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January 2018

~ Hard and Soft with Isabella Norris and Titus McBeath

Hard and Soft with Isabella Norris and Titus McBeath

Isabella Norris is a Chicago-born artist working intuitively with familiar forms. She tries to find instances where craft and technique can be subverted by intuition, chance, spirituality, color, and energies to create divergent organic forms. Norris is a recent graduate of Columbia University in New York City. You can find her on Instagram here or her website here.

From Findlay, Ohio, Titus McBeath is a recent graduate of the School of Visual Arts in New York City. McBeath’s work explores the relationship between manufacturing and the poetics of everyday consumerism. His serial objects take the form of 3D printed food and digitally sculpted corn chips, shown on small custom-built monitors that speak to his upbringing in the midwest, where the major exports are corn and manufacturing. You can check out more of his work on Instagram or his website.

Tyler Nicole Glenn (they/them) is a visual artist and writer based in Tampa, Florida. They are a recent graduate of the School of Visual Arts, where they received their BFA in Fine Arts with Honors. They’ve invited Isabella Norris and Titus McBeath to conduct an interview-style conversation before their work is featured in STP Group Show 3 at Pegasus Prints Gallery. You can find Tyler online through their Instagram or their website. 

TNG: How would you describe your practice?

IN: I’m anti-practice. I’m one of those people who is like, My “practice…” What does that even mean? One thing I do over and over is exploiting materially-driven techniques to find something organic and magical. I’m kind of a little factory. I make tons of units, making something different each time using the same process. Frankensteining processes and getting magic, that’s really what I’m looking for.

TM: I’m kind of the opposite. When I start something, I have a very set goal for what I want it to be. I’m driven to fulfill an end product. I pull from manufacturing culture, industrialism and Americana. Recently, (my practice) has taken the form of 3D printing and computer driven objects but I don’t want it to be limited to that.

IN: I do 3D printing too. A lot of CAD, a lot of Rhino, but it’s quite obscured.

TM: It’s cool that you’re using it differently. It’s not obviously 3D printing. A lot of 3D printing has a certain look to it. 

Titus McBeath, Mash (Pizza), 2019.
Titus Mcbeath, Mash (Pizza), 2019.

TNG: Do your backgrounds influence your work at all?

TM: Yeah, a lot. I pull from imagery and life experience I’ve had living and growing up in Ohio. I like to reference a lot of suburban culture; teen angst that has spun itself together into a perverted idea of the American dream. I’m looking at things our parents or grandparents took as the American dream [as a way of seeing] how our generation has interpreted it. I take that short lineage of American history and pull from a weird subset of midwest culture I’ve experienced first hand.

IN: I grew up in Chicago, and there’s a really strong, ingrained sense of local art community and place there. That created the mindset that I ended up bringing when I moved to New York and encountered different people who are making art. In Chicago, that community was very into making art for the artist. That has always stuck with me. 

Then my parents moved to Las Vegas. I love the desert. Being somebody not [originally] from the desert who wants to be from the desert has really affected my work. I spent a whole summer working in northern Nevada on a grant project. I love construction and moving Earth. My work can be primordial and indescribable in the same way that objects from the desert are.

TM: What do you think about Ugo Rondinone’s Seven Magic Mountains in Las Vegas?

(Source: sevenmagicmountains.com)
(Source: sevenmagicmountains.com)

IN: I love that piece. At first, it might seem a little strange, but when you go out there and stand with it, it’s completely magical. It corrals a lot of land art ideas, and says “there’s many different ways we can do this.”

TNG: When I first saw that piece, I was driving from Las Vegas to Los Angeles and was like, “Oh my god, we have to stop! What is going on here?” It really deserves to be a land piece. Photos of it and the smaller editions that you see at Art Fairs don’t really do it justice.

IN: It’s very majestic; you wonder how it was made. One of the things that I love to do is wonder how something was made.

TNG: Though you both use nearly opposing sculptural mediums, your bodies of work invoke a similar contrast in terms of softness and hardness. Could you speak about what this means in terms of your work?

IN: For me, it’s the balance of everything. I’m obsessed with hard and soft. It speaks to an equilibrium in nature that my work intuitively gravitates toward. A lot of the time, I’m working intuitively. I’m grabbing things, forming fabric onto hard things, and working with materials that have completely different molecular structures. There’s something natural about fusing hard and soft into one.

Isabella Norris, Star Mobile, 2019.
Isabella Norris, Star Mobile, 2019.

TM: Nature is already perfect, so I think referencing it is always a smart decision. When I think of hard and soft materials in my work, I think of technology and using crazy technological elements like stepper motors and Arduinos, then having those mimic organic form. The tension between hard and soft, that’s really beautiful.

IN: [Nature] mediates and gives structure. Structure, for both of us, is a big deal. With sculpture, it’s how you’re constructing the work at a basic level, but also from the making perspective.

Titus McBeath, Dorito, 2019.
Titus McBeath, Dorito, 2019.

TNG: Could you two tell me a bit about Group Show 3?

TM: It’s a little bit of a mystery. We know who’s in it, we just don’t know what work everybody’s putting in yet. I’m very honored to be doing a show with all these amazing artists. I also think it’s a bit of a survey of what’s happening in our generation. The artists in the show are of a generation that doesn’t get a voice usually. Most of us are right out of school, so I think it’s cool to get this opportunity.

IN: Yeah, me too. For all the same reasons, it’s just exciting. I do know it’s in a print shop named Pegasus Prints. I was in a couple of the  STP digital shows and it’s an honor to be in a real life show, especially in this age of digital shows.

TM: I was thinking about digital shows the other day. It doesn’t seem sustainable at all. I know it’s what we have to do right now, but there’s something about going to a physical space for a physical show that just doesn’t feel the same [when compared to] a digital space.

Isabella Norris, Black Star Quilt, 2020.
Isabella Norris, Black Star Quilt, 2020.

TNG: How did you get involved with Serving The People?

TM: I [first] got involved with the BFA Show . That’s how I got to know your work, Isabella. Just going through the artists and looking up all their work. Since then, I’ve become friends with Ben and LA, who are curating the show. The rest is history.

