In the Studio: Emily Wobb

Duplex: Why don’t you start by telling us how got to where you are now?
Emily Wobb: I was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I finished my BFA at Carnegie Mellon University and I knew I wanted to leave Pittsburgh to work as an artist assistant after I graduated.  I had done a couple of internships for Diana Al-Hadid, Max Gimblett, Matt Jones and Giovanni Forlino in New York City and I enjoyed the work I did for them because I gained insight into their working methods and had fun getting to know them as people. One artist that I reached out to who I really admired was Jesse Sugarmann, and it just so happened that he needed and assistant for the summer and fall. I went to help him with his We Build Excitement project in Detroit, and eventually worked in Bakersfield for him, too. That’s when I got to branch out from… I don’t know what you’d consider Pennsylvania, it’s not ‘East Coast’, not ‘Midwest’, but that kind of area…I’d never even passed beyond Ohio, before. When I drove across the country to Bakersfield I saw the Rockies for the first time, and just had that romantic view of the United States, like “Wow! This is such an amazing place and I want to see all of it!” Working for him also made me more excited about moving and exploring. I got the travel bug and I wanted to see all the United States and Canada with my car. I drove to Alaska for a month and loved the adventure but mostly the time that I spent by myself. It felt freeing and I felt a stronger patriotism than I had ever felt before. That has a lot to do with this show, thinking back to being free, sort of, and exploring that naive patriotism that goes into the idea of “America’s free and beautiful!” Especially right now. I’m thinking about how it’s beautiful sometimes and not others, and it’s funny, a lot of these feelings came up before the final election decision. It’s really weird now. I feel guilty and betrayed by my love of my country.

D: I think I first met you through Ryan Woodring and Alexis Roberto and their Prequel program, but they are from Pittsburgh too, did you meet them there?
EW: We went to the same school, but Ryan was a few years ahead of me. I definitely recognized him, but I knew Alexis better. I took a few classes with her. I kept in contact and knew about their Prequel program. I truly needed it then. I was drawing, but I wasn’t really interested in doing anything else, and I was working three jobs. I believe that Prequel got me back into making art in Portland, it was what I needed. Maggie Heath, my studio mate, was the first person I met here. I was emailing everyone asking for recommendations of people to talk to. One of my professors from CMU put me in touch with a contact of his at Portland State University, who put me in touch with Maggie. We were just instant friends. Maggie gave me my first show in Portland and we started the Bronco Gallery together. Now we’re planning on collaborating on a two-person show in May at the Erickson Gallery.

D: You are calling your show Bad Dreams, when you’re talking about how great America is, feeling patriotic, and loving this country, how does a bad dream justify those feelings?
EW: It’s thinking about not just dreaming or having nightmares, but about how your hopes and dreams can just… be bad – misguided. I’m thinking about that personally but also referencing how my hopes and dreams can be bad depending on who I am.

D: Your hopes and dreams may be considered bad for America? Or bad for others?
EW: Or just bad. Or just not good.

D: Give me an example.
EW: Well, there are so many obvious ones right now with Donald Trump, the Dakota Access Pipeline, and hateful actions from Americans upon other Americans who are different than them. But on a more personal level, it’s something I have felt, painfully, a few times when I have realized that my hopes and dreams were naïve and misdirected. One example is when I studied abroad in Ghana for four months. It was only then, as a 21-year old, that I was taught that I had white privilege by one of my peers in the group. Then the whole decision of traveling to Africa felt wrong, and that my intentions were merely romantic and delusional.  A lot of my bad dreams have had to do with discovering naïveté.

D: Naïveté as sort of way of being insular or only caring about what’s inside your head?
EW: Yeah, being your own kind of nightmare or monster. Actually, I was going to make some monsters for this, but it seemed a little too direct. A lot of it is about me and expressing myself, but the hope is that the conversation turns toward not just me, but thinking about goals, when they’re misdirected – whether we know it or not. Which most of the time, we don’t.

You use the sphere often, is there meaning in this recurring shape? I want to know more about the fuzzy ones.
EW: I find it funny; I do a lot of spheres… it’s like being trapped in this bubble of self-deprecation. But my hope is that the “bad dream” thing is more expansive of current events, because that is what’s driving this insecurity and the “there’s a lot of bad shit happening right now” thoughts. I see a lot of Trump supporters as having bad dreams, bad goals, so what in my life is bad? How do I relate? As for the fuzzy ones, well, this is something that I was trying to be more prepared for, but I still don’t know how to explain it, other than that it’s the perfect thing to just hug and lay on. It’s kind of like a comfort object. It’s everything a yoga ball isn’t. It’s soft and not sticky to the skin. I was writing a few words about the fur balls, and I think it goes back to the naive comfort thing… and it’s kind of a rave-y thing, too? Because everyone has their one rave they go to.

