Our final exhibition catalog is out now, available via Blurb for $25. Cover art by Becca Hall.
82 full color pages presenting each artist, interview, and all artwork we’ve hosted in the gallery for the years 2016 and 2017. Artists included: Kay Campbell, Berkley Warner Chappell, Julia March Crocetto, Sarah Eaton, Shiloh Gastello, Gordon Waverly Gilkey, Craig Goodworth, Paul James Gunn, Becca Hall, Yuji Hiratsuka, Robert Huck, Demetrios Jameson, Satpreet Kahlon, Christina Kemp, Colin Kippen, Erin Martinez, Sarah Gee Miller, Ryan Molenkamp, Kathryn Cellerini Moore, Jay Muhlin, Michelle Ramin, John Henry Rock, Nelson Sandgren, Ayumi Takahashi, and Emily Wobb.
Bukola Koiki is a mixed media artist working in Portland, Oregon. She is a graduate of the Applied Craft + Design MFA program at Oregon College of Art and Craft and Pacific Northwest College of Art. Bukola recently wrapped up her first solo show at the Portland Building, and is a current Project Manager at Scout Books. This interview is the fourth in a series conducted by OCAC thesis student Lindsay Costello.
Duplex: You were born in Lagos, Nigeria and moved to the States as a teenager. How did your upbringing help determine your path as an artist?
Bukola Koiki: I grew up in a bright and vibrant culture full of colors and patterns on everything from textiles to signage. Life has always been colorful. My parents were a bit bewildered about my artistic streak, since they championed a more pragmatic direction like medicine or law. However, through perseverance and a series of fortunate events involving a high school classmate and the American Visa Lottery, I was able to come to the U.S to live my dream. The grim reality of being an immigrant teenager was not easy or glamorous, but I think because I have lived through some dangerous and interesting times in Nigeria with my family, I have always been able to find my way through the various challenges I’ve encountered on my way to an artistic career.
Duplex: Your work explores cultural hybridity and dislocation, often through the use of paper, fiber and natural dyeing processes. How do these materials support your overarching themes? For instance, can you expand a little on your material choices in I Claim that Which Was Never Mine, where you made indigo-dyed geles (Nigerian head wraps) from Tyvek and canvas?
BK: Paper, textiles and yarn are all mediums that can be made to feel or look like other materials, and this adaptability is what makes them interesting to use in my work. For I Claim That Which Was Never Mine, I was exploring the idea that displaced people can claim parts of their cultures through the act of making and repetition. Specifically, I was investigating the rite of passage of learning to tie a head tie for traditional outfits for special occasions, a skill not learned at the feet of my mother or other elders. I used Tyvek and canvas as representations of the actual textiles used for Nigerian head ties (gele and aso oke respectively). This helped to further enhance the idea of dislocation I was exploring in this work. The Tyvek was especially resonant, since it’s this strange hybrid textile itself (neither paper nor cloth.) Through experimentation, I discovered that it can be dyed, though its hold on the dye is tenuous and eroded with time. I think that same uncertainty and tenuous hold is present in the lives of displaced persons of every kind.
Duplex: Your work often references wearables, seen in your use of the gele in Grow Where you are Planted and in the large-scale depiction of a traditional Nigerian necklace in An Aggregate of Power. Does your use of the wearable revolve around its connection to both personal and overarching identities?
BK: The things we wear are tied to intimacy, personality and in the case of the wearables I have featured, cultural signifiers and beliefs. The beads explore the concept of objects of power that confer protection and the concept of value beyond mediums of exchange. Beyond the reference to a specific culture or place, everyone can relate to wearable objects even when they are oversized because everyone has owned a wearable which has been a significant object in their life. I’ve found that that universality of feeling allows these works to engage viewers across sex, cultures or station.
Duplex: You sometimes create a video component for your pieces, such as in I Claim That Which Was Never Mine, but also in The Insecurity of Absence, where you created “prayer balls” for your family. How does the addition of video shift your perception of a finished piece? Is your goal to document the making process, highlight the laborious techniques involved, or perhaps to add additional layers of meaning?
