Interview: Emmy Mikelson

What is your background as an artist?

I work in a range of media - video, sculpture, performance, and currently I am focusing on painting.  I received a BFA from the University of Iowa and I did my graduate work at Hunter College in New York City. At an early point I was interested in art as a place for inquiry. It is a field of study and practice that is very open and capable of endless permutations. This idea of constant change and flux is very appealing.

How would you describe the subject matter of your art?

I am interested in the permeability of things. My work has taken many forms over the years, but there is a constant attention to the notion of categories slipping in and out of one another. Things are never stable; they shift, sag, leak, push and acquiesce. This is true for all things: material and immaterial. It is an idea I am always trying to find ways to get at. What does it look like to have bodies, buildings, horizons, photons and laptops all flattened onto one another and indistinguishable?

How did you get started on your latest body of work?

My current painting series arose broadly for two reasons: space and speculation. The project began partly because of a space constraint. A few years ago I moved into a live-work space that needed renovation. My studio became a cluttered construction zone, so I eked out a small clean spot and started to work on these small-scaled paintings as opposed to the larger sculptures I had been working on. Around this same time I began reading more on a branch of philosophy called Speculative Realism (SR). One of the recurring points in SR is the idea of a flat ontology. In many ways it is a spatial condition where hierarchies are resolved differently. It has a democratizing effect, albeit dynamic and forceful, full of change and flux. Although it has clear implications for politics and ecology, I was thinking about it in more abstract and material forms. How to depict a space where all things exist right at the surface, no one thing more meaningful than another? And how could that space be simultaneously thin and dense, full and flat? These were the questions that prompted and continue to influence the work.

What is the best advice for overcoming creative block?

To quote a card from Brian Eno and Peter Schimdt’s Oblique Strategies: “Go outside and shut the door.”

Do you have a day job? How do you balance your time?

In addition to my studio and curatorial projects, I teach at Baruch College and work at The Cooper Union developing their architecture summer programs where I also teach a drawing workshop. I think the best way to “balance your time” is to not think of work outside of the studio as a “day job”. I try to find overlapping interests and ideas in the places I work. In the classroom, the assignments I develop relate to concepts I am thinking about in the studio. Through Cooper I have found several interesting experimental architecture journals that I have been fortunate to publish my writing and work in. These kinds of intersections between work and studio can help to make all your time remain connected and not just a series of distractions.

What artwork, film or piece of literature has had a strong impact on your work?

Some works have a tendency to stick and stay lodged in the back of your head. When I was 16, I read Milan Kundera’s novella Slowness. The telling of fractured histories playing out in strange slices of time had a strong influence on me. I have a feeling that if I read the book fresh right now, I may not even like it. But at that time, that collection of thoughts and words meant something. And it still rattles around in the background.