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We all have that one watershed moment where we realized it’s possible to keep doing what we do through these times - ours was connecting with mixed media artist Christina Massey only a week into quarantine.
It definitely helps that one can imagine seeing, touching, and even feeling the sheer proximity of her works that billow, feather, and flood out towards you.
Q. How are you doing? It feels weird that we haven’t met in person yet.
It is funny that we haven’t met in person yet, given that we are in the same city and all. I am doing okay, like everyone there are better days than others. Just taking each one at a time.
Q. What are you reading / watching / listening to nowadays?
READING: There’s a fantastic series of short interviews of artists on Art Spiel of which I participated in myself and that I have really enjoyed reading how others have been coping as well.
LISTENING TO: I normally love podcasts while at the studio, but recently I have just wanted silence.
WATCHING: I’ve just started watching the newest season of Billions which ironically has a new artist character – who of course is a good looking male abstract painter who “doesn’t paint for money.”
Photo credit: Art Spiel
Q. Do you have a studio at home? Have there been any changes in your work environment since quarantine?
I do not have a studio at home, however my studio is only a couple blocks away, so I am very lucky that way. Not long after the lock-down went into place I did develop a cough, so I didn’t go anywhere until that was long gone. During that time, I found it difficult to work anyhow. That was when it seemed like there were updates every hour in the news on what the advice was as we were learning about this virus. So, I focused on other things, I got my taxes done, updated my website that type of thing.
When it felt safe for me to go to my studio, I found that I was drawn to pull out some older work, work that had been done just after the Recession hit. I reworked some of these pieces, as I was feeling this strong connection to that time period and now. I wanted to make some work that reflected those feelings and quite literally connected the time periods in the work. Feeling: Contemplative in Curina's COVID-19 relief sale was one of those pieces.
Q. I really admire your USPS art project. Can you tell me how you came to the idea? What were the challenges and rewards of this project?
Thank you! It originated out of a combination of things. One, I was feeling an intense desire to do something to help in some way, and not owning a sewing machine to get to work making masks, I was feeling lost as to what I could do. Then I started to realize just how many artist friends were feeling the same as I was. We were experiencing this unease of creating right now, that we couldn’t simply go back to our work as if the world hadn’t completely changed. At the same time I started to notice this trend of posts encouraging people to buy stamps and save the Post Office. The idea formed almost instantly. It’s not a particularly new or original idea, artists have done mail art and exquisite corpse drawings for a long time, but the idea was more to initiate a call to action. It gave artists the freedom to just create, didn’t have to be great, didn’t have to be about the situation or anything like their previous work, but just do something and in doing so, you were helping the larger community simply by taking part.
The idea is simple, two artists partner up, each starts an artwork and mails it to the other to finish. I created a social media around it, @uspsartproject so when people share their collaborations I share the artworks. It’s really that simple. But it has been incredible to see the response. It’s helping people feel connected, that what they are doing is important and so many artists have told me that their collaborations were the first work they had done since this whole thing started. That it has reinvigorated their creative practice which is really the best compliment I can think of.
If anyone wants to join in, please do! Just search for @uspsartproject on Instagram or Facebook.
El Anatsui, Gravity and Grace (2010)
Photo credit: Guggenheim Bilbao; © El Anatsui. Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York
Q. While I don’t think this word exhausts your works, “craft” has such strong connotations. What does it mean to you? What associations does it bring?
Well obviously, as a female artist, being called “craft’ oriented has always been a slight against your skill and seriousness as an artist. Yet, today we see museums full of artists that have embraced arguably “craft” techniques from Sheila Hicks to El Anatsui. The major difference with most of those artists is that I am a female artist. For some reason still, although it’s changing slowly, when male artists embrace the traditions and techniques of craft into their Art it’s viewed in a very different light.
A detail of Christina Massey's Breaking Patterns 4
Q. I think everyone is thinking of new ways of connecting with artists, and this will have lasting effects beyond quarantine. Have you had any thoughts on this front? Especially since your works are so tactile, how do you imagine they can “survive” the lack of physical interaction?
This isn’t a new issue necessarily for my work. Photographs flatten my work too much, as you say, it removes the tactile interaction. Video however is great for my work, and the increased requests for virtual studio visits over the usual sending a few images of your work has actually been a benefit. When people get to see just how much process and labor goes into the work, they develop a whole new appreciation for it, and video allows them to “maneuver” around the work in a way that is much more exciting than seeing a slide show for example. So, in that way, interacting with my work in this socially distant, almost artist as entertainer way has been a benefit.
Q. And does your changed environment - of your studio specifically or because of the pace of life slowing down in general - affect this creative process?
My studio is the same. My time at the studio does feel different however. Similar to how many people have been feeling, there’s a pressure to feel productive yet everything seems to take longer than usual and my routine is thrown off. I don’t feel ready to address the pandemic yet in my work, and yet just doing what I always have seems wrong.
So much of my time has been spent on things like sourcing and preparing materials, or sealing and adding in protective layers to recently finished works etc. It helps me feel productive, yet allows my mind the time it needs to reflect and absorb the situation we are all now in. Normally I’d have shows to be preparing for, but as those were cancelled, I have the freedom to let my mind process and meditate on this strange situation we are in.
Q. Lastly...what’s the first thing you’d like to do when we get to go outside?
Oh wow, so many things, but mostly, I really want to get out of the city, get into nature, go for an all day hike. At this time last year, I was doing a 5 day hike in Peru, making my way towards Machu Picchu, hiking up to 16 miles a day in high altitudes. Now I feel winded just carrying groceries up to my 4th floor walkup! Exercise and nature are big stress relievers for me, and I have been greatly missing that. So yes, a hike, 100%, I need it!