Kristen works across media exploring imagery and sculpture generated from the performative process. She uses performance and sculpture to investigate issues of labor, identity, gender, and memory using an array of material commonly found at hardware stores, supermarkets and recycling bins. Raised in Massachusetts, Kristen received her B.F.A in sculpture from UMass Dartmouth. She completed her M.F.A concentrating in Sculpture and Dimensional Studies from Alfred University in 2012. She has exhibited nationally and internationally and has been an artist in residence at Salem Art Works, the Visitor Center, and Franconia Sculpture Park. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Art at Millsaps College in Jackson, MS and is currently teaching drawing, digital arts, sculpture, performance art, and papermaking.
About her work she says:
Our bodies contain the memories each day lived. I focus on how to physically represent these inherent memories of labor through multiple processes, often meditative by nature. I love material and am continually fascinated in the remnants of this labor found in my environment. I use sculpture, performance art, video, photography, paper, print, and book making to express experiences had, such as a collaborative sawmill ballet, forty handmade books containing performance imagery, or a video documenting the answer to "how many screws can fit into my mouth?" Ultimately, my stubborn curiosity and absurd logic lead to a compilation of memories, processes, materials, images that combine into cross-media artwork.
How do you negotiate your time between your personal artistic practice and teaching?
It can be a huge challenge! Part of what feeds my teaching energy is having a creative practice of my own. I can get grumpy if I don't spend time working in the studio! That being said, I find myself scheduling studio time here and there during the week. I am also lucky enough to have a space at home and at the college where I work, which gives me lots of options to keep long-standing projects going. Teaching demands ebb and wane, so sometimes, like this morning, I was able to update my personal website before focusing on my afternoon class prep. This year is much easier than last year, because I am more organized and am teaching some of the same classes, plus I don't have to move!! I teach mostly non-majors, so I also had to adjust my prompts and grading to keep students of all skill and interest levels engaged in making. I try to go to a workshop and/or residency each summer, so I can experiment and jump start the ideas that I continue executing during a busy semester. Deadlines and time management are great, if stressful, motivators to get the studio mojo churning.
Can you talk a little bit further about your summer endeavours? I understand you were at Franconia this last summer, could you tell us about what you did there?
I went to Franconia in the summer of 2011 to see what would happen! I received an Intern Artist Fellowship, which is a work/share program. John Hock, the director of Franconia, has said that it is one of his favorite elements of the park. Interns come in groups of 5-7 and live in the big white house on what was then 21 acres of park land. We worked together installing and de-installing large scale sculpture (the park has little to no permanent installations), helping Fellowship Artists make their work, and general park maintenance. Coral told me it was art boot camp, and she wasn't wrong! I learned a lot about making large scale sculpture although I made a durational performance piece<http://cargocollective.com/kristentordellawilliams/Dig>, it ended up informing the rest of my work in grad school. I also met a lot of great artists that I continue to run into at various random events all over the world. That is the great beauty and value in applying for and attending artist residencies, workshops, and conferences. Once you get out of school, it becomes rapidly more difficult to have meaningful conversations about work, art, materials, processes etc. When a group of artists get together with creative energy, there's a pool of knowledge and a spark there that's hard to contain. Plus, it's just damn good ol' fashioned fun!
I told people that I was going to Art Camp this past summer because that seems like the closest descriptor of my activities. I attended a cast iron workshop at Sculpture Trails Outdoor Museum located in the hills surrounding Bloomington, Indiana. They have a huge intern group that works extremely hard maintaining the park grounds, mixing sand, breaking iron, and running the pours. I was able to create 24 cast iron sculptures from start to finish in only 9 days because of their amazing assistance. It was truly a joy to be able to focus on producing a set of sculptures without any other distractions. If you go to my website here<http://cargocollective.com/kristentordellawilliams/Artifacts>, you can see documentation of the work I completed at the Trails. I left 10 to be displayed at the Museum, sent 5 to a show on Governor's Island in NYC, and have the remaining 5 stored on the walls in my house!