IN: Literally, the exact same for me. I just applied to the BFA Show. I was like, “Okay, I’ll just apply to the show. What’s the worst that could happen?” And it opened up a lot of doors to new friendships. It’s amazing that people were willing to make new friends last summer. I applied to a few more of their shows and now we’re here. It was like Titus said, the STP digital shows were a great way to see other artists from all over the world. The lovely thing was that it connected people. What was so unique to me about STP was that people were nice and wanted to meet up.

TM: I think that’s a rarity, and I’m glad that it’s happening more often now. Because we’ve been so cut off from physical interaction, people want to be in conversation more, so nice conversations happen more often, in a strange, roundabout way.

IN: Maybe people are more supportive. I’ve felt very supported by random people in the last couple months. It’s much appreciated.

TNG: Both of you received your undergraduate degrees during the pandemic. Has that changed any way that you conceptualize and create your work?

TM: It was such a letdown to get kicked out of the studio. I didn’t make anything for a few months during the first part of the lockdown. It was almost like school didn’t end. We had an online commencement and then they were like, “Okay, you’re done!” It’s been taking me a little while to actually feel like, “Alright, that part of my life is over with.” I had to leave some ideas back at school. It’s taking me a little while to get over graduating in the way we did.

IN: My school had a similar experience; abruptly ending. I was right in the middle of a lot of things that I was enjoying, so that was hard. Maybe I’m kind of sick for saying this, but it was like all the pressure from the end of my degree was alleviated. All these works I was thinking I was going to make, they became like “Okay, no one cares. Be healthy, be with your family, go home.” I didn’t really need to have this big shabang end of year thing. We kind of had one [big shabang] online that lingered into the summer with these digital shows, but I’m just now getting a studio. I liked the comfort of working at home, but at the end of the day, I need my home to be free of my work so I can rest.

TM: I enjoyed having a studio at school, but now I make all my work at home. It’s interesting that you like your home being free of your personal work. I find that I can never stop thinking about working, so I like it around me at all times. If I need to do something, I can just go over to the other corner of the room and work.

IN: My work is a little chaotic sometimes, and I’m also a crazy cleaner. My mom told me that Georgia O’Keeffe, before she could paint, had to clean every single drawer in her house. I really identify with that. I have to have a place that looks like a hotel room. Even though I’m spending all my time at work, transit, and in my studio, if I’m going back to my room at 11pm, I just want to get into my clean bed. 

Has my approach changed because of the pandemic? I don’t know yet. I’s too soon to tell. I’m sure it has in some very profound ways.

TM: Especially now, it’s easy to start making work in a vacuum where you’re just making work for yourself, by yourself. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Being in a community of people on the internet, like with the BFA show, that really helped me break out of my weird shell and see what other people are doing. I think it’s important to react to art that is being made by your peers.

Isabella Norris, Star 7, 2019.
Isabella Norris, Star 7, 2019.

TNG: How do you see your practice evolving moving forward? What are your goals?

TM: I hope to get a deeper understanding of why I’m making what I’m making. I have a version in my mind where I’m making this object because of XYZ [reasons]. I hope I can step back and understand it more. Maybe that will help with the flow of new ideas, or give me inspiration to use new materials.

IN: We get pigeon-holed on the trajectory that we’re on. It takes something for us to pause, look, and maybe redirect based on feeling, philosophy, or how we got there in the first place. Everyone should do that. 

This show also put my ass back to work. Honestly, just keep taking risks. That’s what I keep telling myself. In the next couple months, I will be a year out of undergrad (minus the pandemic interruption, where I also didn’t want to make work.) I was just trying to have fun, be sane, and safe. Every piece, for me, is about growth, and thinking a little bit harder about what I’m doing.

Titus McBeath, Mash (Watermelon), 2019.
Titus McBeath, Mash (Watermelon), 2019.

TNG: If you could give advice to a young artist or younger version of yourself, what would it be?

TM: If I could tell high school me, [someone who] was an art nerd and a very nervous person, it would be to seek out people who like your work and like hanging out with you. Find that support group and you’re already setting yourself up for success, whether that’s big or small.

IN: The most helpful thing to me is to find people who are outside of your community who you can learn from and experience the world with outside of college. Also, make sure you enjoy the process of your art. I’ve spoken to so many young artists who feel like they should be doing a certain kind of work that they don’t enjoy. It doesn’t make any sense, because you’re the main benefactor of what you’re making.

TM: Also, read about artists and work that you like as much as possible. That is something I wish I would have done more at a younger age. 

IN:  Research is so important. You don’t even have to try. It should be fun. I love just watching people on YouTube, especially artists. That’s one of my favorite things to do. You find out who the hell could make this kind of art, and what is going on in their head.

TM: I love that Art21 with Mike Kelly. He was just pulling stuff that he had stacked up in his studio out of drawers, telling short little stories, and laughing at his own jokes. It’s amazing.

Titus McBeath, Putting on the Miles, 2020.
Titus McBeath, Putting on the Miles, 2020.

