Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Art Space Talk: Cara Walz

Cara Walz is an American artist proud to be painfully midwestern and nurtured from an early adulthood immersed in punk culture. She studied drawing, painting, sculpture, performance and photography at The University of Kansas, where she received her BFA in 1990.
After a year's tour with the punk outfit, 2 Car Family--where she regularly witnessed all-age shows by then unknowns, Green Day and Neurosis--she moved to Chicago to study time-based media (primarily video and performance) at The School of The Art Institute of Chicago.
On her own time she continued to nurture her first love, drawing, and in 1993 received her MFA in Time Arts from SAIC. Her work has been included in many group and solo exhibits, including The Pennsylvania School of Art and Design, Leedy-Voulkos Art Center, MoMO Studio, and The Stray Show. She received a Franklin Furnace Grant for her experiments integrating performance and drawing in 2000.
Cara is associated with the Micromentalist movement, founded by Patrick Welch, a British painter now residing in Chicago. The Micromentalists embrace a D.I.Y. attitude toward the production and dissemination of art, adopting strategies from independent music culture. They believe that art should be accessible, affordable and meaningful beyond the 'art world subculture'.
She is currently represented by Telephonebooth Contemporary Art ( and resides in Kansas City MO, where she teaches painting and drawing.

Brian Sherwin:Cara, in 1993 you received an MFA in Time Arts from SAIC. Can you tell our readers about Time Art, the department you were a member of and the mentors you had while attending SAIC? How did those experiences influence your future work?

Cara Walz: I have to think way back now... First off, very few schools offer Time Arts, so I get this question a lot. At SAIC at the time, Time Arts consisted of sound, video/film, performance and installation with moving components. Freshmen Foundations students were required to take not just 2D and 3D but 4D as well, and I assisted in teaching them, which was a ton of fun.
I was admitted into the performance department and worked closely with Lin Hixson, director of the performance group Goat Island, and Werner Herterich, whose work dealt with the body and installation. I also worked closely with Leah Gillham in the film/video department as I negotiated my way through video work.

Lin was an amazing person: She could quickly separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak, especially in terms of relevant influences, and she helped me focus on things I still look at now, especially how-to imagery.

I remember showing her a picture from a package of processed cheese that showed how one should remove the cheese from the plastic film. That picture is a gem. I still have it.

Werner told me two things I'll never forget: 1) The market requires that artists know exactly what they're doing and who their audience is, but in reality this is rarely the case, and 2) Art is what is left over after an action, trace evidence.

My fondest memory of Leah is when she chewed out a freshman (maybe he was a sophomore) for his video during critique. I know this sounds horrible, but he never attended class and you could tell that he spent a total of maybe 20 minutes to make the video. If you've ever worked in film or video you know how long it takes to get something good. He was wasting our time and she was livid.

Brian Sherwin: You have noted that punk culture has been a major influence your development as a person and artists. Can you reflection how that culture has influenced your work?

Cara Walz: Punk always tries to be direct: emotionally, technically and conceptually. I don't even understand other people generally. If punk culture hasn't influenced a person's life it's like they're from another planet. I try but it's hard because, when I was about 7 or 8 years old I saw Patti Smith on Saturday Night Live. When I was 13 I read Kurt Vonnegut's Welcome to The Monkey House. I was moved to tears by George Romero's Night of the Living Dead.

I saw The Flaming Lips perform from Oh My Gawd at a tiny bar, which was all tremendous feedback and extremely emotional. Wayne spent most of his time on the ground and the music just flowed from one song to the next. I was dumbfounded, completely overwhelmed. You know how you get that tingle? I try to get that when I work. I want people to get that when they look at it, as if a heart is right there in front of them, and it's ok if you stab it or kiss it. It makes no difference.

Brian Sherwin: So is it safe to say that you desire to establish an emotional connection between your work and the viewer... regardless if that connection is healthy or not?

Cara Walz: Yes, I desire an emotional connection and a intellectual one as well, but no, I don't set out to shock or offend anyone. But in any given intimate conversation between two people, there's always the chance that something will be said that the other person doesn't want to hear, even if it isn't intended. This is a risk I don't mind taking. Better that than talking about the weather or exchanging recipes.

Brian Sherwin: Cara, in 2000 you were awarded a Franklin Furnace Grant for your experiments integrating performance and drawing. Can you discuss the work you were doing at that time?

Cara Walz: I was using bodies and objects as elements in a moving drawing on a stage. This work was heavily influenced by Goat Island as I was fresh out of graduate school. The bodies and objects were connected, so that there was no more significance to one or the other.

For me it was about understanding form and movement in a different way, probably because I've always been obsessed with life drawing, especially gesture, and the way the body moves from one pose to the next.

The bodies would clump together in bunches or heaps, then separate and be strung together, especially with rope, and I know that sounds like bondage but it was more like Butoh or acrobatics. Sometimes the bodies would be suspended using pulleys or repelling gear. I liked defying gravity and then giving into it.

In this work I began collaborating with other people, something I still love to do, and narrative began to enter the picture. Sometimes the performers would want to break what they were doing and perform a tiny bit of tango or exchange slaps, for example, and I welcomed that into the structure of the whole.

Brian Sherwin: You are associated with the Micromentalist movement, founded by Patrick Welch. Can you tell our readers more about the movement?

Cara Walz: This is a new association, but it's funny because as soon as I fell into it it fit. I love Patrick. He makes teeny tiny paintings. His most known are his "insult" paintings, but many of his others are quite complex in form and meaning, in a good way, not in an obscure way.

