We stopped by Emily Hanna Wyant‘s studio to chat about her current (and untitled) project, a white cube wherein she creates fantastic and funny environments — and then destroys them. An artist and designer, with ties to LA, Emily came back to Portland to participate in PNCA and OCAC’s Applied Craft + Design MFA program. She graduates in May and is gearing up for the big finale. You can see her finished work in person on May 24th at the Applied Craft + Design studio space, 421 NE 10th Ave.
Duplex: Tell us about your background.
Emily Hanna Wyant: My background is in event and environment design. I did a lot of window displays. I was in LA working for IMG in their Action Sports division on LA Times events. So I was building spaces and not doing as much of the creative part as I wanted — it was a lot of management. I was also working for East of Borneo, a contemporary art magazine, based out of CalArts, promoting and assisting with web design. I was spending a lot of time and energy promoting other artists and all I wanted to do was be one. I heard about this program, Applied Craft + Design, before I left Portland and was really interested in the “applied” part of it. Being able to be creative in a way that defines what you want as your practice and identifying a sustainable way to do that for a lifetime. Here, I have been doing a lot of material exploration. I learned how to weld, how to work with wood, different ceramics and mold making.
D: How did you develop this project?
EHW: This project really came out of figuring out what I needed to have as my optimal circumstance to create in – specific constraints to funnel my creativity, for example deadlines and space limitations, since in the past these constraints were defined by my client.
I wanted to get out of grad school and have environments I could show in a portfolio. Using the box as my space constraints and designing a timeline I could hold myself accountable to. I change it on a weekly basis. What’s come out of it is the destruction.
I started with the balloons, it took me 497 balloons and three days to fill it up. I thought, “Well shit, now I have to get rid of it. I have to do it some way that is funny”. I ended up with throwing stars and filmed me popping them all in two minutes. That became really interesting and provocative. I was using a GoPro in the corner and someone else filming, so I was able to frame it in a different way. There was a performance, people sort of huddled around. But I don’t call my work performance, I think it’s more the destruction and the life cycle of creating, just to destroy. Most of these things come from the Dollar Store because that’s the means I have and I am drawn to those types of objects. Something that is easily thrown away. We’re calling it manufactured waste, right? The minute you buy it, it is worthless. It loses value. Then by creating art out of it and putting it online, it is going to live forever. There is a really interesting lifecycle there.
Now instead of just building an environment and then figuring out how I am going to destroy it, it’s morphed into how am I going to activate that space when I am in it. It went into sledgehammers, shop vacs, I bought a bb gun, in This Means War I am going to use sparklers. I even looked into making my own explosives, but it seemed like kind of a challenge.
D: Yeah, and you probably don’t want that in your search history.
EHW: I actually Googled “how to make your own fireworks” because I was really concerned about that.
D: We found you through Instagram, have you found others have that same reaction?
EHW: Yes, it’s been a big tool for me. Youtube too, though I have just been starting to put stuff up. People are commenting from all over. I could have never been able to reach that audience. YouTube and Instagram have so many opportunities to create a wider engagement with an audience outside of the art world. Even if they don’t understand all the references in it, they are still able to enjoy it.
D: Does your overall project have a name?
EHW: I title each installation, but at this point I don’t know what the overall title will be. I have been talking with my mentor, Ben Ediger, about how each one relates to each other. We started talking about consumption and absurdity for the most part. Using everyday materials like my spaghetti video where I am vacuuming it up. It is this banal absurd kind of thing. Especially this idea of events, you’re spending all this energy building it up and it is there for 4 hours or a day and it is destroyed. That seems absurd and wasteful to me.
D: How do you feel about your contribution to that waste?
EHW: I am totally guilty of that, 100%. I don’t have answer. I am not calling my work social practice by any means, but I am interested in a conversation around consumption and waste. I have been doing a lot of research about consumption and especially the data we’re consuming. With the internet, we are constantly bombarded with tons of information. You can just get sucked into it. I think were an interesting point right now, it should be acknowledged.
D: How did you decide on the dimensions of the box?
EHW: I wanted a cube. I wanted to talk about the white cube and the context in which art is viewed. So I wanted this clean space. I built it for my winter show, Navigating the Various Concepts and References in Contemporary Art. So I filled it with different chairs and called out things like iteration and presence of the body, appropriation, and abstraction, all of these things. So I had the box, and from working on events I was interested in controlling my space. It juxtaposed by the studio is really interesting. And with the documentation, I can frame it anyway I wanted, I can add multiple angles.
D: Do your color decisions have anything to do with the plastic throwaway mentality? Do you dictate the colors of the wall based on the product you are using?
EHW: I think it is a combination of both. But I do want to add to the chaos, so I use really saturated colors. They are calling it Neo-Surrealism or Post-Net art. Some people are using gray and soft colors, so there is a break when you are scrolling through the data, and others are amplifying it. My work definitely falls into this over saturation of the digital landscape.
D: In This Means War, is this your first use of text in your box?
EHW: It is. I love typography; previously I’ve done a lot of sign paintings and graphic work, so I wanted to show that I had those skills professionally. I spent an entire day reading war quotes. This one is from Looney Toons, which makes it more fun. This installation is interesting because I am an adult woman who wants to play war. All of the quotes were from men. If women were mentioned it was only as victims; it was always just men and war — And now me.
D: How many installations are you making and how are you planning on presenting the final outcome?
EHW: I am trying to do 10 of them. The videos will be what I display in the gallery, and the before and after images in sort of a look book. I kept all the debris from each one, so I started making molds and artifacts of them. So there will be an archival piece as well as the videos.
D: How are you going to end your project?
EHW: I am going to make two more installations, and then I am going to flood it with all of the trash that I have acquired. Hopefully I can seal it enough so that I can fill it with water, and then climb in and snorkel. My goal is that it will eventually break in on itself and I destroy it so there can’t be an eleventh.
D: What is your next project?
EHW: I am going to do a scrapbook of all the boys I’ve dated. My mom says things like “you should make sure you take pictures for your scrapbook!” So I thought that would be pretty funny. To have two objects on scrapbook pages and maybe an audio component that tells a story without really knowing which story goes with which object, my twist on Modern Love. I am also applying for a few residencies in Marfa and London, we’ll see!