BK: I started experimenting with video as a way of adding an extra layer of meaning to my work. The fact that video enhances and documents the process and labor involved in the work is also an added benefit. However, I am much more intrigued by the depth of emotion that can be revealed in a piece through video. The tone and tenor of a video can change depending on what angle it’s shot at, the lighting, or the speed at which it’s played. It’s a medium that I am still getting to know and understand but I see the impact of it in the work of artists like Carrie Mae Weems, Ann Hamilton, Wura-Natasha Ogunji and others. I hope to be able to create more video work that either stands alone or enhances other work I create.
Duplex: In August of last year, you installed JJC (Journey Just Come) in the Portland Building installation space. This piece explores pidgin, a simplified means of communication that develops between people without a language in common, through the lens of the immigrant experience of a new culture. This linguistic transition is illustrated through brightly colored flags with printed Pidgin English sayings, which the audience is invited to engage with by matching “game cards” with translations to the correct flag. How did you select the pidgin phrases to use for this piece? Are there any pidgin phrases that stick out as particularly interesting or impactful to you?
BK: The process of selecting the Pidgin English phrases was rather organic. I wrote down all the ones I could remember, consulted family members and even discovered a digital archive of Pidgin English phrases. The resulting thirty-something phrases that made up the installation eventually arranged themselves to reveal a story that paralleled my own journey and that of other immigrants: from bright-eyed dream to unglamorous but hopeful reality. My favorite pidgin phrase is “shine ya eye,” which is a phrase that can act as both warning or encouragement. The essential translation is “keep your eyes open” or “be street smart” – advice that is useful to any naive newcomer no matter the destination.
Duplex: On Oregon Public Broadcasting’s Think Out Loud, you described pidgin as a transactional language — one that helps navigate marketplaces and public spaces. What transaction were you hoping would occur between the viewer and the subject in JJC (Journey Just Come)?
BK: JJC (Journey Just Come) was installed in the lobby of a public building and I wanted to explore the deeper meaning of such lobby spaces as sites of transition, migration, and community, so it was important to connect with the viewing public. This was achieved through a game card that listed translations of the unfamiliar phrases and asked the viewer to match them to the right flag. Visitors were also invited to leave me English-based pidgin/Creole phrases and translations of their own in the provided comment book. I was really grateful to all the people who took the time to stop and engage with the work (I had almost 100 filled out game cards when the show ended) and all who came to the meet and greet and had stories about their own experiences of language barriers, cultural dislocation and friendships and connections made in spite of them.
Duplex: I’m interested in how you research and what your making process looks like. How does a piece move from idea to completion?
BK: Ideas come to me in many forms – they could be triggered by readings, conversations, or a walk down the street. I then take that kernel of an idea and generally, since my work explores the immigrant experience and liminal experience of living between worlds through various lenses (language, rites of passage, objects, etc), I read essays, papers, non-fiction and fiction works that help me explore these topics through various intellectual arguments. For instance, some of my favorite fiction authors are immigrants themselves from Nigeria and other countries: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Helen Oyeyemi, Jhumpa Lahiri, Nicole Dennis-Benn, Marjane Satrapi and more.
I then take what I’ve gleaned and make notes and sketches, and start material explorations that will eventually be used to create or inform the final objects and/or installation.
Duplex: You’ve done several residencies, at Rainmaker, c3: Initiative + Pulp and Deckle, and a group residency in the Museum Store Window at the Museum of Contemporary Craft. How does the residency process help your art practice? Have you gotten any particularly memorable feedback during these residencies?
BK: I have indeed been fortunate to participate in a few residencies and I’ve found that these residencies in particular were the perfect opportunity to focus on a particular skill I have always wanted to hone (like papermaking) or just allowed me the physical space to create a body of work. Each residency I had allowed me to be vulnerable – whether learning to pull sheets of paper and experimenting with what forms it can take a medium or meeting with visiting artists and curators as part of the Rainmaker Residency experience. Overall, I learned that while people will always have their own opinions about your work and bring their own experiences to their reading of your art and intentions, you have to see these criticisms and commentary as a means to allow your own biases to be challenged. It will either increase your conviction in your path or give you something else to think about.