I also attended the Visitor Center's 2015 Symposium for Sustainable Art in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I was camping at both places and made sure to procure a tent in which I could stand up, crucial to living happily for a month out of a car and tent. It was only the second year they have offered the Symposium, so some of our time was spent improving the infrastructure. It is located on 40 acres of land close to the Ottawa National Forest. We went on a bunch of outings to waterfalls, lakes, and even spent a day on a magical beach on the shores of Lake Superior. I was working with a former logger, longtime sawmill operator named Mel Seeger. I asked him and the other artists whether they would be interested in creating a performance of the time spent working in Matchwood, Mel's diesel operated sawmill. I have opened up more in the performance aspect of my work and have been rewarded with other people's ideas, energy, and passion! We performed our Sawmill Ballet<http://cargocollective.com/kristentordellawilliams/Sawmill-Ballet> for a receptive audience of about twenty people and then went to feast on a slow roasted pig. It was most excellent!
I've been lucky enough to also go to Salem Art Works as an Emerging Artist, which was a magical experience on a converted dairy farm near Albany, NY as well as attending the 7th International Conference on Contemporary Cast Iron Art in Pedvale Latvia by way of volunteering as a documentary photographer. It has been essential for me to experiment among groups of supportive artists, especially in my performance practice. I say to everyone, get out and do it!!!! Make it happen! Apply to all the things!
Thank you for such in depth details! When you attend workshops and residencies, do you apply for funding and grants or finance the trips yourself? What about shipping your tools and artworks? Do you need to bring a lot with you or have you found much is provided by the institutions?
As to funding and resources, it really depends on the host. It would be amazing if someone else paid for everything! It ends up being a mix of funding. Most places don't pay for travel, where I had a work exchange I paid for my travel out of pocket but would receive food, lodging, some tools and materials in return. Now that I teach at a college, I receive a minimal amount to fund travel to conferences and residencies. It's not enough to cover everything I want to do, but it definitely helps!! I currently am in the process of applying to multiple grants in order to fund a large scale cast iron wreath or two that I would love to make this summer, depending on how much, if any, external funding I receive. I think the general public would be surprised at how much money artists invest in their work out of pocket, but it seems to be the most reliable source of funding ;)
I've been slowly amassing a collection of tools since undergrad, mostly because I keep them in good working order and don't have to share. It's easy to get frustrated or bogged down in a project without the correct and functioning tool. I normally try to plan ahead to the projects/jobs I will be doing and bring at least my own hand tools. For example, I made sure to bring a grinder, hot glue gun, soldering iron, Dremel, hair dryer, dental tools, a driver/impactor combo, plus a tool box with a variety of hand tools to Sculpture Trails for the iron casting process. They have a great variety of tools available too, yet I still ended up borrowing foam carving tools from a fellow artist as well as lending out a number of tools to others. I have been driving to most residencies where I am producing a lot of work, both to transport tools, tents, sleeping bags, clothes, equipment etc as well as to bring items back with me. It's handy to have the freedom of a car when you need screws and they're a 15 minute drive away. This all being said, all I needed at Franconia was a shovel and a dress. Artists usually make the most out of the resources at hand, we're a crafty bunch.
What advice would you give to current students at Alfred trying to figure out life after art school?
As an answer to your final question aka what advice to give, oh boy! What a hard question. I'd say that you are responsible for how you affect the world. I just went to an opening at the Mississippi Museum of Art for Marie Hull, a native Mississippian painter. She said ““Progress and change are the essence of living — for artist and non-artist. Without it, stagnation and deterioration soon become evident. People who expand their knowledge and investigate, remain more youthful, have joyous experiences, and become more mentally alert.” Right on, Marie! I say, stay open to other experiences, keep working working working, don't let anyone tell you what you do is unimportant. Art is essential! Without art, we'd be just monkeys continually scrolling smartphones, there's already enough of that. Opportunities are out there if you make it happen. Bring people together through your art and process. Say yes more than no, especially to yourself. Be a positive impact on the world around you, help your fellow artists! Ask them for help! Don't go broke living in Brooklyn; go where you're wanted. You can choose an affordable place and build an art community around you. Most of all, HAVE FUN!