Entries in installation (2)


Interview - Nirmal Raja

"Lyrical Lines" Engraved palm leaves, intaglio and collograph print- 14” X 32”

Our next exhibition is The Tongue of the Hand, new work by Nirmal Raja. Raja answered some questions on the work she'll be showing. 


Can you start out by telling us a little about yourself and your artistic background?

I grew up moving every few years across India and then briefly to S. Korea and Hong Kong. I migrated to this country in 1991 after marrying my husband Sharath. I have a Bachelors degree in English Literature from India. I continued my education and obtained a BFA at the Milwaukee institute of Art and Design, and a MFA in painting at UWM. My friends and family, the exceptional faculty at UWM’s Peck School of the Arts where I continue to teach and an amazing support system at Redline Milwaukee (where I am a mentor resident), have all had a hand in my growth as an artist. Due to migration and travel, my life has been a collage of experiences. As a result, my artwork is a collage as well- of experiences ruminated, digested and translated. Nurturing a poetic sensibility towards life helps me reconcile diverse memories of a fragmented past with the here and now; this attitude permeates my work.


In this exhibition, you are exploring the different aspects of language such as “script as form” and “legibility and illegibility.” Can you talk a little about the evolution of these concerns in your work?

I am fascinated by the opacity of an illegible script. I have lived and travelled in many places and absorbed what it feels like to be confronted with a script I cannot read. It becomes line and pattern (form) and one cannot help but see rather than read. It is wonderful to focus on abstract notions of geometry, mark making, rhythm and how these things can communicate in their own way especially when written by hand. The expressive quality of line is universal and communicates something subliminal and guttural nevertheless.

I am also interested in the duality of these scripts as they parallel the duality of two cultures and perspectives. The same script decoded by a native speaker is perfectly understandable to her or him but totally illegible to someone who does not know the language. English plays a hegemonic role in written and verbal communication- probably remnants of a colonial past. We are increasingly becoming a monolingual society with very little tolerance of diversity of language. In the work “The Practice of Letters”, I place the viewer in a position where she or he experiences what it feels like to be confronted with script they cannot decode. Too often, non-English speaking people are put in this position. I chose to incorporate a ritual from childhood, which involves writing letters on a bed of rice. In this artwork, the viewer is invited to participate in this ritual by tracing the animated letters on a bed of rice which is a very sensual and tactile experience.

I am often saddened by the loss of my own native tongue due to attending all English speaking schools and migration. At the same time, I want to transcend the limitations of language through my artwork. In this show I focus on the possibilities of using line as a mode of expression, the substrate as manuscript and printmaking as mimesis and mirror.

"Community" Engraved palm leaves, intaglio and collograph print- 14” X 32”You employ both traditional and new media practices in your work such as drawing and video. How does the blending of these types of practices help you to express the concepts you are interested in?

I try to keep my practice as open as possible to different media choices. My approach to making art has always given preference to the idea over materials. Although trained as a painter, I love to learn new techniques and modes of making. I have found that drawing animation particularly is suitable for what I want to express. I like the way it hovers between materiality and immateriality and allows temporality and participation. Combined with installation strategies, art becomes an immersive experience.

The Scribed series is very much about materiality and process. I started each of these works with an intentional mark and allowed for free “writing” Some are about gesture and line, some resemble asemic writing (a wordless and non specific form of writing) and some become pattern. My intent is to remove coding and semantics and create a space where the viewers can fill it with meaning. I chose to use an ancient book form – palm leaf scroll as a substrate and then connect that with the Western tradition of printmaking and its role in the proliferation of knowledge. The scroll and the print mirrored, speak for cultural and formal duality within the work.

How does the work in The Tongue of the Hand differ from your previous work? How is it the same? Specifically, how did your consideration of our 12 X 12 space influence your work?