Edited by Tyler Nicole Glenn

~ Paradoxe

Curated by Tyler Nicole Glenn

Low Hum
Low Hum
Tatiana Sky
Ceramic, live-bait dye, dirt, glitter, aquarium pump
2 x 1.6 x 2.3 inches
2020
Untitled
Untitled
Ly Harter
Gouache, acrylic, airbrush, stabilo pencil, and varnish on paper
18 x 24 inches
2019
Minotaur Sleepover
Minotaur Sleepover
Ly Harter
oil, graphite, and airbrush on canvas
44 x 34 inches
2019
"Harvest"
“Harvest”
Ly Harter
Acrylic, charcoal, and oil pastel on canvas
30 x 36 inches
2018
"Loveseat"
“Loveseat”
Erin Lingard
Steel, neon, transformer, fiberglass, volcanic bomb
60 x 56 x 68 inches
2020
"Stand-Alone Expansion Pack"
“Stand-Alone Expansion Pack”
Libbi Ponce
extruded polystyrene, urethane rigid pour foam, joint compound, wood, plaster, gesso, ink, gels, jb minute weld, gorilla super glue, acrylic, and cardboard.
120 x 180 x 180 inches
2020
(documentation by Nick Drain)
"Hoi An"
“Hoi An”
Bảo Ngô
Google maps, Photoshop, Macbook
26.3 x 17.6 inches
2020
"Hallstatt"
“Hallstatt”
Bảo Ngô
Google maps, Photoshop, Macbook
17.4 x 11.8 inches
2020
"Gjógv"
“Gjógv”
Bảo Ngô
Google maps, Photoshop, Macbook
15.1 x 9.5 inches
2020
"Dariganga"
“Dariganga”
Bảo Ngô
Google maps, Photoshop, Macbook
28.9 x 17.9 inches
2020
"Strays"
“Strays”
Amy Bravo
Acrylic and mixed media on un-stretched canvas.
52 x 70 inches
2020
"Meeting at the Watering Hole"
“Meeting at the Watering Hole”
Amy Bravo
Acrylic and wax pastel on canvas
Dimensions by request
2020

~ Machine Labor Intensive with Kaitlyn Jo Smith + Genevieve Goffman 

Machine Labor Intensive with Kaitlyn Jo Smith + Genevieve Goffman

Kaitlyn Jo Smith is an interdisciplinary artist focused on the present and future trajectories of America’s working class. Raised by skilled laborers in rural Ohio, Smith was thirteen when the housing market crashed and nearly every adult she knew was suddenly out of work. Her artworks render visible the intangible realities of unemployment by utilizing automation, machine learning, and 3D scanning and printing. These technologies are directly linked to the loss of over 4 million US manufacturing jobs since 2000. Her work has been featured in PDNedu and Don’t Smile Magazine and has shown at the Tucson Museum of Art and Museum of Contemporary Art in Tucson, Arizona, Manifest Gallery in Cincinnati, Ohio, Flower City Arts Center in Rochester, New York, Harry Wood Gallery in Tempe, Arizona and CO-OPt Gallery in Lubbock, Texas. You could find more of her work on her Website and Instagram.

Genevieve Goffman (b. 1991, Washington, D.C.) based in Brooklyn, NY. Her work focuses on utopic thinking, the memories and potential futures of communism, the intersection of technology, class, and luxury, and the history of nuclear science and radiation. Goffman earned her MFA in sculpture from Yale in 2020. Recent solo exhibitions include Redwall, But For Your Dead Pets Only, Catbox Contemporary, Queens, NY, 2019; Hotel Heaven, Lubov, New York, NY, 2019; she has also shown work with Gallery 102 in Berlin, EXILE in Vienna, Austria, and Workroom. Daipyat in Voronezh, Russia. An upcoming 2020 solo show at Money Gallery in Saint Petersburg, Russia is anticipated. You could find more of her work through her Website and Instagram.

Tyler Nicole Glenn (they/them) is a visual artist and writer based in Tampa, Florida. They are a recent graduate of the School of Visual Arts, where they received their BFA in Fine Arts with Honors. They’ve invited Kaitlyn Jo Smith and Genevieve Goffman to conduct an interview-style “studio visit” to introduce them as recently graduated artists working beyond the expectations of their respective mediums. Their goals are to expand the notion of what is classified as “art” and connect other people to like-minded creators. You can find them online through their Instagram or their website.

Tyler Nicole Glenn: How would you describe your practice?

Kaitlyn Jo Smith: My work deals primarily with 3D printing, AI, computer learning, video, and photo. 

Genevieve Goffman: My work starts in the digital space. 3-D printing is the second step. It’s  about creating things that are intangible and making them tangible through newer printing technologies. 3-D printing is one I lean on a lot, as well as printing on acrylic, different fabrics, plexi, and stuff like that. It’s about bringing the virtual and memory into an object you can see in real space.

KJS: I’m using 3-D printing in the exact opposite way. I’m physically out in the world collecting objects and broken relics of what I deem to be the height of the American Dream. 3-D printing is a way to make these broken objects precious. If you make enough copies of anything, the original becomes a hyper-precious object. 3-D printing has turned into an assembly line where broken objects mean nothing unless you’re making them mean something.

GG: When I started making work, I kept thinking about the idea of there being so much stuff; so much history, so many objects, so many sculptures. A joke that no one thinks is funny; whenever (my friends) invite me to a gallery in New York I go, “oh there are too many art galleries here! There are so many of them!” That’s how I feel about everything. 

It’s interesting to give someone a (printed) object when the only thing they know about 3-D printing is it can be reproduced into a replica. How people react to that is very bizarre. For some people it’s intriguing and for other people it’s incredibly upsetting. It’s like they haven’t gotten over the Industrial Revolution. The idea of reproducibility is something they haven’t moved past. I think it’s a very effective tool to use in art because it does have this effect on people. I think everyone has this fear that we’re slowly being encroached on by the amount of stuff that there is- data on the internet or actual physical objects.

Genevieve Goffman, Monument to a Hot Dead King (Waterfall), 2020
Genevieve Goffman, Monument to a Hot Dead King (Waterfall), 2020

KJS: Everything has (already) been photographed at this point, so I started veering into a more sculptural realm. Reproducibility is interesting. From a photo perspective, it’s never really an issue because a photograph is something that you reproduce. It’s not a one-off, like a sculpture or a painting. 

It made sense to me because my work deals with factory work being harder and harder to come by because of machines. The core of why I love 3-D printing is that I can recreate what a factory is. Some people are like “This isn’t art. It feels gimmicky. You can just click and it goes.” For me, that’s what I love (about it). I am talking about the assembly line.

GG: People see it as this cheap reproducible thing lacking in labor, when in fact it is a representation of a very specific kind of labor that has made up a lot of modernity; machine labor. Some artists will dismiss it as somehow being the absence of material, because they see plastic. I don’t work much with PLA anymore, but I do have a fondness for it. One of my one of my favorite pieces in the show I just had is PLA. They saw it as devoid of meaning because it isn’t one of the art materials that has specific, structured meaning behind it. Material that represents mass production, isn’t that the most potent thing you could think of?