D: I think I missed out on the raves. I’ve never been to a rave!
EW: I’ve only been to one, and it’s like… you felt really fuzzy and wanted to touch everyone… it makes me think of like, not missing out on Burning Man, but also kind of missing out on Burning Man? It’s so nice to just fluff them around. I’ve had an obsession with faux fur for a long time. My backpack is covered in faux fur from college, and I bought a whole bunch of it to make these gigantic furry fish. They’re long gone, but they were these ten-foot salmon made out of faux fur. I don’t know why. I think I’m still totally a kid sometimes. It just reminds me of stuffed animals.

D: It sounds like they are your counterpoint to the bad dream.
EW: Totally, like little balls of hope. I think everything’s very straightforward in this show. I used to try to be very poetic about things; drawing symbols… it’s strange to me to be so open about my feelings and not trying to make some disconnected conceptual statement—although I think I’m still trying to do that.

D: There are a lot of wearables in the show, are they going to be on display or are you going to invite people to try things on?
EW: This is my shag camo t-shirt that I made. It has weird shoulders because I’m rusty at making clothes. Hunting camo is turning into a bit of a trope in the show; I’m attracted to the idea of a hunting camo sateen. I’m going to turn this into a nighty kind of thing, like a teddy. Originally, I thought that I was going to do a performance opening night but it doesn’t make sense for First Thursday, because people are going in and out. I was thinking that I do want to do a public performance later in the month; I think that would be great for people who haven’t seen the show yet or just as a chance to see me interact with them because that’s what I do with these things. I interact with them when I’m making them and putting them together and playing with them. I was thinking of having videos of my self-portraits, of me engaging with these wearables, and I’ll show you a few of those projected during the show. Then I have some goofball things… like silicone-covered asphalt. It’s monstrous, and it’s gross because I have faux fur everywhere that sticks to it… I think I like the idea of having people just engage with it because nothing is precious with this. If they dropped it, probably nothing would happen to it. It’s just sealed in silicone. And the fur balls are really pleasant to hold and hug. That’s partially why I made them. The only downside is the asphalt tar is coming through. The tar just wants to come out. That’s the nature of oil. It just wants to escape being contained. I kind of like that though, I’ll have to do something if I have these on a white surface. I like how they jiggle.

D: They’re very camo colored as well, was that intentional?
EW: I used green Dawn soap and it made the silicone green. Dish soap is used in the process because silicone just wants to stick to everything. The soap is a lubricant to keep your hands from getting silicone all over them. I bought the green stuff because that was just what they had. I like that by chance it became a camouflage looking thing.

D: Do you sew a lot?
EW: I have a family of sewers. My Nana has quilted for a long time and has sewn all her life. My aunt teaches sewing and has also made a lot of her own garments. Growing up around them has made me enamored with sewing and soft sculpture. When I was in Ghana, I apprenticed a seamstress, which is where I learned basic pattern making and gained a big respect for how much work goes into making custom clothing. My style of making these fur balls and the helmet is to sew the fabric by hand, inside-out, and taking it off and putting it back on reversed, so it makes the process of pattern-making easy. It’s fun. I think what’s nice about sewing and knitting is how easily you can focus on it. I have a hard time focusing on anything else, but I could probably sew all day. I just love it. It’s so meditative, but you’re making something while you’re thinking other things through. It’s just this nice, meditative, cathartic kind of thing.

D: I like this gold backdrop; there is a nice switch between camo and shimmery gold.
EW: We’ll see! I was putting together colors and I wasn’t sure if I liked it but it makes sense with the helmet. The helmet, I don’t have a place for that yet in the show, but it is going to end up in there.

D: Can you see through it?
EW: No. That’s what I like about it, I have these masks that I wear during my performances where I can’t see anything, which I like, talking about feeling blind… it’s pretty forward.

D: You have the windows blacked out on your sketch. Are you planning on blacking out the gallery?
EW: I was hoping to talk to you about that. What I liked about your first studio visit is that you talked about how there’s a “Day Emily” and a “Night Emily”, and I’m holding on to that because I think it was a great observation of what I’m talking about. I was toying with creating five to ten minute sessions when the gallery would slowly dim to dark and slowly dim back to light, with the help of other spotlights that would come into action, and the projector coming into action too. This is a little theoretical right now.

D: This show definitely seems more internalized compared to your other work, which were literally acts of destruction against the same things that you’re talking about here.
EW: Yes, and I think I’m expressing that lost feeling that you get sometimes when you’re away from an institution, or if you’re working a full-time job… that keeps you away from being a full-time artist and so the times I do get to go to my studio I am in that mindset and work with it. I question the fur balls, you know, internalizing. When I think about my previous destructive work, I think about the absurdity of American patriotism in a lighthearted way–like a joke. In this former work, I’m glorifying the objects I’m destroying and “fixing” them in a purposefully meaningful way. With these current smaller projects in Bad Dreams, the environment is less optimistically humorous. I’m trying to be discerning and admitting blindness. There is an act of covering broken things, hiding, and fixing objects that were barely symbolic of anything and trying to give meaning and purpose to shards.

See more photos here.

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