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.
I Claim That Which Was Never Mine; digital video, 4:30 minutes, looped in installations. 2014.
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.
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.
Oregon College of Art and Craft graduate Melina Bishop is a mixed-media sculptor and installation artist based in Portland, OR. She recently returned from a residency at the Icelandic Textile Center and is a participating artist with Neighbors at the Yale Union. This interview is the second in a series conducted by OCAC thesis student Lindsay Costello.
Duplex: Tell me a little bit about your childhood. Were you always a maker? Melina Bishop: I was born at home, in a brick house in Indianapolis, Indiana but was raised in my mother’s hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. My childhood was a glorious mix of creative expression and time spent in nature. I grew up attending a Waldorf school, meaning I learned how to knit before I learned how to read, and all subjects, be it math or science or ancient mythology, were taught to me through a beautiful kind of integrated storytelling. All throughout early childhood I had an insatiable appetite for what was called “handwork” and used to knit, crochet and sew in all unassigned moments of the day.
Duplex: How has your work developed and changed since graduating from OCAC? Melina Bishop: When I graduated from OCAC with my BFA I had, quite contentedly, been a student since I was five years old. I have a deep love of academic institutions and the structure, community and sense of distinct purpose they provide. I knew leaving that context, a comfort-zone or even womb for me, would be a challenge but a necessary one. The first body I completed post-graduation was called Resurface and it conceptually contained the themes of that transitory and emotionally trying period of my life: themes of exposure, insecurity, loss of intimacy and yet determined optimism. Formally my work has become more about singular moments or statements, rather than entire narratives. I think in school I felt pressure to make my work say everything at once, now I feel able let each piece speak in more concise language.
Duplex: Describe your studio space. What is your preferred method of working while there? Do you have a favorite outfit, playlist, time of day that you’re most productive? Melina Bishop: My studio space is my sanctuary and an honest reflection of myself, therefore it is in a constant state of flux (I was once warned not to spend all my work time simply rearranging and organizing my studio space, which was good advice for me to take to heart.) I share a beautiful space on the first floor of the Yale Union building in SE Portland with photographer and fellow OCAC alumna Brittany Walston. I usually come dressed in some comfy combination of black shirt and black pants but I also have a dirty old white apron I put on if I’m doing something messy. I work best in the morning, when the studio’s big window is letting in plenty of nice natural light and my mind feels newborn. Read More «In the Studio: Melina Bishop»
A recent artist-in-residence at Oregon College of Art and Craft, Gulsah Mursaloglu is a Turkish mixed media artist based in Chicago, IL. She received her MFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2015. This interview is the first of a series conducted by OCAC thesis student Lindsay Costello.
Duplex: Tell us about your background. How did your upbringing affect your current approach to art-making? Gulsah Mursaloglu: I was born and raised in Istanbul and lived there until I came to Chicago to pursue my graduate studies. My father is a farmer and grows cotton in the south of Turkey. One of my earliest memories is the softness of the cotton plants when they were freshly harvested out of the land, and how it was the softest thing I ever laid my hands on. This direct connection to the land, and using touching as a way to get to know a material, touching the outside of something to understand what’s going on in the inside, were definitely things that I inherited from my family and it has been woven into my practice and sensibility. I was also always inspired by certain absurd patterns that would occur in Istanbul through people’s daily interactions with materials. Yogurt cups would be placed under the pipes to solve the problems with sewages; ropes would be tied to antennas to provide good reception. People replace materials with others when they are fixing or building things and this creates interesting patterns within the landscape of the city.
Duplex: Your work has a fierce sense of materiality and seems incredibly tactile. How do you choose your materials, and does a sense of touch factor into your decision-making? Gulsah Mursaloglu: My work starts with an inexplicable curiosity towards specific materials. Then I start to experiment with these materials; at this stage the studio acts like a laboratory. Through this experimentation process the work starts to become clear to me one step at a time, both conceptually and formally. Tactility has always been an important part of my work; I believe that is because touching has always been my primary understanding of the world around me. During my time at OCAC, I’ve been interested in orange peels as a protective membrane and skin and my current work will include orange peels as one of its primary materials.