Genevieve Goffman, The Station After (Pearl), 2020
Genevieve Goffman, The Station After (Pearl), 2020

KJS: I had the same pushback as you. How do you talk about factory work in a way that isn’t dealing with the multiples? One of the first studio visits I had, I remember a professor being like, “I’ve never seen this (material) not look cheap and not look like a toy and not look like something from Comic-Con.” I don’t think he was necessarily saying “don’t do it.” I love that challenge about it. Working with a newer medium that hasn’t really broken into the fine art world, it’s very exciting to be on the forefront of that. What better way to talk about consumerism and capitalism than with cheap material; taking something that feels cheap and embracing its cheapness. 

GG: The charm of 3-D printing is that it’s flawed. If you do everything exactly right, you can just press a button and hit go. For me, 75% of the time, it totally fucks up. The technology has been around for a long time, but because it’s so weird to work with it stays novel. The people who use it are gamers, both video game designers and tabletop gamers. Because I use fantasy in my work, those are also the kind of people who like my work. Our (work) should be referencing these hyper-contemporary things, or it should be referencing tabletop gaming, or it should be referencing the death of the factory. I’m curious, could you give some examples of the broken objects from factories you talked about?, 

KJS: My dad worked at a toilet factory my whole life. I was 13 when the housing bubble crashed. When that happened, any sort of factory dealing with home goods or remodeling went under. I grew up in a town of 800 people. When that factory (closed down), everyone in my family lost their jobs. I was young enough to not know what was going on but old enough to feel the effects.

My first Thanksgiving in grad school, I went home and really wanted to photograph the factory. It’s an interesting place. There’s one building still standing, one half-demolished building, and the rest is totally flattened. This is when I was transitioning from photos into something more sculptural. While I was taking pictures, My dad was picking up shards of broken toilets. They didn’t clear any merchandise when they totaled the building, so there were hunks of broken porcelain that meant absolutely nothing, but that everyone in my family had, at some point,  touched. That factory had been there since the 1800s. We gathered all of (the broken porcelain shards), shipped them out to Arizona, and sat and looked at them. 

I was editing through the pictures, and they’re good photographs, but it didn’t make sense to not have the materiality. I started by 3-D scanning all of (the broken porcelain shards) and learned to print them. Suddenly, these broken objects that meant so much to me but meant nothing to anyone else, now had value. 

How can we talk about the value of a community and of a space through broken toilet parts? What I ended up using for my thesis was one specific handle; the only one of the broken porcelain that looks like it is something. I reproduced it 300 times and turned it into a sculpture that’s lit from within. When the lights are on, you can see the infrastructure of all the handles. The original handle is standing on a podium above it. To me, it’s about how manual labor is the way people provide for their families, especially in rural Middle America, compared to the hundreds of replicas that are machine made. These objects tell the story of this group of people who are oftentimes overlooked in art. I’m interested in bringing the working class into the gallery space. The push and pull between rural and urban is interesting to me too, because (most) galleries exist in an urban setting.

GG: Wealth, of course, is always going to determine what is bought and sold in a place like New York. At the same time, where does culture come from? Culture is  appropriated from below and then conditioned through wealth.

A lot of the subjects I deal with are not normal pop culture, but pop culture that’s on the fringe. Anime, but also bringing online culture into a contemporary art space. It’s hard to see that happen without that thing becoming a fetishization of those cultures. Giving a window to someone else to observe is something you have to live with if you’re doing this process of translation, communication, and representation. It’s interesting to step back and watch it happen. When you talk to people about this stuff, they are very ready to have these conversations and be present with it. I feel lucky to have met a lot of curators who are legitimately interested in my bizarre internet and fantasy obsessions. It’s about finding those people who are willing to actually be like, “I like your work for what it is, not necessarily what it represents, but I’m willing to sit down and talk to you about the story behind it.”

KJS: Those are the conversations that need to happen! This happens all the time,  people will drive through a dilapidated rural town, take a couple pictures, then post them on the wall and sell them for a bunch of money. That drives me nuts! Whatever you make art about, if you are making something from a place of understanding and because you care about it, then those conversations can happen. That’s an important place to be creating from. It’s time for internet art to be in the forefront in a gallery space! It’s time for the rural voice to exist in there! If this year has taught us anything, it’s that we have to view the gallery space differently. People can’t go see things anymore. You have to be open to different kinds of art; not necessarily the huge painting or sculpture that sits in the middle, looks really nice in the window, and brings people in from off the street.

Kaitlyn Jo Smith, Shuttered (video still), 2019
Kaitlyn Jo Smith, Shuttered (video still), 2019

TNG: Who are some of your influences?

GG: I pull from fantasy novels, anime, and angry teen girls on the internet. In terms of artists I admire, I always say Kanye West. He is probably one of the greatest musicians living and I like that it ruffles feathers. My friend Emma Pryde makes really beautiful art also. One of the things I liked about going to grad school was that my peer group happened to be 10 other very strong artists. When I’m not drawing from this more Internet, fantasy realm, I’m looking at historical documentation and at artists that have worked in data collection and research based practices. 

Genevieve Goffman, The Station Manager is a Chimera, 2020
Genevieve Goffman, The Station Manager is a Chimera, 2020

KJS: The things that have inspired me the most over the past year would be two books. Andrew Yang’s book, which I cannot recommend enough, The War on Normal People. Then, this book by Nancy Eisenberg called White Trash. Two of my favorite artists of all time are Christian Boltanski and Odette England. Those are two artists that I am always coming back to.

TNG: How did you feel about your MFA program in general? 

GG:  At Yale, I think it depends on which of the schools you go to. It’s split, and there is not a lot of actual overlap in the core classes. They had completely different social and educational cultures. There was also intense emphasis on classical sculpting techniques. I had a really hard time there. I will say that we had amazing visiting artists that would come in routinely, like Kevin BeasleyAjay Curien,and Leslie Dick. They are amazing people and it was worth it to meet people like that.

I don’t get along with most people, but I loved everyone in my program. They were all incredibly talented. If I were a curator, I would be really excited to work with any one of these people because they would turn out something incredibly unique.

