Illustration

Bio Junk: An Interview with Crystal Wagner

March 25, 2014

Crystal Wagner is an installation artist whose massive, immersive universes bring on sensations of space junk, organic matter, waves, forested enclosures and synesthetic vibrations. Says Wagner, "Each installation, and each drawing is a different conversation I am having. The gesture is the introduction, the first impression, and everything else tumbles out." I had the pleasure of helping install her solo show for the opening of Hashimoto Contemporary in San Francisco, and we got to talking about how she hatches the plans for these sculptural masses through drawing. Wagner received her MFA from the University of Tennessee in 2008 and is a recipient of numerous awards and recognitions. Check out her website for more installation views and time-lapse videos.

 


How difficult is the process of transitioning from 2D to 3D? How do you preserve the gesture of the initial sketch when you start working with materials like chicken wire?Every ink drawing I do helps me understand how I organize marks, situate shapes, and is an extension of the way I see. I think about insects, complicated hybrid bio matter, and about twisting that bio junk into something foreign, yet strangely familiar. The only difference I feel when I am working on large installations is that instead of alluding to space, I get to utilize it. Which to me..is awesome! I have a background in sculpture so it makes sense that even when working with chicken wire, while temperamental and pretty difficult to work with, is a mark, it can be manipulated the same way a line can be.

How did you get the idea to take your drawings into a physical form?
It’s not that I translate specific drawings into my installations, I’ve never really done that. I draw everyday, building my vocabulary as an artist. This helps me dig deep and understand how I make work. The installations and the drawings are similar in that they both start with a gesture and then grow from that first mark. It’s intuitive, which is the most honest--the most raw--that I can be as an artist. I build large-scale artificial growths using tablecloth and chicken wire which are materials that everyone has access to. I am interested in how my physical experience is being influenced by manmade objects and spaces. I am interested in re-contextualizing everyday materials and environment building. 

You say you had to overcome the outside opinion that art isn't good unless it has figures in it. How did you overcome that?
Big Smile. Initially I didn't understand how anyone could relate to the work without seeing a person in it. I used to start with the figure and build my work from there. It grounds the work in a space that others are familiar. Eventually, I realized for my own work, though, I was interested in people experiencing the work instead of viewing it, and that by putting a person in my drawings or prints, the narrative related to seeing a figure, was disconnecting the viewer from it. If I am working on a drawing and I notice that something is starting to closely resemble a face or person, I work very hard to remove it. It takes away a sense of discovery and investigation that I rely on to engage the viewer. It's a delicate balance.

Many of your initial drawings are in black and white. When do you introduce color into the mix? 
Understanding line and the potential of line is at the core of all of my work. The graphic mark is the skeleton, black and white, stripped down, but the world, this crazy place we live, is full of color. Candy-colored-coated plastic dripping from power lines, fluorescent streaks of neon light, slashing their way across graphite colored asphalt. Currently I choose colors schemes based off of my interest in the commercially driven sense of aesthetic that feeds people their sensibilities. Walk into any dollar store or large chain and today’s popular consumer culture is flooded with a circa 1990’s color boost. I’m sure this will change, as people's sensibilities do.   

How much do your original drawings influence the final iteration of your installation work?
It is linear, the drawings inform the installations as much as they help me understand marks. Installation work is just drawing in space. For me, it is important that I am comfortable with my visual vocabulary. When I'm working on an installation which is a much more intense making experience than drawing on paper, usually with 12 hour days that span over a week, I am thinking about the work in the same way, just bigger. Each installation, and each drawing is a different conversation I am having. The gesture is the introduction, the first impression, and everything else tumbles out.

What would happen if you accidentally cut yourself while building an installation?
Haha! Polychromatic paper particles & confetti would spill out of me.

If you could hang out with one person, living or dead, who would that be? What would you do?
Marcel Duchamp. Yes, please. I would probably do something dorky like try to give him a high five and then realize that based off of our time line, he would think I was trying to hit him. : ) Seriously though, I would just tell him, "thank you for giving art a new context." and then I would get back to work in the studio!

How much do your original drawings influence the final iteration of your installation work?
It is linear, the drawings inform the installations as much as they help me understand marks. Installation work is just drawing in space. For me, it is important that I am comfortable with my visual vocabulary. When I'm working on an installation which is a much more intense making experience than drawing on paper, usually with 12 hour days that span over a week, I am thinking about the work in the same way, just bigger. Each installation, and each drawing is a different conversation I am having. The gesture is the introduction, the first impression, and everything else tumbles out.

What would happen if you accidentally cut yourself while building an installation?
Haha! Polychromatic paper particles & confetti would spill out of me.

If you could hang out with one person, living or dead, who would that be? What would you do?
Marcel Duchamp. Yes, please. I would probably do something dorky like try to give him a high five and then realize that based off of our time line, he would think I was trying to hit him. : ) Seriously though, I would just tell him, "thank you for giving art a new context." and then I would get back to work in the studio!

Above: Crystal Wagner's "Synesthesia" at Hashimoto Contemporary, on view through March

Photos courtesy of Joshua Nissen King

Interview by: Lauren YS