In our latest Artist 2 Artist interview, Mary Gibney talks with Amelia Biewald about her childhood love of horses, science project dioramas, anatomy, history and costumes, homemade scary stuff and how it all comes together in her installations. She's a grownup kid with skills!
You have such a large range of talents and skills that you use in making art and installations. Painting, drawing, creating very large and elaborate objects. How did you learn them? Were you a kid who liked to make "things"? Structures? Dresses for your cats?
I would draw and paint a lot as a child- more than making 3D things in an art related context. But I did excel at science projects and dioramas. Raging volcanoes, dog anatomy charts, tree identification catalogs. I’m a total science dork. I had a very patient mother good at cleaning up messes. My mom would also help us make huge crawl-through cardboard box mazes out of refrigerator boxes for Halloween with cooked noodles on the floor for guts, and peeled grapes for eye-balls, and the box from Dune that you put your hand in and feel burning…I think it was a hand warmer for skiing. All the neighborhood kids came AND were actually scared. I think parenting was different back then. I did make clothes for my Schnauzer Hansi, and also jumping courses, and would pretend he was a horse which I really wanted. The rest I learned when I was older at RISD and MCAD.
Your projects have a uniting factor of fantasy based on some sort of reality - a historical figure (Mary Toft the rabbit mother), control and repression of women during times of conquering and taming fresh lands (corsets!), over-the-top food porn (those sausages!). Sensuality and sexuality interlace your creations. What attracts you to an idea? They are obviously not easy to execute. What makes an idea or urge worthy of being brought forth in such a large immersive way?
I am also a history dork. I LOVE historical costume study, and a lot of my stories or intrigues come from research into dress in art historical paintings and etchings. I found out about Mary Toft, The Rabbit Breeder from finding her name etched into a William Hogarth work. Before photographs were invented, that’s how newspapers depicted the news. There are many correlations between news in the 18th century and fake news now. Same stupid shit, which I find entertaining. The drama!!! Art history shows us a lot of sex, without actually painting sex. That captured allure and desire has always interested me. Which brings us to the food porn. I have always had an overactive imagination, and that coupled with the German thoroughness I inherited from my parents inspires me to keep going and going with ideas. This is when my sketches, paintings and drawings transform into 3D immersive installations.
When did you realize you were an artist? Do you have a first artistic memory? Teachers who encouraged you? Childhood stories please!
I have always been obsessed with horses. Instead of rainbows and clouds or teddy bears I would draw horses. I think the first drawing I ever did was of a horse. I think if you are into something that much, just the love and interest sort of become art itself. When the rest of the kids were done drawing and wanted to go play, I would want to keep drawing. And if you keep practicing things you get better at them. If you are the best one in art class, you want to stay the best one in art class, and you get kind of competitive. When I had free time at school in between classes I would go into the art room and make things. Also, not meaning to sound depressing, I have always liked being by myself. I was never the kid with 10 friends over for a slumber party. Instead I had an art table in the basement. Visual art is often a very solitary sort of practice, at least until the exhibition.
What is your history with Rosalux and how does living in New York feed your artistic evolution? Are you inspired or overwhelmed by the sheer amount of art and artists there?
I am one of the founding members of Rosalux. It has been in a few different locations over the years. I love Minneapolis, but share that love with NYC after visiting there for an extended period after I went to Skowhegan in Maine for a residency. Most of the young artists I met lived in shitty warehouses or worse in Brooklyn. But the ones who worked really hard got picked up (...and dumped, it’s a cycle) by galleries and furthered their careers. I am overwhelmed by the sheer amount of art and artists in New York, but just because it’s in New York doesn’t mean it’s good. When I curate exhibitions in NYC, I probably show as many people from out of state as I do who live in NYC. I do show a lot of artists from MN - not because they are from my home state, but because they are as good as anything I see in NYC. A lot of my artist friends have moved out of NYC mostly due to just wanting more affordable space to work. I like and probably attend a handful of galleries in NYC out of hundreds, but the ability to make that choice is why I love the city. And the gallery-laden areas are walkable, so it’s a THING to do, like a concert or sports game. And people spend money like they would on a concert or a game.
You obviously take elements and inspiration from the natural world and add your own humorous perversion, in the sense that you deviate from what might be considered the natural order of things. Would you say that's a planned result or does it come from a deeper place of what feels right?
I think it’s both. I edit a lot. I am really into nature and gardening, hiking, animals, and history so when these things converge in found objects, I can’t help but create new realities. But I don’t always live in reality. I am a collector of things scientific and natural…look for it online and you can find it. I dare you! Like the 6 contractor bags of shedded deer antlers I am not looking forward to moving. Sharp. I take stories or realities and twist them with things I feel are appropriate, so I guess that is a deeper place. I think a lot of art making is about making decisions, however odd. I kind of think any good artist is also very decisive, about things they care about.
When I look at your art I feel curiosity, attraction/repulsion, wonderment at the delicate beauty of your line. Laughter at the absurdities. A lot. What emotions do you hope your audience feel? Is that important to you?
If I am creating a piece and I start giggling, I know it’s probably going in the right direction. So humor is one of the top points. But I think humor in art translates better coupled with either craft or conceptual complexity. Often in my work humor is also coupled with historical facts and fictions, or imagined historical situations. Most of the stuff that people thought was “real” or “true” 200 years ago isn’t, and that fascinates me.
Your current show at Rosalux is all about Hummel collectibles altered with your own twists. What is the origin of this particular artistic impulse? Was there a Hummel collection in your childhood?
My mother collected Hummels and they are around their house, but she seems to have lost interest AND NOT JUST BECAUSE OF MY EXHIBITION! Because I was into art as a child I often spent a lot of time looking at figurines and things around my parents home. It’s the opposite of mid-century or contemporary- there are a lot of “cute” little things on shelves, illustrated plates, flower sprays, antique looking things, lots of wildlife and farm paintings and prints, etc. Dark wood, old European looking things all around which I think rubbed off on me in terms of what I find interesting in forms of art and design. But that stuff can be “typey” and sometimes a little boring, so I tend to alter paintings and objects I am drawn to into subjects and things that might not be so readily recollected in viewers minds.
What keeps you moving forward?
Guilt about not moving forward. And my strange brain. Ideas about everything. Dogs. Horses. Viewing and researching other peoples artworks.