Duplex: Has your approach to material developed over time? I read that you started painting during your undergraduate studies as a sociology major. Gulsah Mursaloglu: When I was doing my undergraduate studies in sociology, at the same time I was working at a studio run by two artists in Istanbul and making paintings. Even when I was making work that was strictly in the realm of painting, I was experimenting with materials such as tea, coffee, wine and varnish to create my surfaces. But I can definitely say that my interest in materials and approach to them particularly evolved and changed during my studies at SAIC.
Duplex: You’ve done several residencies, with more to come. Despite this sense of nomadism, what does your typical studio practice look like? Do you have a time of day you work best, an environment, a playlist, a uniform? Gulsah Mursaloglu: My regular studio is in the Avondale neighborhood of Chicago. I share my studio with five other artists and I find this communal studio space helpful for the creative process. I would say I’m someone who works best during daylight, so I prefer to be at my studio from the morning till the afternoon as long as my work schedule allows me to do that. In my process in the studio there are two modes of working: one requires deep contemplation and concentration and the other requires repetitive labor. When I’m in the first state I prefer to have a quiet environment, and when I’m in the second state I like having music in the studio, these days I’m mostly listening to soundtracks from musicals.
Duplex: Can you describe how a residency informs or helps your practice? What advice would you give to emerging artists about the residency process? Gulsah Mursaloglu: Being at a residency allows me to have distance from my regular environment and a mental space to look at my work through a different lens. I often find the first week of a residency challenging in terms of adjusting to a new environment and a studio space, but I also find that challenge very productive in terms of understanding how I work best and how I can sustain a creative practice without being dependent on a specific place. The biggest luxury a residency provides me with is having uninterrupted studio time away from the distractions of daily life, and being in a completely different environment is also very stimulating. I guess one piece of advice I could give is to be open to the challenges of being in an unfamiliar environment and try to use this distance to challenge yourself in your own work and break some habits.
Duplex: Has your time in Portland and on Oregon College of Art and Craft campus affected your approach to art-making at all? What is your impression of the community here? Gulsah Mursaloglu: I’ve really enjoyed being an artist-in-residence on the OCAC campus. The community here — faculty, staff and students — has been really generous to me, and I’ve gotten to meet lots of amazing creative individuals. What I’ve found to be most inspiring has been OCAC’ s approach to making and the emphasis the school puts on the process. I really relate to this way of working and I got to learn different historical practices here such as weaving and ceramics. I believe these new skills will definitely affect my work in the future.
Duplex: Whose artwork do you look at when you’re feeling stuck or uninspired? Gulsah Mursaloglu: One of the most inspiring shows I have seen during my time in Portland was Michael E. Smith’s exhibition at the Lumber Room. I really loved the subtlety of his objects, which bring organic and inorganic materials together and the minimal installation of them in the space. So these days I look at his work, Camille Blatrix’s works and Carol Bove’s works.
Duplex: What’s influencing your practice right now, outside of visual art and artists? A recent favorite book, film, color? Gulsah Mursaloglu: During my time at OCAC I got the chance to read chapters from a book that has been on my reading list for a long time: On the Animation of the Inorganic by Sypros Papapetros. I find this book really inspiring because it talks about themes that I’m interested in investigating in my work, such as the agency and life of the matter and latent movement through an art historical perspective.
Duplex: If you weren’t an artist, what would you be doing? Have you ever considered an alternate profession? Gulsah Mursaloglu: When I was very young, in my primary school years, I really wanted to be a professional ballet dancer. But since I never got the necessary training for that, as a more realistic alternative, I would have pursued graduate studies in either sociology or anthropology and stayed in academia.
Duplex: Speaking of academia, your website notes that you have teaching experience, including working as a drawing instructor at SAIC. How does teaching differ from making for you? Did you enjoy that experience? Gulsah Mursaloglu: I love teaching. For me teaching art is a wonderful and very diverse process in which each student applies the information you give them in a different way and I find this diversity and range very exciting. I also believe teaching and seeing this translation of information is very inspiring for me as an artist. So I definitely think teaching nurtures my own practice as an artist.
Duplex: Your residency here at OCAC ends soon. What’s next for you? Gulsah Mursaloglu: Yes, unfortunately. I will be going back to Chicago and I will be starting HatchProjects at the Chicago Artists Coalition, which is a residency program that brings together emerging artists and curators to create exhibitions together in the course of one year. I’m very excited for that, and also I will be teaching at the Ox-bow School of Art Artists’ Residency this summer.