Another thing about Yale is you have the best young art historians in the country. You have amazing access to intellectuals and additional support in a way you wouldn’t necessarily have at a different university.

I think when everyone first got there we had this kind of imposter syndrome. I didn’t go to art school in undergrad, so I felt like I faked my way in and was pretending to be an artist. You have to stop thinking that way. I do think (Yale) offers this level of legitimacy to other people but also to yourself.

KJS: I could not say enough wonderful things about the school that I ended up going to. It is incredibly interdisciplinary. You can work with any of the faculty that you want. Tucson is not a huge city by any means, but it’s this amazing photo hub. If you’re going to study photography, being in the desert is the perfect place to do so because the light is always perfect. We have access to the Center for Creative Photography founded by Ansel Adams. They are always bringing in great scholars.

I applied to all of the top schools that weren’t in New York City. I grew up in a town of 800 people. I do love living in a city but I couldn’t do (New York). U of A was perfect. It’s  in this really nice spot- only a seven hour drive to LA, so a lot of artists that can’t afford to be based in LA live in Arizona.

The imposter syndrome thing is real. When I got here I was like, “this is a giant mistake.” I originally wanted to take four or five years in-between undergrad and grad school, but all my professors told me “you should start applying now. You probably won’t get in, but at least people can look at your portfolio.” After one year of being out of school I applied to my top schools and got a call a month later that (U of A) wanted me. I was not prepared to move my entire life across the country at all but I was like, “okay this is what we’re doing.” 

(A three year grad program) was really nice because you have the entire first year to play and experiment. The photo program is intense, but having that extra first year was amazing because they truly just want you to dabble in other mediums, meet other people, play, fail, and figure that out. By the time thesis year came around, I knew what I was doing. 

Kaitlyn Jo Smith, In Mass, 2019
Kaitlyn Jo Smith, In Mass, 2019

TNG: Would you recommend that young artists go straight into an MFA or wait a bit? 

KJS: It totally depends. I knew I wanted to go to grad school when I was an undergrad. I’d asked all my professors, and 50% of them said, “you have to wait, you have no life experience,” and then the other 50% of them said “if you know you want to do it, just do it.” I thought I wouldn’t get into grad school and got in. I don’t think there’s any right or wrong way to do it.

GG: I live in New York. There are hundreds of artists here who were those kids who were good at drawing, then went to Cooper Union, then went to Yale MFA, and now they’re painters. They took route, but I don’t think that is where all of the best artists come from. 

I am of the belief that people probably shouldn’t be going to grad school until they’re at least over 27. The fact that there are people who are going to grad school so young is creating a weird thing in our country where you have to go to grad school to be successful in certain fields. Grad school traditionally was for people who specifically wanted to teach in a certain medium or study something in a very specific way. Now it’s becoming this second step that everyone wants to do. People just want to get it out of the way. I hate that for education and I hate that for art. 

I was in grad school with people who had just finished Yale or Harvard and they felt pressure to immediately get their PhD in art history.

People don’t know exactly what they want to do when they’re 22, or the best ways to do it. Go do something fun and then go to grad school. Have a job that sucks and go get drunk every night. It personally makes me a little upset when I see people who are very young going into their second degree. It kind of shapes your life in a way, and it also sets a precedent that people should be trying to do that. I know a lot of successful artists who have never been to grad school.

Honestly, if you want to teach then you should go to grad school, and you should try to do it sooner rather than later. The reason I went is because I was isolated from the art world. I knew that I wanted to participate in it and I knew I wanted to start showing in New York. It took me a long time to figure out that’s what I wanted.

Genevieve Goffman, The Mining Incident (Magenta), 2020
Genevieve Goffman, The Mining Incident (Magenta), 2020

TNG: How was your experience doing residencies?

KJS:  It’s been so long since that’s even been on the radar just because of the way the world is. Anderson Ranch was the last thing that I did. Anytime I’ve done a residency, I’ve always really enjoyed it. I’ve never done any for more than a couple of weeks. 

I haven’t really been applying because a lot of residences aren’t happening and so many galleries are just online exhibitions. Everything is just so weird right now, it feels like a whole ‘nother lifetime when I would go to residences and do those things. 

Hands down, I think you should do (a residency) if you have the means. If you’re in between jobs, do teaching gigs or shows. It’s a great opportunity. You meet and learn from so many wonderful people you would never have otherwise, and most of those places offer scholarships.

GG: I’ve only ever done one full residency and it was in Berlin. It was great for me because my work looks at points of political upheaval. I’m especially interested in the Cold War and the tension between socialism, communism, fascism and capitalism. 

You do meet amazing people. I met my boyfriend while I was there and being there is what made me decide to go to grad school. The conversations I had with the academics were the most interesting conversations that I had ever had. The reason I decided to go to grad school in the first place was so I could keep having conversations like that. 

Residencies take a lot of energy to apply to. It’s an incredibly grueling process. It feels hard to make oneself go through that right now, given how uncertain things are. 

KJS: So much of art is applying, getting nothing till you get one thing and it’s exciting. Under normal circumstances, I have the ability to take rejection like nobody’s business. Normally it’s fine but right now I don’t think I’m in a place where I can handle being turned down. 

I feel like this is a bad time to have emerged into the professional world. I’ve been in school for so long at this point that I’m like, is this what leaving grad school is like 

for everyone? Or is this just because of the time in history when I left? 

GG: I do think there is something very fucked up about leaving grad school, especially for artists. For a lot of people it’s leaving the studio. That can be hard for people who depend on having one. You’re also leaving this community of people who aren’t going to tell you to shut the fuck up if you try to talk about the things you care about. A lot of times, it involves moving away. That was hard for me; suddenly being somewhere my closest friends weren’t.

Getting work is much harder now. Teaching opportunities are weirder. For the first time in a very long time, there are less women employed than there are men in the United States. Take from that way you will, I’m not making a value judgment on this. One of the reasons is because a lot of women have quit their jobs to go home to take care of kids who are now not in school because of COVID. We are living in really fucking weird times.