Text and line have always had a presence in my work usually to enhance an over all concept. I consider the work included in this show as beginnings of an ongoing exploration. There are several other aspects of text and language that I will continue to explore in the future. The advantage of a 12 X12 space is that it gives one control over the whole space and at the same time forces you to edit your work and thoughts. I chose not to include some work that was going in a different direction due to space and concerns of clarity and I believe this makes for a stronger show.

The text that is included in this installation is an excerpt from the Ain-I Akbari, “On the Arts of Writing and Painting” (ca. 1590) by Abul Fazi. Please tell us a little about this writer and the significance of this text.

Abul Fazl was the minister and advisor to Emperor Akbar in late 1500s India. He was one of the nine “jewels” in Akbar’s court, a prolific writer, historian and translator. He supported Emperor Akbar’s liberal views on religion and learning. I found this quote by him in an exhibition catalog about manuscripts and the written word- The word is sacred, sacred is the word, The Indian Manuscript Tradition. I was struck by how fresh and relevant his ideas still are with text based contemporary art and my concerns of language, art and communication.

"Sunset Perspective" Engraved palm leaves, intaglio and collograph print- 14” X 32”Do you have any other shows coming up that you would like to talk about?

I was invited to exhibit at the Alfons Gallery in Milwaukee in August 2015. This is particularly exciting to me as I am interested in exploring the spiritual in this show. I will be showing some video installations and other work that connect ideas of mindfulness, nature and transience. In addition, I am part of a group show in San Ramon, CA titled Intersections: Asian American Narratives in February 2015; I have a two-person show at the Hinterland Gallery in Denver in the fall of 2015, and a group show at the Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum in Oct 2015. I am grateful and excited for all opportunities to share my work.


Interview - Robin Luther

Our next show features a multi-media installation by Milwaukee artist Robin Luther. In this interview we discuss the motivations behind her work.

"Chester Pool 1" Inkjet Print, 16x22"Can you tell us about some of the themes that you have dealt with in your work over the past few years?

As an undergraduate student I was heavily influenced by documentary photographers that I studied in school and made a lot of personal work documenting different sub-cultures that I had connections to. I ended up very interested in ideas focused around family structures and gender roles within the family structure. I used a lot of humor to illustrate these ideas in tableau photographs of insects inside of my childhood dollhouse, taking on the roles of a human family.

In graduate school I continued investigated ideas of family in my work, but became more interested in using my family history and images from my family albums to illustrate larger ideas of memory associated with vernacular images - snapshots, postcards, home-videos, etc.

Over the past couple of years I've returned to a more documentary style of working and researching, while still utilizing narrative techniques in my work. While the photographs that I have been taking are much more straight forward landscapes and interiors/exteriors of locations, they are sequenced, paired, and categorized in a way that implies a sense of narrative and connections between images. I have also begun combining elements of sound, video, and text in my work to create more of a sense of narrative, history, and complexity. My current work investigates themes of place and politics of place, the justice system and injustice within the justice system, family and memory, and collaboration.

You have a background in photography, but you often blend video and sound elements into a larger installation. How and when did you become interested in working in this way?

As an undergrad at Columbia College Chicago I had the opportunity to intern at, and regularly visit, the Museum of Contemporary Photography. It was this venue, centered around photography, that introduced me to the idea that the medium doesn't have to be limited to only still, two-dimentional images and experiences. I got to experience some really incredible video and installation pieces at MoCP. One piece that really inspired me to want to explore video in particular was "Landscape Theory" by Roberto Bellini, which I saw at the museum in 2008.

I personally started experimenting with video in my work in 2010 as a graduate student at UWM. I began by repurposing my family's old home videos into projected installations, and later began using audio recordings in exhibitions with my photographs. The video piece in my exhibition at Greymatter Gallery, "Temporary Residents", is actually the first video piece that I will be showing in a public exhibition.

"Chester High Bleachers" Inkjet Print, 16x22"How have your travels influenced your work?

