Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Interview with Whitney Lynn

Whitney Lynn is San Francisco based artist with a graduate degree from SFAI who exhibits regularly in the bay area at galleries such as, LoBot, Red Ink Studios, Intersection for the Arts, Swell Gallery, and Diego Rivera Gallery. She is a studio artist at Root Division in the Mission. Her work is true art. She creates sculptural pieces that cause us to reexamine our surroundings and perceptions on life.

In your statement, you say, " I hope to highlight the role visual elements play in forming cultural values." What role(s) do you hope to highlight in particular? I haven't spent much time around Air Force bases. Can you explain what the culture of the bases was like where you grew up? How does that play into your life today?

When I wrote that statement, I was specifically thinking about how formal visual elements such as shape, line, color and pattern influence the way objects are perceived. For example, Persian or ‘Oriental’ rugs are overwhelmingly viewed in the context of their decorative elements, or how well they fit into an interior design scheme. However, the rugs have this rich and complicated history hidden beneath their swirling colors and patterns. I read that carpets are actually the number two export out of Iran after oil, and there have been numerous tariffs and embargoes placed on them. As a result, the production of Persian rugs has been pushed out to factories in places like China, although the design of the rugs continues to reflect patterns originated in Iran.

I’m drawn to how a simple thing like a rug reflects not only taste, but global issues and market shifts. When Marco Polo first started exporting Persian rugs to the west, there were immediately demands for changes in the traditional patterns, colors and sizes. Today, you can easily pick up a cheap ‘Oriental’ rug at Ikea or Target or Macy’s, but with that cheap, mass-produced object, you’re also inadvertently buying into this complicated political history.

As far as Air Force Bases are concerned.. I don’t think that growing up on a base is much different than growing up in any suburban community (except for the fact that many of them are now abandoned or repurposed). My friends all lived on the same street, and we played on the swing set.. or made blanket forts, or played Battleship, or messed around with GI Joes, or playacted ‘war’. If anything, I was a bit of a tomboy, but I honestly think that my and my friends’ infatuation with military games was pretty typical. I think that’s maybe part of my interest in going back and looking at those sorts of games, to show the similarities between civilian and military culture, to make the differences less distinct.

Traveling in Argentina I felt a huge amount of creativity among the buildings, people, cultural interaction, etc. I loved all the surprises. What do you consider to be "familiar or neutral?" How do you think they come about to be this way? How do you see this in the US and abroad?

I think any typical or everyday experience becomes familiar or neutral. Anything that is repeated. Anything that becomes ‘naturalized’. Anything that just doesn’t seem strange, or unusual. I think a big part of my work is trying to make everything strange or unfamiliar again.

I don’t have a lot of experience with countries outside the US, other than brief tourist encounters, but I imagine that most places face the same situation. It’s almost necessity, a way of staying sane, but I think it can also be productive to turn things over and reexamine what is believed to be true.

You are originally from VA. What brought you to San Francisco and has kept you here? What are your thoughts about the artist community in San Francisco? Do you think ever of moving to New York or other larger cities?

I moved back out to San Francisco for graduate school, but I lived here previously in the late 90s. A lot about the city has changed, but I still think it’s a great place to live. I love being so close to the coast, I love not having to own a car, I love the food, and I love that there are so many different views and vantage points because of the hills. I also think the size of the city is great - big enough to offer major cultural attractions, but small enough to randomly run into friends on the street. That’s also one of the things I like about the art community here, it’s a decent size, yet totally accessible. Of course, it is WAY too expensive to live here, but it’s also expensive to live in New York, or Boston, or Paris, or London, or Tokyo, or really any major city.

With that said, I moved around a lot as a kid and I love new experiences. If the right opportunity came up, I’d move anywhere.. but for right now, I’m really content here.

You have been in a good amount of shows recently. What are your thoughts on the current gallery world in San Francisco? What keeps you showing your work? Apart from gallery/studio exhibits, do you contribute to any small publications or zines?

I think there are a lot of great alternative spaces in San Francisco (Queens Nails Annex, Intersection for the Arts, Mission 17, Triple Base, Ping Pong Gallery, etc..) . I’d love to see more open up, but the expense of real estate in SF makes it difficult to sustain non-commercial galleries. (Or commercial ones for that matter..) Lately I’ve had some opportunities to show in Oakland at the LoBot gallery and that has been a great experience. It’s a huge space and you are really free to do whatever you want. They also have a history of supporting sound/music and they’re just a really great, funky, alternative space.

I actually haven’t contributed to very many small publications or zines, but it’s definitely something I’m interested in. I also recently started thinking about some bookmaking ideas, and it’s something I’m going to pursue in the next few months. I really like working with as many different mediums as possible, because each has a different way of communicating.

Apart from the Air Force bases, where does your inspiration for your work come from?

Well.. I feel compelled to make work from tiny discoveries, sometimes it’s from walking down the street, other times it’s from reading something. I have a job where I’m on the computer most of the day, so I’m a bit of a political blog junkie.

As far as visual reference points, Google image search is definitely my friend (although I hope the NSA isn’t keeping tab of all of my searches for ‘bunkers’, ‘fortifications’ and ‘survivalists’)! I really love exhibition and archive displays, artists who blur disciplinary boundaries like Trevor Paglen, and minimalists like Agnes Martin and Eva Hesse. Oh, and Felix Gonzalez-Torres. He was – and still is – the best.

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