 Kaitlyn Jo Smith, Campaign (video still), 2018
Kaitlyn Jo Smith, Campaign (video still), 2018

~ Reclaiming ‘Bimbo’ with Biz Sherbert and Carol Li 

Reclaiming ‘Bimbo’ with Biz Sherbert and Carol Li

Biz Sherbert is a writer who focuses on fashion theory and history. She is also the creator of the Bimbo Theory Book Club. Much of her latest work follows Gen Z online-based aesthetics and subcultures.  She graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology with a BA in Art History. You can find more of her work on Instagram and her website.

Carol Li is a multidisciplinary artist and writer from New York. She works with themes of collection, image-hoarding, and treasure through sculptors and jewelry making. She holds a BFA in Visual and Critical Studies from the School of Visual Arts and is currently a resident of SPUR.world, exploring avatar-building and extensions of online personas. You can find her work on carol-li.com and jankyjewels.store, and lurk through her social media at @bamboo_killer and@janky_jewels on Instagram. 

Tyler Nicole Glenn (they/them) is a visual artist and writer based in Tampa, Florida. They are a recent graduate of the School of Visual Arts, where they received their BFA in Fine Arts with Honors. They’ve invited Sherbert and Li to conduct an interview-style “studio visit” to foster community through virtual space. Their goals are to expand the notion of what is classified as “art” and connect other people to like-minded creators. You can find them online through their Instagram or their website.

Tyler Nicole Glenn: What experiences influenced your trajectory and brought you where you are today? 

Carol Li: As cliche as it is, growing up in New York has really shaped the way I operate in my jewelry and other studio practice. A lot of it is inspired by landscapes that exist in New York. For example, my silicone sculptures are inspired by Chinatown basement malls. All the objects and trinkets from when I started making jewelry are just toys that I found in the claw machines. I was taking apart toys from the claw machines and quarter machines outside the laundromat. Those are important landmarks that follow me and are a big influence on how I work and look at creation. 

Janky Jewels by Carol Li
Janky Jewels by Carol Li

And of course, the Internet. Just having been on the Internet since I was 6 years old, I was viewing a lot of the Internet imagery parallel to the way that people view religious imagery. They hold this sort of magic to it. A lot of it is recognizable, in a way that transcends religion.

Biz Sherbert: So for a lot of my life I was trudging through the mud. I was a very confused person. In college, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I didn’t feel like I was an artist and I didn’t feel like I was a writer. I didn’t feel like I was anything. I’ve always been very observant and found a lot of joy and nuance in the way people dressed.

Then I started studying art history. FIT has a really cool museum, the only strictly fashion museum in New York. I was exposed to fashion theory and history through the museum and a really cool group of academics and scholars that work there.

I was thinking about fashion all the time but I didn’t understand what to do with those thoughts. Then I started getting into Mark Fisher, and thinking about fashion criticism in a different way. Especially how it relates to the economy and culture. I started seeing fashion as a way to assess, analyze, and critique the effects of neoliberalism. That was when things started to click for me. 

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TNG:  Biz, in your book club, Bimbo Theory Book Club, what kind of books have you been reading? Is it more theory-driven or narrative driven? 

BS: Well, I put her on a big hiatus a couple months ago. I felt like there were other things to focus on. 

A good place for people to start with about fashion in a more critical way is Anne Hollander. That’s the OG. She’s an amazing fashion historian and theorist. We read Seeing Through Clothes which is a massive book that changed my life. The rest of it is rare fashion history or fashion theory pdfs. It’s more of a resource than an active dialogue right now, but it has been really fun and cool! 

CL: There was one quote I remember racking my brain on. 

BS: Was it the Renee Barts one? “If dress is a social form, as surrogate for the body, it also partakes of the body’s relation to psyche and form. As a surrogate for the body, it also partakes of the body’s relation to psyche and desire. 

Clothing is a compound medium and critical axis of the social (law), the sexual (fantasy), the figural (representation) and the individual (will and desire)” 

CL: It really reminded me of something that I was working on for a paper. Angela McRobbie writes about disguise as a form of protection and a way of getting what you want. 

“The new masquerade draws attention self-consciously to its own crafting and performance, and this space of reflexivity is also suggestive of deep ambivalence. The post-feminist masquerade is a knowing strategy which emphasizes its non-coercive status, it is a highly styled disguise of womanliness now adopted as a matter of personal choice. But the theatricality of the masquerade, the silly hat, the too short skirt, are once again means of emphasizing, as they did in classic Hollywood comedies, female vulnerability, fragility, uncertainty and the little girl’s “desire to be desired.” 

TNG: Who are your influences?

BS: My influences are Mark Fisher, Anne Hollander, and Tansy Hoskins. [Hoskins] writes about fashion culture through a Marxist lens. On a visual level, I’m really inspired by two of my friends. One of them, my friend Win. Then, my friend Riley Hanson, who is a painter. 

CL: Hannah Levy does really awesome silicone pieces. I went to see her show and she is a master at what she does. Donna Harraway and Angela McRobbie are the women I read and live by. Harraway writes a lot about cyborg feminism and I always translate that back and forth in my work. Online, one of my favorite people to look at is a friend of mine, Ali Bonfils. Her work is sort of gaudy. It’s uncanny but it’s also really beautiful, magical, and wonderland-ish. 

In real life, my dad’s a jeweler so I grew up watching him make jewelry. He makes wedding rings and really pretty dainty necklaces. I think that I’m most inspired by his setup and his ethic. It’s also the way he talks about and looks at jewelry. It really reflects how I operate. 

BS: That’s a great one. I feel like parents are big on our lives. 

CL: We didn’t have that great of a relationship until I started making jewelry. It’s a really funny relationship that we have now. 

BS: It’s a craft and praxis based relationship! 

CL: Yeah! He sometimes has a hard time understanding because it’s very kitschy and it’s mostly costume jewelry, but I think he understands the appeal there. He didn’t really start taking me seriously until I started making money from it. 