Duplex: What local galleries or artists you look to for inspiration and guidance? Have you seen any shows that surprised or encouraged you lately?
BK: I try to visit the gallery row in the Pearl on First Thursdays or on weekends! Hap Gallery, PDX Contemporary, Upfor and all the galleries in the new PNCA building. I was lucky to meet and be mentored by some amazing local artists like Brenda Mallory, Crystal Schenk, and Jiseon Lee Isbara when I was in the Applied Craft + Design program and they still inspire my approach to an artistic work ethic and perseverance. I’m also discovering a kindred spirit in the work of Samantha Wall, whose beautiful and evocative paintings and drawings explore various subject matter including female and immigrant identities. The Portland Art Museum has been on a roll lately, and I enjoyed the Andy Warhol exhibit quite thoroughly! I was especially pleased to see so much of his work as a commercial illustrator for advertising and publications, because my undergraduate degree was in Communication Design, and advertising and graphic design (in which I worked in another life) will always hold interest for me.
Duplex: Research and experimentation play an active role in your artistic practice. What mediums inspire you outside of your own? Are there any new mediums you’re interested in adding to your work?
BK: I am a magpie, a sponge for information and I would haunt libraries and museums all the live-long day if I could. When I’m not checking out hardware stores for interesting materials to experiment with, I’m often daydreaming about being a metal worker. I did take welding classes, but truthfully, they were not for me. I was grateful to learn enough that I can now talk to a skilled worker intelligently if I ever need something fabricated. As far as new mediums, I would like to be better at drawing. It must sound strange to people that an artist can’t draw very well, but my work is usually explored through simple sketches, material exploration and maquettes if necessary. Drawing is a true skill, and while I don’t think figurative drawing is really my interest, I would love to be able to experiment with the forms, mediums and tools that can be used to create a drawing with powerful meaning.
Duplex: What’s next for you?
BK: Aside from trying to find a studio space, I will be working towards a showcase as part of the Window Project at PDX Contemporary this May! I’m truly honored to have been asked, and will be expanding on a previous body of work to fill the space. It will take all my ingenuity to complete this project without a studio space, but I hope that it will be worth it!
Photos and video courtesy of the artist and photographer Mario Gallucci.
Oregon College of Art and Craft MFA graduate Hannah Newman is a multimedia artist based in Portland, Oregon. She is an Artist-in-Residence at Rainmaker Artist Residency. This interview is the third in a series conducted by OCAC thesis student Lindsay Costello.
Duplex: How did your upbringing influence your path as an artist? Were your parents artists, or did you have a creative mentor growing up?
Hannah Newman: I didn’t think much about the arts, especially visual arts when I was young. My interest in pursuing visual art didn’t surface until I began my undergraduate degree and learned that art could encompass so much more than I had imagined. Looking at my upbringing, however, I can see many things that have lead me to this point, but two things really stand out:
First, I was home schooled for most of my life, which made me realize at a young age that any system (in this case attending a school) probably has alternatives and loopholes, and what new possibilities might exist if we consider engaging those systems in unexpected ways.
Second, I was a dedicated Irish dancer from elementary school until I graduated from high school. I think dancing gave me a high threshold for endurance, and even enjoyment, within a practice of monotony. Once a week we had drill class, where would practice each minuscule section of a dance 50-60 times in a row. My friends and I dreaded drill class, but it worked—repetition allowed you to learn through your body exactly how a dance should feel. A lot of my work now has repetition or boredom somehow built into it, like writing the iTunes Agreement by hand, or stenciling the phrase ‘one becomes accustomed so quickly’ on a piece of paper every day. Irish dancing taught me the value of repetition, discipline, and enacting a concept with your body, and I carry those values into my work now.
Duplex: Your work “examine[s] digital technology and language as intangible structures that mediate our interactions with others, the world, and ourselves.” How did your interest in the relationship between language and technology develop?
