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Dee Hood : Media Queen

In Art, Feature, Interview on August 29, 2009 at 10:57 am

above the frey (crop)

“Above the Frey” (detail) by Dee Hood

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Media Queen

An Interview with Dee Hood

by Max Eternity

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Hi Dee, welcome to AD Mag

Hi Max!  Thanks for the invitation.

Could you tell us a little about yourself?  Where are you from?

I’ve lived in Florida most of my life. As a kid, I had the incredible opportunity of calling the beach my playground.  Those years of freedom and exploration had a big impact on the rest of my life.  I became self sufficient at a very early age and I learned to question everything!

Sound’s exciting, you had an adventurous childhood?

Yes.  And I still love exploring new ground, entertaining myself.  [Consequentially] I’m more comfortable with change than most people.

Do you come from an artistic family?

My grandfather was a furniture maker-designer. I think I got some of his creative juice.

When I initially contacted you last week, I had done so because I saw some terrific videos on your website.   We’ll get to that in a minute, but first could you talk a bit about your interest in art, what motivates you?

My interest in art and life are intertwined.  The motivation has always been there; the curiosity–the drive to push boundaries–the rebel rubbing against the grain.  It must have been written on my forehead at birth…nonconformist.  There aren’t so many professions for people born under that sign, [so] visual artist was an easy choice.  It’s been a wonderful and wacky ride, and I’ve been surrounded by very creative, interesting, and passionate people.

Let’s talk about some of your art now.  I love the oil painting with the alligator {crocodile?} at the bottom?  What’s going on there in that piece?

abovefrey“Above the Frey” by Dee Hood

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That painting is called “Above the Frey”  It’s about trying to stay afloat in life, navigating your way through the day to day crap and not letting it drag you down.  I like to inject humor into my work.  I’d hate to take myself too seriously!

Website (screenshot)– Screenshot of Dee Hood’s (homepage) website

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I can see that.  And before I forget, let me just say, you have a great site, by the way.  Did you design it yourself?

I did design it.  Thanks!  The real trick is to keep it current.

storiesofthenewworld (dee hood and therman statom)“Stories of the New World”  by Therman Statom with Dee Hood

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So lets see, you do installation, video, painting and sculpture.  And speaking of sculpture, the one entitled “Looking for Signs of Integrity” is rather interesting.

‘Looking for Signs of Integrity” … is a tongue-in-cheek piece to search out integrity wherever it may be hiding.  [And] obviously I don’t subscribe to the belief that you must focus in one area.   I look for the medium that can best express what I’m trying to say.

lookingforsigns“Looking for Signs of Integrity” by Dee Hood

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I think we’re finally moving away from those hard boundaries in art.

I agree.  It would appear so.  But as to “Looking for Signs of Integrity”, the piece seems to be telling a story.  It’s very narrative, like so much of your work.  Too, it’s not really just a sculpture, is it?  It’s more of a sculptural assemblage with attached mobile?  Yes…no?

Yes, the mobile part makes a delicate chiming noise as you move it around- as if the sound will attract the integrity.  Do you know a better way of finding it?

I love mobiles.  And what an interesting perspective on finding integrity, rather Zen-like.  That said, I hope you don’t mind my asking, are you a religious person?

I was raised catholic but I became disillusioned pretty early on with formalized religion.  I consider myself spiritual.

whaleinstall_ (dee hood and sheryl haler)“Whale” an installation by Dee Hood and Sheryl Haler

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I see an “artifact” motif in your work.  This might be a stretch, but would I be correct in suggesting that you seem to have an interest in relics and/or icons?

Not a stretch at all.   I’m fascinated by the human need to believe in something.  All over the world people create objects empowered with belief.   What I gained from Catholicism was a love of icons and ritual and the exotic.

Whenever I visit the Metropolitan Museum in New York I spend considerable time in the African wing.  I feel more resonance from some of the fetishes there than anything else I’ve ever been around.  I think It has to do with the incredible power of belief that goes into making those pieces.