When you’re growing up you never want to be like your parents, so it was never something that I was interested in, but my first job was making jewelry for this company at one of those Chelsea Market places. I started selling vintage jewelry and then I started making jewelry for other designers. It was something that kept falling into my lap. At a certain point, I was like ‘maybe the universe is trying to hint something to me.’ I kept doing it because it is something I’m good at, and of course, I love it.

Janky Jewels by Carol Li
Janky Jewels by Carol Li

TNG: So you both are recent grads. Did you have a peer group in your institution who were exploring these concepts with you? Did your professors get what you were trying to say when you would speak to them about these things? 

BS: The short answer is, not really. But it was kind of my own fault because I was really shy in school. My peers were more interested in traditional art history mediums and they weren’t that into relating that to fashion or pop culture. The only people I was really able to explore these concepts with were people I met online. That was really big for me! The professors I worked with were great, and a huge influence on the way I think. I would roughly explain what I was [doing] to them every once in a while. I think they were really interested in hearing my voice but because this was a field that I was so unfamiliar with because of its limited size and scope, I didn’t feel very confident expressing ideas. 

CL: I have a similar experience! I was also very shy but only inside of school. I don’t consider myself a shy person. I think I was insecure about where I stood academically and how my interests aligned. I never felt quite as smart as people I went to school with. I think every school and department has its flaws, strengths, and weaknesses. My school’s department tried really hard to move forward in this new way of educating and teaching, but the art history references and art criteria were still very antiquated. I wouldn’t say I got a lot from school, if I’m being completely honest. 

It was through the Internet and Biz’s Bimbo Theory Book Club that I was met with a successful peer group. I asked a question really relevant to my thesis and I got a lot of good feedback. 

BS: Oh my god! Yes! That really was the moment I felt very connected to that project. 

CL: It was really really amazing for me because I was struggling so hard just talking to my professors! They were really understanding. Like, at least they were trying. It was speaking to a specific culture that you can’t even begin to understand unless you’re immersed in it. How do you explain “I’m baby” to a middle-aged man? 

BS: They don’t know how to talk about Gen Z Culture!

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CL: Yeah! They don’t have a lot of knowledge on the theory and the cultural critique behind it. It was really interesting being in a forum with like-minded people because I tried posting it on Reddit and it got taken down byr/feminism. 

BS: I was so amazed about how people were going off in response to that prompt. That probably boosted your confidence to know that people were like ‘yes this is a thing that’s happening and here’s how it affects my life and here’s how I perpetuate it.’ 

CL: I also personally felt a lot of shame through perpetuating this “I’m baby;” infantilizing myself. I felt like I was being anti-woman for a really long time. When I asked the questions at the book club, the responses came in quickly and people were giving really in-depth responses! It was just something you never get at school! There wasn’t much conversation between me and my peers at school. Everybody stuck to their own little nook. 

TNG: Do you believe there’s power in self-infantilization; “I’m baby,” culture? 

CL: While it’s easy to say no, it’s harder to say yes, and then no. Angela McRobbie talks really in-depth about how we’re entering a cultural domain where if you walk into a workspace you will see women working in the same caliber as men. That threatens a lot of men. McRobbie talks about using one’s femininity as persuasion and protection. Making yourself seem weaker, more infantile, a little ditzy in order to save yourself from men. Men are more likely to be kinder because they feel they’re in control. It’s a form of taking control in a very covert way. 

We’re seeing a moment where a lot of young women are using straight cis men’s obsession with the infantile to get money, to get jobs. I think there’s power in that but there’s only power in that if you decide you are okay with being treated like you’re subservient. Too often we see people being pushed and pressured into this realm of sex-positivity when they’re not comfortable with that. If you’re not comfortable with it, then it really demolishes the entire premise of reclaiming the power. Power doesn’t necessarily mean you are obviously on top. Historically, the real power is always behind the scenes. It’s a complicated answer that is not one-size-fits-all. 

BS: I really like what you just said about people feeling they have to be sex-positive rather than being sex-neutral or sex critical. 

Mixed-Media Sculpture by Carol Li
Mixed-Media Sculpture by Carol Li

CL: Elaine Showalter talks about this thing called a three-phase taxonomy within feminism. Neoliberalism is third-phase feminism, disguised as progressivism. It describes the moral responsibility that many women feel to enter traditionally male-dominated spaces and opportunities. Right now we’re in the land of sex-positivity which is great but also really hard on a lot of teenage girls that feel this is the rite of passage. That’s not necessarily a passage for everyone. Growing up, I was feeling a lot of pressure to be sexually active to participate in the sex-positivity but I was fifteen. It’s really different now where I’m a lot older and I feel a lot more comfortable. But 15-year-olds should not be — 

BS: Encouraged to pursue sexual pleasure with no critical thought about the potential emotional or physical consequences. That’s how I very much feel as well. 

CL: It’s really what gives you peace of mind. 

BS: Peace of mind is really important. I don’t think its discussed enough when people talk about sex-positivity, body-positivity, and self-care. Self-criticism is very normal and can lead you to a place where you have peace of mind. 

CL: Precisely! Something I forgot to bring up is that sometimes self-infantilization can be pointless if you’re just constantly perceived as infantile. I’m a very small person and I don’t necessarily have the choice of whether or not to be infantilized. That was sort of where my research began- when I decided I would succumb to this oppression. Regardless, I will feel like a baby no matter what. With the choice to self-infantilize, you’re at least reclaiming it and using it to your fullest advantage. Otherwise, I’m just letting ‘them’ take, with no reward. I’m usually very certain when [the reason] a man is into me because I’m a small Asian woman. It used to bother me, only because I thought it should. That’s really difficult to admit. It’s shameful, but the best way to have peace of mind is knowing that it is my choice to self-infantilize. 

If you’ve read Lolita, Lolita, in some instances, chooses to participate. There’s one incident where Lolita wants her allowance and Humbert won’t give it to her. She uses her ‘babyness’ to get her allowance. It’s that moment where she realizes she still has power over the situation. She could either be upset that he holds this power over her and not get her allowance or she can suck it up a little, partake in the fantasy and get a little something for herself. 

TNG: “I’m baby,” as a cultural phenomenon, is sort of passé in the digital space but has left an undeniable impact. Do you think anything else, past or present, comes close to that? 

