How would you describe the work that you do?
Formally, it is installation work and has been for a number of years. But I come from a background of drawing/painting/printmaking . . . that gradually evolved into making prints, making big prints, using the plates themselves in space and then starting to work with site-specific spaces. . . . I’m a multi-media artist who works primarily with issue driven installations. . . . I was focused on issues of women, but since 1989 I’ve been focusing on the rape of the environment, . . . [specifically] the 1989 Exxon Valdez Oil Spill in Alaska. . . . As the writer and teacher Mei Mei Evans has written, “I think it’s really important to preserve Alaska as one of the few places left in the world where there is still some vestige of wilderness. . . . It has a psychic value to people all over the world. And I don’t even have an adequate understanding of what the importance of that is, but I know in my heart that if we continue to lose it, that as a species, we will be incredibly impoverished and probably die.”
Did that move into installation work feel like a natural progression?
Yes, it just was developmental, a process. It wasn’t like “Ok, I’m going to do installation now.” As an artist influenced by and inspired by feminism, minimalism and conceptual art, my work became rooted in these while working on temporary, situational, collaborative pieces.
Are there ways in which you intend your work to challenge the viewer?
The work has been about issues and concerns about being a woman. I was one of the founders of WARM [Women’s Art Registry of Minnesota], did a number of works about rape, harassment. . . . The contradiction of violence and vulnerability have been a part of my work for a long time . . . because that’s just part of my psyche, part of my life experience.
Have you always had a connection to Alaska?
No, when the spill happened, I was really affected by it . . . just feeling a connection . . . to animals. . . . I saw those images on the TV and in the news and they just wouldn’t let go of me. . . . I talked about doing some work about this environmental disaster and a woman friend, who is also an artist, said that I needed to go to Alaska. . . . So I did, and I learned how to put a research trip together.
Is there something you are currently working on that you are particularly excited about?
I’m working on getting ready for this exhibition . . . combining harassment of the land, Alaska, and women. . . . I’ll be using some excerpts from the 2014 interview transcripts I’m working on now. . . . They’re based on stories from my interviews that I come upon in the media. The harassment excerpts in this exhibition are from interviewing women about being sexually harassed.
How do you find some of those women and invite them to share?
I think you’re visible as a feminist and people know what you’re doing. . . . Then you just find them . . . like you find the people in Alaska, through research and others. . . . The women that I’ve interviewed about harassment, their stories, they are all from this area. A number of them were former students, . . . a lot of them are connected to my teaching at MCAD in some way.
What have been the greatest challenges to your art career and how do you navigate them?
I think . . . keeping it going and supporting it . . . [and finding] the time to do it . . . . I was [teaching] at MCAD for 31 years and that’s a great, supportive community. It’s [a matter of] finding the balance.
What advice has influenced you or your art making?
You need support, that’s really important. . . . You need a group of people. . . . I was hired to start a women’s program at St. Catherine’s, . . . there were four of us who started a feminist program called The Art Core Program for Women. . . . We raised a lot of grant money, . . . brought feminists to Minnesota from around the country. . . . WARM opened in 1975, and that was the community and the support, that was [what gave me] the courage to do this work about rape. . . . You need to figure out how to do it . . . [and] get a public space.
How do you know when you have been successful?
When people are moved by the work. When I know and when I see people moved by the work. I’ve seen people tear up and cry . . . and get angry when they read . . . [my] text pieces. . . . As I continue this [Exxon Oil Spill] work, over the years, people would say “Are you still working on that? It happened in 1989.” Well, actually, it isn’t cleaned up!
Why did you choose to pursue the life of a professional artist?
I think because it’s in my bones. When I was little I was the cousin who could draw, . . . not in a photorealistic way, but they were images and they were expressionistic. . . . [Being a] professional artist means, to me, that you’re putting work out into the environment you live in. . . . A criticism of this could be “Why don’t you let the people listen to the voices directly?”. . . . Well, no, I want to intercede, and put myself into those stories and those words because I feel them. . . . I think artists need to be connected to the real stories.
How do you identify yourself as a feminist artist?
[I identify] by the subject, by working with women’s experience and pushing the envelope of what the work is about. When you use sanitary napkins in work, that’s pretty direct, . . . but it was also a material, it was soft and malleable, . . . it’s like the body. . . . I’m looking for materials, I use found materials, I construct materials, I have people help me make materials. . . . No artist works alone, it’s really collaborative, especially installation.
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