I’m working on a collaborative installation about ‘belief’ now with Dolores Coe and Sheryl Haler for 2010.

Returning to the subject of your videos, they are all so hyper-real; like something out of a Timothy Leary daydream.  I especially like the one, aptly titled, “Real Life.”  Tell me about that one.

still_RealLife“Real Life” video still by Dee Hood

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Timothy Leary Daydream- what a great description!   Video is an extension of painting for me.  I’m more interested in the manipulation of the images than the photographic quality.  So I freely take artistic license.

‘Real Life’ is an exploration into the virtual world.  It’s an amazing phenomenon that we’re experiencing.   We have the opportunity to display ourselves in masked identities, not just the physical avatar but the whole persona.   It brings up all sorts of new questions and shifts in meaning:  How we construct our self -image?  What is community?  What is real…etc?

My being an eco-friendly, health-nut, I really like the H20 video.  In it I observe a strong message about sustainability and conservation.  But just to say that, doesn’t really do the video full justice.  It’s so creative!  Is there a back-story?

h20_“H2O” video still by Dee Hood

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Living in Florida we’re pretty aware of water, but not so much the issues of privatization, scarcity,  and the horrible conditions of drinking water in some parts of the world.   I wanted to do something to give people another look at this resource that we take for granted.  My friend Tim Rumage is an environmental science professor at Ringling and helps to keep me and our students informed on environmental issues.

As an educator I want my students to understand the power of the images they create. I also want them to be cognizant of being a part of humanity, part of the world.  This past semester my first year students put together a great wiki called “Studentsolve”, asking them to focus on the solutions for some of the worlds environmental problems.  They had to list their research on the wiki along with a poster, pamphlet or video to promote their favorite solutions.  We all learned a lot from this!

On your site there are (I think) a total of 5 videos available for viewing.  Have you created more?

0fish0_2“0 Fish 0” by Dee Hood and Students

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I have done other videos and I’m looking forward to starting another one soon.  I’ve done some political commentaries in the past and I think video is a great way to express these issues in a creative and dare I say ‘entertaining’ way.

I was just looking at your resume and noticed that in the early 1990’s you did a show called “Guilty Catholic Girls” which was exhibited at the Backdoor Gallery.  Holy smokes, talk about irony, that’s hilarious!  Do you remember that exhibit?

I remember it with great delight!   My husband Chris Peattie and I and another artist Patty Yontz actually started the Backdoor Gallery.  It was part of an artist colony that the city of Clearwater was supporting to try and revitalize the downtown area.   The show came about out of casual conversations with artist friends about our shared catholic backgrounds. The show WAS hilarious!  We even had a portable confessional with a tape player inside to confess your sins on.  Annette Gloomis designed that one.  Even though it was the Guilty Catholic girls show there were a few ‘bad alter boys’ in it too.

The artist colony only lasted about 6 months, but we put on some crazy shows during that time.  I think all the artists involved in that ‘experiment’ really had a blast and I know I made some life long friends.

You’re a professor at The Ringling School of Art and Design; great name for an art school.  I hate to ask, but is it related to the circus?

No relation to the circus!

Any thoughts about our digital future?

I think it’s going to continue to shift and morph into new paths for everyone especially artists.  It’s sort of like the wild  west, there’s still so much to be discovered.   This is one of my favorite quotes on the subject:

“We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.”

–Kurt Vonnegut Author, Timequake

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Dee, thanks so much for taking the time to chat.

Thank you Max, for your interest and for creating this magazine!

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Visit Dee Hood’s website here, and be sure to check out the full archive of AD Mag artist’s interviews here.