I've been lucky to have several great opportunities to travel during graduate school, and now after school as well. As a student at UWM I had the opportunity to spend several weeks traveling Peru, and making work. I have also been an artist in residence at a studio collective in Norway, where I will be returning this summer for a second residency.

My work has always been heavily influenced by place, and by my personal connections to places that are a part of my past and present. Travel has been important, and remains important, to my work because it takes me out of my comfort zone and forces me to redirect my thought process and my practice. It creates inspiration for me, but it also presents a challenge that I think is necessary to keep me from getting to comfortable and redundant in my research and practice.

Your current exhibition is about the town of Chester, IL and the maximum security prison that's located there. But conceptually it addresses so much more. Can you talk a bit about this?

Menard Correctional Center, the maximum security prison in Chester, IL, that is alluded to in my current work, is alluded to, rather than visualized, to emphasize the mental pull that the prison's existence has on the place and the sense of being in that place. This series isn't about documenting the prison and illustrating it for curious eyes. In many ways, it's about the fact that it IS so completely out of the way, out of sight, and out of mind, much like the inmates that are deposited in the prison from far away cities where their family and friends usually reside.

The title of the exhibition, "Population:", refers to the fact that the inmates of Menard Correctional Center are counted as residents of the general population of Chester, Illinois. I am particularly interested in the fact that most of the inmates have never seen or experienced this town which they are calculated as residents of, and the disconnect between their past and present, and between them and their family once they're moved to these far away, rural prisons.

What individuals in your life have had the most impact on you as an artist?

One individual that has had a great impact on me on me as an artist is Art Hand, who taught the first photography class that I took as an undergrad. It was because of his class that I decided to get a degree in photography, and ultimately decided to go to grad school and continue my research, as well as teach others. His attitude towards art and making is really refreshing. He was always motivating his students towards technical improvement while pushing them to follow research paths that they're really passionate about.

I've also been impacted by Hans Gindlesberger, who served on my graduate committee at UWM and gave me really honest, important feedback throughout my years there.

My husband, and fellow artist, C. Matthew Luther, impacts me as an artist as well. I am inspired by his work ethic as a teacher and artist, and by his passion for the themes that are present and important in his work. He's also great at giving honest feedback and critique.

"Chester Pool II" Inkjet Print, 16x22"What artists do you look to and have an influence in your work?

I'm influenced by a variety of artists and photographers. Robert Frank's series, "The Americans" is really interesting to me in a lot of ways. He received a Guggenheim fellowship to document the United States with his camera in the 1950s. The Swiss artist captured thousands of photographs along his various road trips across the United States, but did an incredibly interesting job of editing those photos down to a collection of less than 100 images that really depict the country through the eyes and narrative of Frank. I'm most interested in his ability to take truthful photographs of the world around him, but to then depict his own, personal narrative of place through his editing and sequencing of images.

Some more contemporary artists that have influenced my work include Alec Soth and Taryn Simon. Soth is well known for his photographic series, "Sleeping By The Mississippi", in which he documents landscapes, interiors and exteriors of buildings and sites, and portraits along the Mississippi River. Soth also has a really interesting series of short video pieces that he did for the New York Times, called The Continental Picture Show, in which he usually combines still photographs, video footage, sound, and text to convey a short narrative. Taryn Simon is well known for her series, "The Innocents", in which she collaborated with former inmates that were convicted of crimes that they didn't commit, and eventually released from prison as a result of re-trials using DNA evidence to prove their innocence. Simon photographs the former inmates in a location that is somehow connected to the crime that they were wrongfully convicted of. The photographs are printed at a very large scale, confronting viewers and forcing a physical and emotional connection. In small text next to the photographs is the name of the individual, the crime that they were convicted of, and the amount of years that they served.

I'm also very interested in the writing of Angela Davis, Michel Foucault, Jacques Ranciere, Lucy Lippard, Roland Barthes, and many others!