CL: Incel culture. 

BS: Yes! That’s something I think about all the time. I joke about being an incel advocate but there’s truth to it. 

If you’re going to support a departure from capitalism, you need to realize that downwardly mobile white men deserve access to resources that they’ve also been denied. It’s a fallacy to try to exclude them from this vision of the future where people have access to things that make our lives much more livable and pleasurable. Mainstream media has portrayed incel culture as a symptom of incurable derangement. I don’t think that’s true. In a lot of ways, it’s a product of late-stage neoliberal capitalism. 

Just thinking about fashion, Gen Z’s influence via online fashion is massive. I’ve seen cottagecore and dark academia, which are trends that started on Tik Tok with teenagers showing up in trend reports from big trend forecasting companies. I think that the e-girl/e-boy thing really reached a level of cultural notoriety. It broke the glass ceiling. After that, we realized Gen Z was in control of fashion and culture. 

TNG: What kind of styles do you like to wear? And are there any styles you hate? 

CL: My style really makes no sense. I dress like a slutty grandma who is really into the early 2000s. Right now I’m really into pre-craftcore which is just different layers in clothing. I don’t know if I hate styles. I’m not a big fan of e-girl culture and e-boy culture, but I don’t know if I hate it. I am starting to get a little sick of sexy Willy Wonka. 

BS: Mismatching to the extreme.

CL: I think I’ve had enough of it. 

BS: I feel like it takes a lot of effort for the average consumer to understand, which is inherently pretentious. Would you say it’s avant-garde like Brandy Melville? 

CL: One could say! I actually really love Brandy Melville. I think I think they’re kind of geniuses, filling the void that American Apparel left. 

BS: I love American Apparel. Their influence on fashion and aesthetics is underrated. 

CL: They set the foundation of what Cafe Forgot tries to do. It’s using the influence of Tumblr models to promote their clothes that otherwise probably wouldn’t sell. 

BS: I don’t like boho fashion that much even though I do indulge occasionally. I think it’s bad for the culture. I like American Apparel pre-2013. I also like corsetry and I love clothes from the 1940s. I like a full 19th-century get-up. I think about how clothing has changed and how that relates to women’s role in society. There’s this great quote from Valerie Steele, the Director of the Museum at FIT. “The external corset was replaced by the internal corset; diet, exercise, and plastic surgery.” I’m obsessed with undergarments of antiquity. 

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TNG: Nostalgia fuels so much of what we consume culturally, from movies to fashion to food. Do you find this to be positive or negative? 

BS: Short answer, bad. Nostalgia is the dominant influence on almost every part of our culture. It also relates to “I’m Baby” culture. You can see “I’m baby” culture in our obsession with nostalgia-based everything, from film to fashion. This feels comforting in a time where many people are expected to live much more precarious lives than their parents and grandparents. We keep this anxiety about our futures at bay by wearing and buying things that are either in your face cute, childish, or nostalgic. That has a lot to do with how we all want to be taken care of. Since that’s not our reality, we revert back to a lot of behaviors and styles and interests that we participated in childhood and adolescence. It’s really bad for any sort of innovation or creativity. Nostalgia is very profit-driven. 

CL: I definitely agree. I think about nostalgia inspired fashion. It’s usually co-opted by big corporate brands like Urban Outfitters. It’s all about marketing. They just remarket an unoriginal idea or item and produce it in mass quantities, to the point where everybody looks like they’re cosplaying an era. 

When I am looking at nostalgia-based jewelry and clothes by independent designers, I think it’s interesting because a lot of it is anti-design and anti-fashion. We’re moving away from jewelry where you need industrial machines or a “proper education” to make. Look at craftcore. This is the type of stuff that is really accessible to so many different kinds of people. The problem is just when it gets co-opted by fast fashion. 

BS: I feel like things that are deliberately made to look handmade but were actually made in a sweatshop are very morally corrupt to wear, but I don’t judge people for wearing fast fashion. It exists for a reason. 

For a lot of people that grew up without any money, once you are able to buy your own clothes, there’s an aversion to thrift shopping. You spent your childhood having to wear things from thrift stores and not being able to keep up with fashion. 

CL: I also think that trends are probably the most detrimental thing to the planet and to the psyche. You’re trying to keep up with something that will never stand still enough for you to afford to do that. They come and go so quickly that the environment can’t keep up and workers can’t keep up. Something that I always look at is Fashion Nova. I’m obsessed with them. I think we’re really always hypercritical of Fashion Nova, but Fashion Nova is just a product of its environment that probably would not exist if we weren’t buying these things left and right because we love it. We love to see it! I personally would love a Fashion Nova gift card. The demand is there. It’s one of those things where you participate or you don’t. It’ll exist either way. 

BS: The hierarchy of fast fashion is so arbitrary. The very bottom is Forever 21; the most uneducated about fashion ethics. I kind of stan Forever 21, even though they’re bad for the world. Their products slap and as long as we need to look good to go forward in society, we’re going to need cheap things that slap. 

CL: Also, the idea of sustainable fashion just isn’t real. It’s all words on paper. There’s no such thing. Just don’t make things. I don’t usually believe brands when they claim sustainability, because it trickles down so many different levels. For example, when I make jewelry, I do try my best to source my pearls as carefully as possible but there are so many levels to where I will never get down to; where they’re produced, who’s producing them, who’s getting paid for them. Gold and silver, they’re being mined by God knows who in God knows where. 

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BS: That’s one of my main critiques of the multinational fashion system- it’s so contracted and subcontracted, It’s intentionally impossible for the very top of a company to have full accountability for the very bottom. It’s subcontracted to the point there’s literally no linear path. The supply chain is often incomprehensible. 

CL: A really good example of this is the fire that Kylie Jenner and Kendall Jenner have been under for not paying their employees. 

BS: In Bangladesh. 

CL: I highly doubt that they have control over whether or not these people are getting paid. 

BS: That’s something I haven’t thought about because it’s easy to see really rich people as villains in these stories. 

CL: It’s all Hocus Pocus when I see “sustainability.”