They have written a tongue-in-cheek manifesto (because any manifesto has to be tongue-in-cheek nowadays I suppose), which you can reach from my website, and it says all the things I've been saying for quite awhile now. Like when did art become rarefied? When did one require a degree to understand it? Why does art need to be monumental and expensive?

Some people think "micromental" means "small mind", and that's ok, but Patrick was thinking about the opposite of monumental. Intimate. I have always looked at art as a prehistoric cultural expression. It hasn't changed since we were living in caves, not at its very core. You shouldn't have to be a big time investor in art to be able to enjoy it and own it.

Art is what people who think in pictures do. And artists want to share these pictures with others.

Brian Sherwin: How exactly has music influence your art? Is there a direct link to the sounds you vibe to and the work you create?

Cara Walz: One of the drawings I sent you is of Andrew Bird, an amazing musician. His song, "Heretics", is on my website and you can find more of his stuff if you click on his name. I like an incredible variety of music, but even though I'm a punk, I'm still a woman, so I tend to avoid the extreme aggro stuff. It just doesn't work for me.

I also think that too many people try to define punk as a tight style, and it's not. It's a perspective. Punks are realists and they pull no punches.

Brian Sherwin: It would seem that you allow your medium to surround you... based on the image I seen of you working in your studio space. Describe an average studio session. What do you set out to do and when do you know that you are finished?

Cara Walz: I have two studios at present: One at home and one in a building downtown. In both the process is the same but the size is different, because the downtown space is larger.

At home I make tiny pieces. An average studio session for me cannot go beyond 5 hours. If I go beyond that I tend to mess things up. I make big, bold decisions in the first hour, decisions about the overall composition, shape, color, new elements, etc. Sometimes this takes longer than an hour, because I work on several pieces at a time.

I like elements to accumulate beyond what the work can accommodate in order to get a ton of texture and history (time, if you will) into it. Then I edit, get rid of what doesn't work formally or conceptually. This can take some time or go very quickly, depending on how many early decisions were good ones.

The remaining time is spent doing what I call "piddle-farting", adding tiny elements, little surprises that you only see up close. I love to piddle-fart. I think all artists do, but it's really the last thing you should do because it has nothing to do with the structure of the thing.

A piece is done when it works like a machine upon the eye, and when the elements interrelate to achieve a particular emotional tone not unlike a good piece of music.

Brian Sherwin: So I would take it that artists like Damien Hirst- his diamond skull and expensive prices- goes directly against the ideals of the Micromentalists. So is one the groups goals to keep their work affordable to the public? Is it more about given back to society rather than dropping jaws with price tags and making the big shows?

Cara Walz: I met Damien Hirst when I was in graduate school at SAIC, and he was a nice bloke. He got a ton of breaks early on in his career. I also met Kerry James Marshall, a very good artist who has received a ton of attention as well.

Hirst's work is cynical to say the least; it always has been. Marshall's has always been heartfelt. I pass no judgment because there's room for cynicism, but it's just not for me.

Of course we'd all like to make a ton of money and achieve notoriety making art. Wouldn't it be great if there were more Charles Saatchis in the world to give us all a jump start? But in reality, most artists, many of them very good, don't run into a Saatchi-type while they're still in graduate school. This shouldn't negate their work or exclude them from the market.

Some of the best musicians come from the independent music scene. Shouldn't this be possible in art culture as well? I'm proud to be an independent artist and in control of my own destiny, even if my market has its limits. I don't dismiss collectors because of some Marxist ideal, but I don't think regular people should be excluded from owning and enjoying art too.

Brian Sherwin: Let us return to a question about artistic collaboration.What collaborations have you worked on besides the work you did with Goat Island? Is there a certain co-creator, so to speak, who has stuck out more than others?

Cara Walz: I consider the work I'm doing on MySpace to be a collaboration of sorts, because the particular friend I'm making the drawing for informs the piece, infuses it with its heart.

Sometimes I don't know what to make of people and so those drawings can be a bit strange, but I'm also surprised by how often a connection is made, albeit an electronic one.

Many of my friends are 'actual' ones, and those drawings come pretty easy, but I try to make each work as if an electronic signal is enough to get some sense of a person, because this is how we communicate now.

Even if you talk to someone face to face things get lost in translation or misunderstood. This is what Baudrillard meant when he wrote The Ecstasy of Communication. Maybe we don't communicate to be understood but to be heard, to make a song with no words, to chant in order to express simple loneliness or longing.

To answer your second question, Mirja Koponen, who, last I heard was in the UK, was probably the strongest artist I've worked with, but we've lost touch and I don't know what she's doing now. I suppose I should 'google' her...

I also participated in a group show a couple of years ago, curated by Charles Roderick, who was getting his MFA in sculpture from The University of Illinois at the time. This wasn't quite a collaboration, but the work in the show was sociopolitical, challenging, a great assembly of artists from around the world. It was called "Mind in Matter: Constructions of The Built Environment", and artists were tackling the urban world we construct in a variety of ways.

Anyway, Charles' work struck me immediately. He would gather materials and make sculptures in the urban environment, using the space and context as much as the materials he brought. Then he would take photographs of them. He was literally making his mark in shared, public space, transforming it from something cold and impersonal to specific and intimate.

Brian Sherwin: Finally, what are your plans for the future? Where do you see your work 10 years from now... or is it more about the process of getting there?

Cara Walz: I've never been good at planning for the future, and so yes, it's all about the process. Ten years from now I hope to be happy and healthy and I hope that my friends and family are likewise. On their CD Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, The Flaming Lips sing, "All we have is now."
I hope that you have enjoyed learning about Cara and her art. Feel free to leave a comment.
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin

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