Updated: Dec 3, 2020
Artist Shannon Estlund speaks with fellow Rosalux member artist Rebecca Krinke about the importance of keeping journals, human permeability, and the profound influence mysterious dreams have had on her life and work.
How have you been doing? How has COVID, the struggle for racial justice, the election, and all of 2020 been affecting your life and your studio practice?
Contemporary life in the US is in utter turmoil. These are terrifying times and yet there’s also the hope of great transformation, so we’re very much on edge. I’m fortunate to have a job, but my sister and my best friend have gone through furloughs and layoffs, and I don’t think there are many of us who have not been changed by this last year. I know I have changed tremendously, both through the isolation of Covid and the uprising for justice in Minneapolis, and around the country and world.
I know you as a gallery artist working primarily in sculpture and installation, but I know your work also spans landscape architecture. How do you define your current practice? Have you always been interested in sculpture and installation? What was the process of finding your artistic path? Did you consider other professions or mediums?
I see my artistic practice operating between and among sculpture, installation, site works, and public participatory projects both inside and outside. I have an undergraduate degree in landscape architecture and that’s what I teach. But it was during my first job as a landscape architect where I had a dream -a really potent dream unlike any other I had had up to that point. The dream contained an animal presence, a bed, the night, a view out a window, and a snowstorm. After that dream I felt a clear directive -a clear decision that I wanted to make a bearskin rug out of aluminum foil.
I made a whole body of work out of aluminum foil at night after working during the day as a landscape architect. I had a roommate who was going to MIT’s Center for Advanced Visual Studies in photography and wanted to photograph my work. He said it was really good and suggested that I should submit it for an art award in Boston. So we did that and I was one of the winners, which was of course deeply surprising to me. I ended up going to graduate school at Mass College of Art in Boston for sculpture.
Shannon: Tell me more about teaching landscape architecture. This seems like it must influence your artistic practice?
Sometimes my art and landscape architecture has felt like parallel tracks but it is on the verge of intersecting deeply. That’s the sensation I have. I teach studio classes in landscape architecture that are not so different from art studio courses. My students are graduate students and they're deepening their insight into their personal sensibilities, while learning how to see, describe, and make space, especially outdoor space. My students are amazing and inspire me deeply.
Are they making drawings or physically building the spaces?
No, we're not landscape contractors. But some students do volunteer work or activist work where they may be engaged in physical landscapes -such as in helping with community gardens or ecological restoration efforts, or any number of things. We might do a full scale mock-up of an idea outside on site which helps teach scale. They do make physical models, and all sorts of sculptural experiments, and work in analog, digital, and hybrid ways. The studio I'm teaching now is called “Making Space for Emotion: Gardens of Pain and Joy”. This focus on the emotional and intuitive (and we might argue female), is not the typical studio, and demonstrates how my artistic practice and my design experience offers something different to the students.
Yeah, that sounds like it's not a client driven kind of project.
Not client driven at all. Graduate school in design focuses on what your driving questions are. How do you want to work? What difference do you want to make in the world? It's important to teach to the big vision. I think good teachers help students find the seeds to their life work. That’s what I aspire to. Some questions we think about are: how do we consciously make spaces to embody or evoke human emotion? The ecological crisis, and the fight for racial, social, and economic justice are felt individually and collectively and are all interrelated. There is so much deep pain and grief. And we often repress that or don’t know where to go or what to do with these emotions. My teaching and my own artistic practice are seeking to explore this, and offer new kinds of spaces about this.
I am curious about your studio life. Many of your works are massive. What is your studio like? What does a studio day look like for you?
I am fortunate to have a studio, through the university, where I teach. A studio day is generally fit in between teaching and academic duties, or on the weekend, although lately the studio hasn’t always been accessible due to Covid. I have been working in my house and yard like many other artists. I’m in a show right now where I was able to work in the gallery and use it like a studio to make a site-specific installation over a couple months.
Do you spend a lot of time journaling and drawing, or do you like to work directly with materials?
Both. I have kept the same kind of black bound notebook since I was a teenager. They are mostly writing, but also ideas for art and also include photos or imagery taped or stapled into them. The minute I make one idea physical I see new avenues. For example, this show I have up right now, is already changing me and helping me think and move into some different territory. I also read voraciously across disciplines and I love to read novels. I read all over the place and it’s joyous research for me. So with my hybrid ways, I'm an explorer, which is what I think most artists are.