Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Interview with a carver, part two

I find one of the most difficult elements of doing an interview is expressing ideas that you truly believe in and not talking about ideas that you are still formulating. it is an interesting process, seeing your spoken voice and realizing that sometimes you're not expressing your ideas clearly.
CGI: Can you describe any barriers you have when trying to share your vision with the general public?
LP: Obviously, there is the barrier that because of the way my work looks, it is pigeon-holed into being a Native art. It is a barrier, but not one that I mind in any way.
Another barrier comes with the sharing of information about my culture, but I have gotten around that in various ways. For example, when I have showed my work in critiques here [at Emily Carr University] I have had to bring in some of my own people. Because my work is so culturally specific, people don’t know how to interpret it, or give feedback, so I have invited Native dancers, artists and curators to help the class understand my work through sharing their own opinions.
As an artist, I am always looking for feedback, and when people didn’t know what to say, it was detrimental. Because the projects I was working on for class assignments were created much faster than ‘normal’, feedback was key to push it forward.
CGI: Do you have an example of one of your pieces/projects that makes people think about choices?
Well, I feel that Northwest Coast Art is much more like design than it is art – like design, it helps people make choices because a lot of the traditional work revolves around usable objects, and design is about being useful and informing people.
Carvers were canoe builders, they built houses and fish traps, they shaped the way people lived their everyday lives, and influenced people’s decisions through form. A totem pole tells the story of the people who live on the land, it tells people who owns the land, the history and the beliefs.
Generally speaking, the Northwest Coast, people own stories, and stories are tied to the land. This is especially true up North, where people retain more of our protocols. Songs and stories are owned by different families, and when they are related to the land, it means they own the land as well.
There is a huge element of meaning in Northwest Coast art. And that is another reason some Native Artists, when selling a piece, like a mask, to a commercial gallery, they make it so that it can’t be worn, because then it can’t be worn for a traditional purpose. When I am selling a piece to a gallery, I myself believe that it should be a piece of art in the western sense, I create western artwork, and I create cultural objects, this is a choice I make, and it is reflected in my work.
The interview ends there, it's strange how while in the interview the din of the crowded coffee shop becomes white noise. The voices and sounds mushed together like a faded sweatshirt seen through an unfocused lens. And I remember looking at people and objects while searching for my answers during the interview, but all I remember are portraits, still images of faceless strangers and brown walls with orange highlights.
Editing the interview for this blog was a balancing act, between keeping my unique speaking voice and making the spoken word readable. I did a little editing here and there making my answers clearer and shortening one answer, the answer was an idea I have yet to develop(stay tuned).

Monday, March 18, 2013

Interview with a Carver

I've never met my interviewer before, I'm not sure why I chose such a public place for the interview but here I am. Maybe it was because I wasn't sure if my practice was relevant to her thesis and I didn't want to sit in an uncomfortable silence when we both realized it. but when I mentioned it to her half jokingly, she said she was excited to hear what I had to say. She had read my blog (this blog) and some other information available about me online.
I walked through the door of the cafe and was hit by the familiar smell of burnt coffee beans and deep fried potatoes, the life's blood of university students and nightshift dock workers. I take a quick look around and I know she is not here and must be up on the second level. For a moment I consider going up and letting her buy me a coffee, after all I am doing her a favour, but then I think, "she's a student, buy your own damn coffee".

once I buy my coffee and add brown sugar and half and half, my cup is filled to the overflow mark. Its going to take the skills of a Chinese plate spinner to get myself and my coffee up the stairs without spilling the searing hot liquid all over my hands.

When I reach the top I know I will have to let her recognize me before I can recognize her, because this places clientele is shall we say, white to slightly off-white. And I think she should be able to recognize a slightly over weight pretty boy Aboriginal artist.
She doesn't disappoint as she looks me up and down and gives me a slightly nervous "Luke?" I sit down and we exchange pleasantry's. I remark that she has the same Starbucks* travel mug as me and we agree they make the best quality mobile hot liquid containers. After the small talk she slides her IPad on to the table and opens her Imic iPad app.
For this two part interview I will call the interviewer CGI and I have slightly altered her questions to protect her thesis.

CGI: In your biography, you speak about chronicling your culture through your art. Have you had to trigger people to act or participate with something you have created, and if so, what role has your culture played in this process?

LP: I created a piece halfway through my Masters Degree(for the 1st year masters program exhibition), and while I put it in the show, I felt it was unresolved.
I was very unhappy with it because normally I take years to plan a piece. I put it together in my head, and take it apart numerous times before I even start building it. So when I do start building, I already know what to do because I have imagined it, have been imagining it.
So coming here [to Emily Carr University], and being expected to create at a much faster pace was a difficult task. The wood from that unresolved project is still at my house, I plan to reassemble it in the future, but it let me know that in order to produce a graduation piece, I couldn’t just start from scratch.
I was working with storytelling and narrative for my thesis, and I knew I wanted to create a story – an imaginary myth, and I went through my past work and created a story that revolved around three works that were unresolved. These three pieces were based on different stories I had heard, and I had sketched them out, but they hadn’t gone anywhere until that point.

The three stories became three characters and as I kept writing, they started to feed back into the development of the artwork. The pieces shaped the artwork, but the artwork also shaped the pieces, to the point that triptych became so much more that I had originally imagined. At the graduation show, the work caught the attention of a curator who wanted me to show it at a gallery in Toronto, but I would have to find a way to tell the story along with the pieces.
At that point the story was far too long to have it as part of the artist’s statement, so I put my writing on my blog and created a QR code that would accompany the work, and people with a smart phone would be able to access the story. Not only was that a trigger to engage people with my work, but it also played with the concept of privileged knowledge, with some people being able to have the story, and others going without. The interpretation of the work would be different for those with access as opposed to those without.

CGI: How do you integrate storytelling, and the sharing of information, into your work?

LP: Because I was trained by a Master Carver who mostly does work related to traditional stories and myths, everything I do is based on a story.

CGI: A well-designed system as one in which feedback is given to the user to help them improve their performance, it tells people "when they are doing well, and when they are making mistakes."
As an artist, what role does feedback play in the planning of your projects? How do you let the viewer know they are correct in their interpretation of your work?

LP: I am thinking about this more in terms of criticism – it goes back to the fact that I take so long to imagine and construct a piece that once it is realized, my intentions are out there, and I can’t control how people interpret the work, but I can inform them.

I feel that with Native Art, people always expect you to tell them exactly what they are looking at, and the quickest answer, is to tell them exactly what they are looking at if you want that control over interpretation. I don’t like to do this, I like people to look at my work and imagine what they think it is, but what it comes down to sometimes is that people are scared to get it wrong, they don’t want to offend me, and so they are scared to imagine or interpret.

end part one.