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.
So do you start with a concept and then move into materials?
Both are intertwined. To manifest a sculpture, to me, is to integrate intuition, emotion, conceptual thinking, and physical making. As you know, I have made a series of bed sculptures and those beds had content on so many levels, but they also had fabrics and other materials that started to really appeal to me. Curtains have become increasingly interesting to me. The bed sculptures that used 4-poster beds were surrounded by curtains, and I've also used curtains to separate my work, to place the bed in a separate deep dark space within the larger gallery space.
In the show I’m in now, I've got these dark green curtains that are creating a room within a room and they also remind me of hedges. My next show will be in a space with tall ceilings, and I want to work intently with the vertical volume of the space through these dark green curtains. Almost like an underwater kelp forest perhaps, a feeling of being submerged in a dream. And, you know, I suppose that comes from the octopus dream I had recently and working with the green curtains. So it’ s both concept and materials, united. That’s what I love about sculpture - each time, you just never know what you are going to use or need in your work. I feel and think my way at different times in the process.
Dreams are so important to your practice. What do you think dreams are?
Good question. I don't think there is a definitive answer. There's a lot of unknown around why we sleep and dream. Dreams can be seen as a biological function, the personally psychological, a part of collective consciousness, as mystical or prophetic, and in many other ways. So I view dreams as beautiful and mysterious gifts. A mystery that comes in to you, but they can pack a lot of truth.
As a terrible and poignant example of this, I had a dream of someone being sexually attacked at the exact time this was happening to a friend of mine. I found this out later, after I had been having these dreams for two nights, and when I learned this, then the dreams stopped. So, I think as humans, we're much more permeable than we think.
I've also asked dreams for advice. While I was working on my last show for Rosalux, I asked for a dream to tell me what I should put inside the bed canopy netting that hung above the mirror. I knew I wanted to embed something in the sculpture that you'd only see in the mirror. I had three things clearly told to me. I woke up a little bit while I dreamt it, so I could remember. I was grateful, and I wrote them down, and I tried to work with them. But, then I realized it doesn't have to be literal, it was more about the past. So I used a different way of referring to the past. I used one of my very early artworks up there.
And what was that object?
It was a sculpture of a bear paw made of aluminum foil. You could only see it in the mirror, not inside the sculpture itself. So, in my experience, dreams can offer answers, insights, marvelous places and experiences, and also the terror of linking you to another [person] in their pain. So they are many things and an ongoing mystery.
But I think you have to cultivate that right? Because plenty of people don't remember their dreams, or don't pay much attention to them, or just think of them as side effects of the brain processing and extraneous bits of memory coming through. So I think that it's something you have to practice paying attention to.
What we put our attention on grows, as a famous quote by someone says, and I think this is true. My art started with a pretty powerful dream, so that had my attention. I was already keeping notebooks, and if you keep notebooks, you will remember your dreams more. You get in the habit of catching them. And they're just so damn interesting -these cities and places I could never draw or imagine and I'm walking through them! It's like alternate realities. I just think humans are much more permeable and, maybe, I'm more permeable or I have cultivated permeability.
Yeah, they are so interesting. Is the writing in your notebooks a disciplined practice? Do you have a certain time of day that you do it?
No, I don't like to have any rules. Okay, my rule is no rules. One joy of being a teacher, you can seek to help students unlearn. I'll use my notebooks for really hybrid purposes -sometimes for writing down things about teaching as well as recording my dreams, or something more personal. They're a repository and archive.
Well, before we move on from notebooks, I'm curious, do you reference your notebooks later?
As far as going back and re-reading them, no, but sometimes I page through them and look at my sketches or what imagery I have pasted in there. I put the start date in the front and the end date in the back. The notebooks have moved from personal process to material presence in my sculpture -but always inaccessible to a reader. They have moved around from under a bed, to under a desk, to on top of the desk, embodying different relationships with secrets.
Every so often, I open up an old notebook and read something at random. And it can often be an uncanny experience. I remember looking at a page from years where I was describing a dream I had where I was gluing black feathers to the bottom of an upturned boat. That was like a decade before I'd had a dream about the bird and was using black feathers.
I sometimes have mulled over that if I took one thing from each notebook and then made some kind of collected text or image piece from them, it could be interesting, for me at least. You know, we think or feel we're so permanent, but we're so fluid and malleable. I’m not the same person of earlier notebooks. I think this helps me as a teacher to embrace change. This practice of being creative, and being a maker takes courage. No one ever told me that. But that's the truth of it. Art is going into the unknown and it’s going to be uncomfortable at times, but I think that is when we are onto something.
Right, yeah. It's so reassuring to hear someone say that's part of the process.
That's just the reality of living. It’s wonderful and it's terrifying.
Recently you made a book, and often your works are site specific. How does photography factor into your practice?
I did recently make an artist book with the help of some of my graduate students. What the book did was to have photographs of my sculpture, installed in galleries, “cut out” and then, through Photoshop, they were put into outdoor settings. Which, to my mind, made them even more strange and dream-like. I got to see my series of bed sculptures transported to fields, a frozen coastline, an abandoned parking lot, and more. These landscapes were places that I or my students had photographed. After making this book, I really felt like exploring more outdoor work. I have been experimenting with bed sculptures in my yard and other projects in my house and yard due to Covid. Thanks to the series of Rosalux online shows, I have been able to exhibit photographs of these installations, there.
We had an exhibition scheduled for October at Rosalux that has been put off indefinitely. How has your exhibition schedule changed, or stayed the same, in recent months? What projects do you have on the horizon? Has your deadline schedule changed?