependent, I cannot really commit to any one direction until I know the next space I will be showing in.
PB: What are you currently working on?
WLW: Well, I’ve been thinking a lot about the presentation of self, through images. It is interesting to me that during my lifetime, the way we present ourselves has dramatically shifted due to photo-sharing on social media sites like Facebook. Now, everyone is a star, constantly performing in front of a live audience and identities are being performed through a series of staged images. In contrast to our previous generation, who were dedicated to experience and the expansion of one’s own consciousness, today, due to social media sites like Facebook, the documentation of life has become more important than corporeal experience. With that said, I am interested in creating spaces for an anticipated photograph. I have also been thinking about the photographs, which will exist as a byproduct of the installation.
PB: What do you do to sustain your art practice and living as an artist?
WLW: Currently, I am fortunate enough to have a fellowship at Washington University and a teaching assistantship, though I will be moving to Washington DC in May.
PB: How does the work change for the audience when viewed in the gallery as opposed to viewing it in photograph or digital form?
WLW: I cannot tell you how much documentation frustrates me! It’s so important, I know, but it is just impossible to accurately represent an installation in an image. It is a real challenge just trying to find a vantage point that will depict the whole piece. With that said, viewing my work in digital form, is a fragmented version of the work. You cannot hear the sound, see the moving image, or imagine the movement through the space. Luckily, I just purchased a video camera, so I am sure I will be using more video documentation in the future.
PB: What has your experience been like in dealing with galleries, exhibitions, and consumers as an installation artist?
WLW: Like everyone, I’m sure, I’ve had really great experiences and less enjoyable ones as well. Many galleries I’ve worked with have ceiling hanging restrictions or spatial constraints due to fire hazards. I’ve just learned that I have to tailor the work to fit their parameters, but my philosophy is I never pass up an opportunity. I really love to work in alternative spaces or artist run spaces to be honest. I have done a couple of shows now with an organization in St. Louis called Open House Galleries. They transform foreclosed or vacant spaces into temporary art galleries to rejuvenate interest in the property, it is a really unique opportunity to work site specifically.
As far as consumers go, I’ve sold a couple of large-scale works but needless to say I don’t really make work with selling them in mind; some works are just more sellable than others. Like most installation artists, I have always assumed I will have to do something else to sustain my art practice. Though, it is an interesting time in the art market. In just the past couple of years museums have started purchasing performances. In 2009/2010 Marina Abromovic had a retrospective at MOMA and Tino Sehgal had a solo performance exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum. So, for better or worse, more ephemeral works are becoming more widely accepted by institutions.
PB: What is the hardest part in being an installation artist?
WLW: I think the most frustrating part is that you can’t really “re-show” old works. Once you take it down, all that lives on is the documentation. On one-hand, it’s great to be pushed to make new work for each space, but on the other, it almost feels wasteful. I either get rid of it, or it just sits storage unit.
PB: Where do you imagine yourself and your work to be five years from now?
WLW: Good question! I honestly have no idea. I’ve been tossing around using performance in my work, so maybe in five years, I’ll have figured out how to do it. I am also really interested in continuing my research on the performing of identity through images. So I hope to do quite a bit of writing in the next five years as well.
PB: Do you have any shows or exhibitions coming up?