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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

CU BFA Alumna, Stacy Isenbarger, Interviewed in Made in Mind

HER SERIES, stitched drawing on found image, 2013
Clemson University BFA Alumna, Stacy Isenbarger (Art, sculpture, 2005), was interviewed in Made in Mind magazine (Issue 00, Winter 2013). Checkout the interview from the issue here,, or read it below:


Tell us about your background

I have lived in various regions around the US, but consider my time growing up in South Carolina the most formative to my background. Growing up as a Southeastern Suburban Catholic, I was constantly confronted by Catholic iconography that my Baptist peers thought made me heathen despite their welcoming concrete driveways. These environments of confused judgment still influence the ways in which I navigate my own creative installations, but I often acknowledge that I have been taught well to project the best side of myself through the material world. Whether I was presented through appropriate dress, catholic diligence, or a clean-cut green lawn, my social and cultural expression was always addressed through material and object first and foremost.

You use frequently the religious iconography, why?

Working with religious iconography has offered me the opportunity to question social and political awareness but in a more reverent atmosphere. One of my most influential teachers, David Detrich, once ask me to draw out a line diagram with “Zen” on one side and “Disneyland” on the other. He’d say to choose a place within this scale that best balanced out my desired concept and to make formal and material decisions that support this place. I always felt that working from a point closer to the “Zen” side has been a more authentic point of departure for me. Religious imagery can have a forceful impact but through a more quiet delivery.

I also rely on the language of religious iconography because it is loaded with various interpretations. Belief aside, the environment you’ve lived in will dictate how you read a symbol or spiritual figure. During a recent residency in Jetpur, a small village near Jodphur, India, I tried to communicate visually through iconic symbols. Surrounded by spirited children painting in an abandoned schoolhouse, I was struck by how awkward it was to see one child painting swastikas alongside my line drawings of Stars of David. With my lacking verbal skills, I was attempting to share an image that I hoped could communicate the equal beauty of male and female and a 7 year old in turn, wanted to communicate a blessing that I couldn’t read as one. Two shapes built from basic line structures where at conflict for me but beautiful to her. Our gestures where authentic as we created together but our visual language had shortcomings that couldn’t be bridged without further understanding of each other’s perspectives. Our images could provoke, but not justify themselves alone. The layered history of religious iconography is rich for communicative disruptions as well as sharing the beauty of a spiritual awareness. Through my work, I explore these possibilities.

How do you make it? What do you hope people take away from your art?

When I create, I explore a variety of mixed-media approaches that produce sensory connections for viewers to their environment. I assume that most viewers won’t immediately touch art, but they will reflect on their own physical understanding of the material they see, and in turn, reflect on their own negotiations of metaphorical space. In our typical environments, we tend to experience imagery and media through a lens of complacency, but its refreshing and potentially generative when we are cued to see an icon, familiar object, etc. in a way other than generally accepted. I also play with barriers and layers of information to suggest a place where a shift in ideation is helpful for further understanding. I want viewers to walk away from my work reflecting on some aspect of variance in themselves— and in particular, those moments where, through their own unique cultural judgment, they address social constructs from a more specific perspective.

I never tire of visual language’s mixed messages and meanings. I rely on viewers’ considerations that dance between soft and hard, warm and cold, domestic and industrial, etc. to create a sense of place where one can mentally navigate one’s own physiological deviations in understanding.

How important is your environment in shaping your work?

Understanding sculpture seems impossible for me without considering the environment it exists in. As a physical manifestation, I have to understand it through my body as I reference my experience of the space it inhibits. And as this happens, I always thinking about my place, how I occupy it, and how my understanding of that space impacts the way I read the work.

When I create, I will often reflect on various cultural and social impacts within my environment. Aspects of a scaled sense of freedom, familiarity, and memory of experience are all drawn together to communicate a place for others to reflect on their own environmental perspective as well. Due to this, an undercurrent of my work is to always share an understanding of place.

What art do you most identify with?

It’s not that I identify with a specific art or form of art, it’s what I look at and for and live with, meaning what I may read and surround myself with. There are many things that contribute to the investigations I undertake visually in and out of the studio—poetry, published writings on social practice, religious spaces, found and incidental images, and many things that are unexpected and not sought out could fulfill my needs and inspire me at any moment.

Tell us about Canary Marys, what has inspired this artwork?

I had recently been invited to a new moon gathering ceremony where women were celebrating winged spirit animals & even though I’m not accustomed to this type of ritualistic practice, I was touched by the beauty of women gathered to celebrate the spirit of something outside themselves. The directive sensibilities some shared through their own visitations of these spirits in their dreams, meditations, etc. seemed strangely familiar to Catholic stories I’ve been raised by. I wanted to make work that spoke of my navigation of this event.