HN: It’s not something we generally consider, but language is also technology—just a much older, and much more internalized form of technology. Many of the worries people have raised about the possible effects of digital technology were present when both the alphabet, and later the printing press, came into widespread use. Socrates discouraged the use of written language for fear that people would no longer rely on their memories once they learned to write. Ultimately language and digital technologies are structures humans have developed to communicate with one another. So what can an old technology teach us about a new one and vice versa? Any technology, especially ones so widely adopted, teaches us about ourselves since we are the ones who have designed, developed, and adapted it. Thinking about technology is really just thinking about ourselves.
Duplex: What draws you to making language and digital technology more physical? For instance, in May 2015 you wrote the entire iTunes Agreement by hand, and later that year began responding to all of your emails with handwritten notes. How do you envision the viewer responding to the tangibility of these typically digitized things?
HN: Something I often think about in my work is how a familiar system, like language or digital technology, can be shifted to become something unfamiliar or unexpected. Both language and the digital are things we primarily think about interacting with mentally. Yes, your body may be holding a book so you can read, or your finger may be scrolling through Instagram, but primarily your mind is focused on digesting the information. It’s a mental engagement. By engaging with language or technology in a personal, physical, or relational way, I’m attempting to slow down the engagement and therefore draw attention to it. Language manifested physically on a large scale suddenly becomes a physical engagement that a viewer might have to walk around or move their body to read. In bringing technology and language into a physical realm and scale I’m also investigating boredom and patience. Having a body means dealing with inherent limits. Language and technology are often things we think about as limitless—what does it mean to place boundaries on those things through my body?
Always + Forever; ink, balloons. 2016.
Duplex: There is a hopeful feeling in some of your work, especially in your use of balloons in #livingwiththecloud, Always + Forever and Wonderlust. How do balloons push your overarching concepts? What do they evoke for you?
HN: As I move through ideas, my materials are chosen for the symbolic structure they can lend to my work. A lot of my recent work has utilized balloons as reference to celebrations. A common item for decorating for birthdays, anniversaries, or weddings, balloons denote momentous occasions in our lives. Balloons are a time-based medium, perhaps the most appropriate object for celebrations, not only marking when excitement is at its peak, but also visibly allowing us to watch a celebration come to an end and deflate as hours, days, and weeks pass—an apt visible display of human attention spans. In my work, balloons become a metaphor for our relationships with digital technology—first bright, shiny, and exciting, yet soon acquiring the characteristics of everyday life, as dirt and time dull their sleek perfection. In the last couple months I’ve been thinking a lot about how we fill balloons with our breath, yet they seem so empty. I’ve been sewing balloon-size bags, out of stiff, but transparent, fabric to evoke the sadness of old, forgotten balloons.
Duplex: Most recently you’ve been making work in .gif format. In one .gif, Brutality, the phrase “at a brutal pace” repeats over and over. Is this in reference to the repetitive and immediate nature of the .gif and of technology in general?
HN: I heard the phrase “at a brutal pace” a few months ago while flipping through radio stations. In context, the phrase was used in a conversation discussing the overwhelming amount of police brutality against black men in the U.S. I couldn’t get the phrase out of my head. It seems like the perfect language to describe this moment in relation to technology as well as the ongoing disposability of bodies, and more importantly lives, of black men. Advertising has always worked to make bodies disposable, and the internet only heightens the body’s disposability. In some ways the internet is the purest form of democracy. Every voice and story is heard, so no voice or story can be focused on, which allows the unaffected (in this case, white people) to become numb to the stories allowing violence to continue and perpetuating the cycle. Our relationship to technology matters because it affects and reflects our relationship to the people around us. The .gif Brutality attempts to both reflect and harness the numbness.
Duplex: You are currently a resident artist at Rainmaker in downtown Portland. How has taking part in that program influenced how you work? Do you have any patterns or practices that help enhance your productivity while there?