Lisa Tuttle : Beyond Subtle

In Art, Feature, Interview on August 15, 2009 at 10:33 am

belgian diary - shop window“Belgian Diary: Shop Window in the Grand Place I, Brussels”

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Lisa Tuttle: Beyond Subtle

by Max Eternity

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Lisa Tuttle’s intuitive approach towards grasping the very essence of the most culturally relevant, complex social discourse is absolutely uncanny.  I met Tuttle a few years back and recognized right away that she was no ordinary artist.  Perhaps on the surface, one might mistake her as being just another cautiously reserved, old-school Southern belle.  But just because she knows how to mind her manners, does not mean she is incapable of confronting head on, the most  heated, explosive topics-slippery slopes.

With things that really shouldn’t make sense, Tuttle nails it every time; with her careful observation–her psychic eagle eye–placing the right moments with the right time at the right place.  All that’s been swept under the carpet, Tuttle drags it out in plain view.  And just like another great Southern artist, Tennessee Williams, Tuttle’s sensitive attention to cradling with love, the horror, triumph and anguish of  humanity’s endless sea of bigotry, hypocrisy, terror, depravity, loss and rage makes the bliss of reclining beneath an old oak tree on summer’s eve, all the more memorable and worthwhile.

15. kungenzeka(It's Possible)“Kungenzeka (It’s Possible)”

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Hi Lisa.  welcome to AD Mag.

Thanks Max.

As I was telling you moments ago, I recently had a chance to meet with renown artist, Ann Tanksley.  And in looking at her work–reflecting on your work–I think I’m beginning to see a pattern as to how women approach art (generally speaking of course) versus how men approach art. But before I share my opinion, have you ever thought about this?

Sure.  I’m an old school feminist.  I came up with the Guerrilla Girls, Judy Chicago.   And I recently saw a show Jenny Zhang called “Men Are Like Fascinating Insects.”

I think when we talk about women’s contribution to art–history, it’s imperative that we observe how women often challenge the status quo.  This can be seen in the modernist movement, for instance, where women’s voices challenged the male dominated world of the abstract expressionist.  At that time, however unconsciously, women were making a decision to counter the hard edge, monumentalists, male politics in art history; which incidentally, occurred around the same time as 1960’s feminism.  Lucy Lippard, the art critic, recognized and championed that.  But if you want to talk specifically about my work, mostly my work is about the relationships between men and women.

And in speaking to the issue of women as artists, I’d like to broaden the “minority” discussion a bit.  Of course you’ve heard about the Henry Louis Gates fracas with the Cambridge police?

Yes

Does that issue speak to you?  Do you think America has a race problem? And more directly, how do you see race playing itself out in the art world?

Well it continues to be a fascinating subject.  Larry Walker organized a show for MOCA GA, where he tried to show work by a variety of different artist; diffusing gender and race.  That’s certainly one way to deal with it.  It’s very interesting.  Too, I would have to say that for a long period of time my work was very feminist and feminine.  I used a lot of pink, focusing on beauty and having babies…but from a feminist [assertive] perspective.

front porch bowling green c“Translucent Time: Front Porch, Bowling Green, Virginia, c. 1914”

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As an artist, have you ever found yourself having to confront stereotypes about the South, this idea that somehow we’re all still down here whistling Dixie?

The South, racism, how do I deal with race in my work; with my southern identity as a white female?  I’d say that I had to go into the work with a certain amount of awareness and intelligence.  I waded into it pretty cautiously, because these are charged, sensitive issues.  I didn’t want it to blow up on me, so I had to test the waters to see if I could really talk about this in an unbiased way; asking myself, what is my view?  Of course, this opened up a whole new chapter of my work.  For me to focus again on the relationships, that gave me a voice, because that’s where my experience came from.  But I mean lets face it, race is still a very pertinent conversation in America; having taken some very interesting turns as of late.  Like when we saw Obama elected, it was a mind shift for everybody.

If I recall, last year you did a series of digital photographs about the former king of the Belgian Congo.  I think his name was Leopold?

That’s right.

I was able to see the exhibit at Sandler Hudson, where you also gave a talk.

Yes, I remember.

Could you tell us a little about that group of prints?  Briefly, how it all came about.