I came across the figurine of an uncloaked praying woman at a thrift store, identified her as a more humble vision of the Virgin Mary, and made a mold of her. I had planned to pair her with another carved bird form I had made and to create a chorus of sorts with multiple forms in an installation. But as the piece developed, I realized that cloaking the figurine yellow tool dip could suggest both bird and Mary at once. In Creature Comforts (Canary Marys), as markers of an open path, the Canary Marys reflect nature and spirit at odds and in communion. These forms where paired with a rock as a silhouetted barrier of itself and itself stuck between two sides. I’ve been asked if the Canary Mary is meant to represent me, but I think the rock is perhaps a more suited stand-in for my role in this environment.

In Her series you drew Mother Mary’s veil, what does this action mean?

My Her series is still an in-progress body of work, but as I form it into various thematic groupings, the embroidered blue veil and golden halo continue to be sewn on top of various images of women. As this work evolves, I continue to question this drawn action. Using the cloak of Mary within these images, I’m reflecting on stories of apparitions and a desire for feminine guidance. Individually each image is a play on an individual’s choice or potential. Collectively these images act as layered voices at odds with innocence and expectation.

What were some the significant happenings that brought you to where you are now as an artist?

At an early age, I was brought repeatedly, among thousands, to a site in Conyers, Georgia, USA where a woman was supposedly having apparitions of the Virgin Mary on the 13th of ever month in late 1980s. Today she is considered a false profit of the church, and I’m still confused by what I witnessed in this space, but since then, stand-ins for Mary have come to represent a childlike desire to trust the spiritual structures in my environment. I think this plays out often in the work I make, but it’s influences are manifested in various forms through my work.

I keep two photos in particular from this experience in my studio. The first is a polaroid photo taken of the sun at this location on the day of an apparition. The image captures three shadowed forms that some took as a miracle representing the Gates of Heaven, but this is just light reflecting of the camera’s shutter. It’s a simple shortcoming of the device. The second image is of a woman with a fantastic perm holding up a photo she captured at Conyers to a small crowd of emotional onlookers. Within the skewed image, there is a faint silhouette of what could be (or could not be) a familiar veiled spiritual presence. For me, this image represents the beauty of not knowing everything about what an image can represent. I have these images next to each other in my studio and challenge myself through the small space between them. That gap represents a place where knowledge of the theater of religion is in conflict with a desire to trust the unknown. I want to make art about this sort of space and create environments where we are left to consider the weight of both sides of understanding—the authenticity of the known and the beauty of the unknown.

Could you talk about I.M.M.I.G.R.A.N.T. ?

In my series I.M.M.I.G.R.A.N.T., the sewn golden Stars of David spell out the word immigrant. These works address problematic labeling in conflict with a collective notion what is a rightful home environment. For instance, in I.M.M.I.G.R.A.N.T. (Heritage Status), this text hangs as a quilted curtain or vine-like root system below a white picket fence cross-stitched on a “Home, Sweet, Home” banner. As a foundational-structure to an idealized suburban American home landscape, the word is meant to question of whom—if any—have a right to this label of home here. Judaism isn’t something associated with some US states’ growing interests in targeting immigrants by making anyone suspect responsible for showing paperwork of their nationality—instead a Christian, Hispanic culture tends to be the most targeted—however, I am concerned about this “need” to decide who belongs in a culture built from immigration. As an iconic devise used to segregate “the other” from the privileged, the domestic yellow star is meant to readdress this politically charged title as we reassess where we come from and where we even belong.

What are you currently working on?

I’m currently working on a series I’m calling “What Man Builds, Man Can Confuse.” By labeling or projecting more than one meaning to an object, I’m building more poetic forms that reflect on broken institutional structures and confused human perspectives. I’ve been cross-stitching confused directives and diagrams that play off of “Do & Don’ts” in conflict for this series as well. I’m also working in collective called BASK. We’re incorporating movement, 3-D form, poetry, and music in community-based practice and performances to address social projections and sources of empowerment for women in the Arts.

About Made in Mind: Made in mind is a new independent publishing project dedicated to the promotion of young contemporary visual art. It’s  focus is  to provide  visibility to young art , particularly for lesser known visual artists to showcase their work to an international audience which includes  artists, galleries, museums, curators and others interested in art. The aim is to become bridge between the art world and artists.  Our critics and curators are looking for new ideas, and artists can also propose their own projects. Anyone who wants to participate in the selection is invited to present their artistic work and have the opportunity to be published. Visual artists of various media are encouraged to enter this juried competition to be included in the first issue. We are a Work in Progress, and we happily agree to proposals to improve the project

Made in Mind is a new independent publishing project dedicated to the promotion of young contemporary visual art. It’s focus is to provide visibility to young art , particularly for lesser known visual artists to showcase their work to an international audience. 

Application for artists

The project aims to research and promote  young artists, we are selecting emerging artists for feature in our publication. Artists can propose their own artistic work. The open call submission is international and there is no age limit for entry. Artists are encouraged to enter this juried competition to be included in next issue of Made in Mind. 

Selected artists will  be presented  with images of their work, interview, artist statement, and contact detailsThe competition is open to all artists, to all nationality, working in all media. Please, consult the section Open Call for details.

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