HN: I’ve been incredibly fortunate to share the residency with five amazing artists, who have been really supportive, not just in my practice, but as we all struggle to find new work/life/art balances. My fellow residents have an amazing energy for pushing out work. I don’t work very fast, so for me it’s motivating to see how fast they bring ideas to life. Working in an energetic environment pushes me to move concepts out of my head and into a tangible format more quickly than I would left to myself. My favorite stage of making is the idea part—working things out—so the accountability of having other people checking in to my studio to see what’s new keeps me moving. I often start my studio time by simply making a list of phrases or words that are on my mind. I choose one or two phrases from the list that seem most salient to the day and stencil the words on a piece of poster paper and hang it on the wall for a couple days. This practice helps me tangibly live with my thoughts to see what ideas have generative power and resonance.
Duplex: What local galleries or artists you look to for inspiration or guidance? Have you seen any particularly memorable shows lately?
HN: I loved Lutz Bacher’s show The Secret Garden at Yale Union. I spent a long time taking that show in. Each piece consisted of one single, often subtle, gesture that in some way changed your awareness of the space or context around you. One thing that’s been on my mind lately is the idea of confidence in your work—knowing and trusting your instinctual gestures. For me The Secret Garden completely encapsulated what it looks like when an artist is confident in themselves and their work. Even though each piece was so simple, there was an incredible confidence and strength behind each move.
On another note, I’m really excited to see what comes of both Hap and Upfor’s new digital platforms. I’ll be following those with a close eye.
Duplex: Reading and research play an active role in your artistic practice. What books are helping guide you lately? Do you also conduct research through other mediums, like film or podcasts?
HN: My reading ranges widely from classic MFA school texts like Species of Spaces by Georges Perec or Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino to pop-psychology books about technology, to children’s picture books. I love pulling a phrase out of context to see the weight it gathers on its own. Sometimes it’s not even reading, but rather a phrase from a conversation, someone’s Facebook status, an advertisement, or even recently a drawing I made was inspired by a comment from a yoga instructor I follow on YouTube. Language shapes our lives and thinking all the time, so research comes from everywhere whether I seek it out or not. Right now I’m working extensively with Thoreau’s Walden. Walden is a classic American text driven into our collective conscious about how we should, could, want to, interact with nature. I’m cutting, pasting, and altering selections of the text to make a piece called Cloud Monologue, in which the digital cloud is personified, recounting its own perspective on how humans and the digital might interact.
I have trouble retaining information through formats like podcasts and film, so those aren’t mediums I typically seek out for research unless something is specifically recommended to me. I often wish podcasts had transcripts! That being said, sometimes it’s a relief to cut some information out of my life, simply because I don’t enjoy the format. Being informed feels exhausting sometimes.
Duplex: What’s next for you?
HN: Right now I’m finishing the final details for a show I’m curating at Rainmaker Artist Gallery in March of Ben Skiba’s work. Then in May, I have a solo exhibition also at Rainmaker, followed by a two-person show with the artist Aimee Odum in July at GRIN, a contemporary gallery in Providence, RI. So things are busy, but with things that I’m really excited about. This is the dream, right?*
*Incidentally I think that will absolutely be my next studio poster: This is the dream, right?
We will continue updating the gallery guide and blog with artist interviews and related content.
THANK YOU for all you support and kindness!
P.S. Keep your eye out for our final exhibition catalog. The catalog is 70+ full color pages presenting each exhibiting artist, their interviews, and all artwork we’ve hosted at Duplex in 2016 and 2017. Artists included: Kay Campbell, Berkley Warner Chappell, Julia March Crocetto, Sarah Eaton, Shiloh Gastello, Gordon Waverly Gilkey, Craig Goodworth, Paul James Gunn, Becca Hall, Yuji Hiratsuka, Robert Huck, Demetrios Jameson, Satpreet Kahlon, Christina Kemp, Colin Kippen, Erin Martinez, Sarah Gee Miller, Ryan Molenkamp, Kathryn Cellerini Moore, Jay Muhlin, Michelle Ramin, John Henry Rock, Nelson Sandgren, Ayumi Takahashi, and Emily Wobb. This catalog, and all our past catalogs are available through Blurb.
We think of great design as art, not science, a mysterious gift from the gods, not something that results just from diligent and informed study. But if every designer understood more about the mathematics of attraction, the mechanics of affection, all design — from houses to cellphones to offices and cars — could both look good and be good for you. -Lance Hosey