I didn’t know much about this story until I read this book by Adam Hochschild called “King Leopold’s Ghost.”  I saw these archival photos, pictures of the African men with severed hands.  Then I learned that there had been this massive genocide in the Congo and I had heard nothing of it.  The massacre of 20 million African men, women, and children, how could this have happened?  It was quite shocking, especially to know that this history was so well hidden.

I didn’t have a place for it until I came across an opportunity to do a residency in Belgium.  I had to think of what I would do.  And I realized I had to follow this history.  I had been looking at the American South, the story of plantations, colonialism, child slavery and all of that.  You know, often the history is right out there in front of us, but we’re just blind to it.  There is a connection, between what happened here in the US and what happened in the Congo.  Yet, how is that story told in Belgium?  I applied and was awarded the residency, and I went looking for the Belgian Congo.

Interestingly, for this project, it was the first time I had a digital camera. I went with that and I used Hoschshild’s book as a reference guide.  I can tell you, the Belgians don’t like that book.

Lady Stanley diaries-

Diaries of Dorothy Tennant (wife of Henry Morton Stanley) in the vault of the Stanley Archives, H.M. Stanley Pavilion, Royal Museum for Central Africa”

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And speaking of books, your work seems to tell a story.  Have you ever done art or illustration for a book?

Well yes.  I designed the cover for a book by Melanie Pavich-Lindsay.  It was about the life of the Mistress of a plantation named Anna King.  The books focused on the letters of Anna, but also on the lives of African-American’s during the period.  The title of the book is [out of necessity] quite long; being entitled “Anna : The Letters of Anna Matilda Page King of St. Simons Island, Georgia, 1817-1859”

When Melanie gave a presentation, she used some of my images, and images of another artist, Carrie Mae Weems, to tell the story of the book.

Apparently the plantation, at one time, had been used as a American Indian fishing and burial ground for the Guale people; later becoming a slave plantation.  Now it’s the Sea Island Golf Club.  That place, it’s a microcosm of American history; with the slave cabins still standing there, albeit used now as a gift shop.

From that project I learned that in looking at our collective past, we have to ask, what is my accountability?  We have to be more conscious, becoming more aware.

There’s that great quote from Bobby Kennedy, who, in becoming more aware of his own internalized racism, said “there’s no way one can be raised in this society without being racist and sexist, our only hope is to become aware of this.”

retreat palimpsest at contemporary“Translucent Time: Retreat: Palimpsest of a Georgia Sea Island Plantation”

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Excellent quote, great analysis too.  But before we close, I’d like to ask, what is the value of art, and why in times of crisis should we continue to invest in it?

That’s a really good question.  Perhaps, it depends on your definition.  Because I would say that in times of crisis, art functions less as a luxury item, and gets more back to being a place for thinking.  I always want my work to be sort of a combination of beauty and emotional depth.  I really look to all kinds of art forms.  I feel it’s about refining our emotional sensibilities.  If the work is really engaging, it increases our ability for compassion.  Yet without the money, one is forced to ask…what does this really mean?

annas daybook jpeg“Belgian Diary: Anna’s Diary”

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And of digital art and the future, where is this thing going?

I think we are continuing to evolve.  Artist and curators are kinda learning simultaneously.  It’s a cutting edge group that’s facing this challenge.  Though in the print world, it’s new technology meeting old experiences when you’re dealing with works on paper.  Learning about digital editioning, it’s really just an expansion of the field.

Yes.  People are interested.  It’s the way art is going.

Lisa, you’re such an interesting artist; a person who’s ideas are so vibrant and alive.  Thanks for taking to time to speak with me.

Max, I think what you’re doing is wonderful, so I’m happy to be here.

3.There's a Place for You Here- airport art commission“There’s a Place for You Here (10 Chairs in Atlanta)”

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See more art in the AD Mag Artist Galleries, and to learn more about Lisa Tuttle, visit her at the Sandler Hudson Gallery website by clicking here.