22 Aug - Experiments in Resistance: a Q&A with Artist and Freehand Fellow Fawn Krieger
Fawn Krieger, one of our Freehand Fellow artists-in-residence, has been creating pieces that fuse cement and clay, exploring material collisions and connections. We sat down with Fawn to talk about her latest project, and how her relationship with it has changed over time.
Freehand New York: When did you begin Experiments in Resistance and what or who initially inspired the work?
Fawn Krieger: I began this series in early 2017, after the U.S. presidential inauguration. In the midst of what felt and continues to feel like collective horror and outrage, refusal and resistance, I had a very urgent and physical need to push. I kept imagining my hands pressing into things that have some resistance, so there’d be a squish sensation… essentially an experience that there’s a body or material agency on the receiving end of my pressure. I wanted a physical conversation or dynamic that could absorb and to some degree, refuse my pressure. I also wanted to see this happen, to learn from this pressure, to study its aftermath as a physical artifact of the event I’d created.
FH NY: In this work, what is the relationship between the ceramic and the cement elements?
FK: Clay and cement are both ceramic materials; they are individual members within a larger family of inorganic compounds. Both clay and cement go through a transformational process, essentially becoming stone. Clay is fired in a kiln to simulate the process of rock metamorphosis through extreme heat. Cement goes through a chemical process when water is added, conducting its own heat as it sets. They are elastic materials that synthesize and harden through physical confrontation, like Medusa’s subjects. Ceramic materials have recorded our technological evolution as humans from the 30,000 year old clay Venus Figure of Dolni, to light sockets, bunkers, and toilets to Space Shuttle tiles.
FH NY: How did you decide on selection of glaze/colors for each piece?
FK: I am really drawn to Atomic Era colors. This term is associated with the coveted, oftentimes fetishized, 50s interior design aesthetic. “Atomic Era” of course also reckons with domesticating war – internalizing atomic energy and bringing it into our homes via consumer merchandise. To dislocate this source in the way it peppers US and European aesthetics is to examine the violent and dissociative mechanics that shape cultural values and notions of beauty and access. I am interested in this tension and problem of nostalgic palettes. How is something both beautiful and tragic, and in what ways can color speak to larger concepts about humanity and our footprint on this earth?
FH NY: What would you like the viewer to take away from seeing the process in video?
FK: I have been videotaping my process of making the sculptures and I’m not yet sure how/when those will inhabit the world outside of my studio. I think of a lot of my work – and especially this body of work – as artifacts of an event or moment. The artwork is in the active and passive phenomena, in this case the events surrounding my impact, kiln firing, and the cement transforming itself to stone. The sculptures and videos are records or archives of this transaction, the only record outside of my memory. They exist in the world to objectively validate the event and establish a material language from which to collectively reflect. In terms of someone else aside from me experiencing this series, I hope for them to viscerally relate to the pressure within the work, and perhaps to take some time with that somatic memory.
FH NY: What are 3 words you would use to describe the work?
FH NY: In some of the pieces, the ceramic shapes look like they fit symmetrically together while in others, they look crowded or forced into the overall piece. Can you talk about the relationship between these two different looks?
FK: I’m studying my pressure, what happens when I push—where does the excess matter go and what does it do? What does my impact look like, what does it carry with it, and what do these things mean? I’m not trying to make compositions as much as I’m going with instinct, placing forms and colors together that create a kind of charge. There is a limited amount of time I have when the cement is bodied enough to push back and not hard enough to refuse my pressure. In this window of time, I often feel a sense of pressure and sometimes find myself too timid or too pushy. The ceramic forms can get swallowed and discolored by the concrete. When this happens I dig them out, wash them off, and try again. My materials go through a synthesis, and I suppose it’s in these moments that I also must cross my own synthetic threshold. The process can feel as though it’s on the brink of failure, and it’s often these particular works I care for the most.
FH NY: The drying time of the cement seems to represent a process of some kind. Can you help identify or clarify it, if so?
FK: I work with quick drying cement. The time between mixing and pouring it, and squishing the ceramic chunks in, is about 10minutes, give or take. The entire thing sets in about 20. There’s a critical window of time within which my decisions and actions must take place. The sculptural piece permanently records that time.
FH NY: Can you talk about how this work has changed over the time you have been working on it?
FK: As a visual artist who looks more at theatre and the performing arts than in museums and galleries, I’m really drawn to a belief that materials and sculpture are their own subjects… that they are not objects but subjects… entities capable of generating energy, story, and empathy. I think a lot about the evolution of my Experiments in Resistance through this lens. The series is now in its third year and I’ve noticed over time that the interior volumetric forms, or subjects, have asserted more autonomy and informed the shape and stature of their frame. They have gone from being docile or cooperative to refusing the confines of their container—a container which began on the wall and now is freestanding. Still, the subjects are held in place. This is what’s changing in the pieces I’m working on now…
FH NY: Have you seen a shift in your personal relationship to the work over time?
FK: I don’t normally work on one project for such a long period of time. Having the opportunity to focus on this series over years has really allowed me to learn another kind of endurance and to see the evolution of an idea in a much more expansive way. This is a real gift, and is teaching me a lot about the ways in which I think through materials.
FH NY: What did receiving the Freehand Fellowship mean for you, and how did you use it to support your creative practice?
FK: Receiving the Freehand Fellowship, particularly in its inaugural year, meant I was entering into an entirely new program, and that my participation contributed to the very shape it was to become. In every way this has and continues to feel like a complete honor and gift. I spent a lot of time experimenting and drawing, produced many of my Experiments, edited the video documents from this process, and hosted lots of studio visits with colleagues and friends. I was taken such good care of at Freehand, and this felt really special to be so supported.