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Posture Is Everything: An Interview with Artist Kristina Estell

Duluth-based artist Kristina Estell’s recent exhibition Posture Is Everything currently occupies the north gallery of the Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program (MAEP) at The Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA). Composed of cool, pale blue sheets of silicone elegantly draped atop triangular wooden armature, Posture Is Everything calls to mind winding river beds, fallen skies and couch-fort mountain ranges. […]

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Posture Is Everything, 2013. Image courtesy of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Duluth-based artist Kristina Estell’s recent exhibition Posture Is Everything currently occupies the north gallery of the Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program (MAEP) at The Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA). Composed of cool, pale blue sheets of silicone elegantly draped atop triangular wooden armature, Posture Is Everything calls to mind winding river beds, fallen skies and couch-fort mountain ranges. Like many of Estell’s sculptural forms and installations, this ethereal work evokes the gestures and forms of nature, rather then offering a direct representation of the natural world. I chatted with the artist recently by email to learn about the complex process involved in making the work in her exhibition, nature as medium, classical drapery and institutional posturing.

Jehra Patrick

I heard that the “drapery” in your piece was produced by the very labor-intensive process of painting silicone onto the walls of the MAEP space. Can you walk me through that process?

Kristina Estell

Actually, the piece in the MAEP gallery was produced in my studio! Due to material off-gassing and other concerns, the museum didn’t approve the original proposal to use the silicone on the walls of the space to create the work. A connection to the MAEP space is made apparent through the actual size of the combined dimensions of the sheets of rubber in the exhibition. These dimensions equal that of the MAEP space – 1352 sq. feet.

For Posture is Everything, the process was labor-intensive, but necessary to achieve the desired thickness – as well as to economically use the material — and to make it strong enough to support itself on such a large scale. Once I had determined the size of the pieces of rubber I needed, I mapped those dimensions out on the wall’s surface and then applied a thin layer of the silicone directly onto the wall using a three-inch chip brush. The liquid rubber is quite thick and has to be applied fairly evenly to achieve the effect that I want.

Installation in progress for Posture is Everything. Image courtesy of The Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Installation in progress for Posture is Everything. Image courtesy of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Once the first coat is applied, the material cures for 24 hours, all the while creeping down the wall’s surface as it sets. I then laid down a layer of thin nylon mesh fabric on the silicone’s surface and applied another full coat of rubber, adhering and sandwiching the material onto the first coat of rubber. Once the second layer was set, I simply peeled the rubber off the wall, rolling it onto a large cardboard tube to keep it clean and flat. The color of the silicone rubber comes “naturally” from the chemical activator provided by the manufacturer, and it’s one of the reasons why I like using this particular kind of silicone. Another great characteristic of this silicone mold material is that it doesn’t permanently adhere to (almost) any surface except itself, which makes it very user-friendly and flexible in terms of potential applications.

treatment (covered), 2011. Image courtesy of the artist.

Jehra Patrick

A process similar to that was used to produce a previous work, treatment (covered), completed for the Kabinett Gallery during your residency at the Akademie Schloss Solitude, Germany – how was that process different?

Kristina Estell

For the treatment installation, the goal was initially much more about creating a subtle and materially-charged space – treating the space, as it were. After many calculations, much prep-work, and a call for volunteer helpers, I set up a station in the middle of the gallery and just starting mixing silicone. This particular silicone was dyed with a bit of blue and gray color. Using the same small chip brush technique, my helpers and I brushed two layers of silicone onto the ceiling, walls, fixtures, windows and radiators, in this case, without the layer of fabric in between. I then let the material cure and migrate down the walls as it set.

Jehra Patrick

I’m interested in the relationship between the two pieces and your decision to repeat the action and make use of the material in a new way for the MAEP show. Can you speak to the evolution of your concept and process from one exhibition to the next?

Kristina Estell

treatment directly inspired the work at the MIA. At the end of the exhibition at the Akademie, I returned to de-install the work. Through this process, I realized a whole new experience of the material. My expectations for covering a room in silicone included, initially, the experience of the material as a direct part of the space as an installation, and secondly, being able to remove this material to retain the mold of the space as a rubber negative. In practice, the additional and unexpected part of the process became even more interesting to me as I started to remove the material from the space and learn about the spaces characteristics in such thin dimensions and at such a large scale. As the material started to come off, it began to peel itself from the wall — pulled down by its own weight — and that created really beautiful, and kind of theatrical, draping forms hanging from the surface of the walls. I found these forms so interesting, I knew I wanted to create another work that intentionally used this discovery in a more deliberate way and which might really exploit the weighty, draping potential of the rubber.

Installation in progress for Posture is Everything. Image courtesy of The Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Installation in progress for Posture is Everything. Image courtesy of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Jehra Patrick

Silicone, or rubber, seems like a particularly unnatural and permanent [non biodegradable] material. What is the importance of the material in this work? Is it the behavior of the material or the implications of its use that you’re primarily interested in?

Kristina Estell

The silicone material I am using is, of course, industrially manipulated to have the uses and properties it does, but it is not so very far removed from [unprocessed] silicon, the chemical element found in nature, and that makes up an enormous percentage of the earth’s crust, for example. And in this rubberized form, the silicone mold material is actually not permanent. In fact, the life of all these sheets of rubber is very uncertain. The “skin” will start to degrade and the color will change over time…probably pretty dramatically within the space of just five years.

Jehra Patrick

That is interesting! I had it in my head that silicone (probably in terms of medical implants, etc.) was this permanent, fake thing. Thanks for returning me to the Periodic Table! That really gives the piece an added dimension, to think about it behaving like a skin – in form and behavior – molting off the walls, really delicate and fragile, even taking on attributes of aging.

Kristina Estell

To answer your question: Drawing lines back and forth between the material and the referring implications of its use is exactly what interests me so much in this material as a central subject and object in my work.

Processing and Computation, 2013. Image courtesy of the artist

Jehra Patrick 

Working directly with the site, as in the walls of the exhibition space, or collecting materials – such as rocks – from the area where you work appears to be a thread in your practice. Does your general studio practice guide you to work in response to your site of production? Or, does this [site-specificity] differ from your general studio practice, having more to do with preparing for a particular exhibition?

Kristina Estell

Depending on the project, where I am working at the time, etc, my working practice is very flexible. I do find inspiration in being outside of my everyday environment, and often I create work for specific locations. Many projects only exist in certain locations, but others can translate to other sites as well.  I see my studio practice as a kind of magnification process — taking a small thing from outside and blowing it up into something else within my work space.

My working practice is materially inspired but conceptually relies on finding and creating simple connections and gestures. Depending on the idea, my working practice, materials, processes change for almost every new project. Recently, I have been studying glass working and am preparing a station in the studio to start exploring this medium. I work with a material for some amount of time until I am able to understand it, how it acts and what connections I can develop between its physical properties and a set of ideas that interest me. This naturally involves a lot of trial and error, but this is also the best way to actually learn and make discoveries that can inform finishing a project and inspiring a new one.

Jehra Patrick 

The natural world has long been central to your work, yet you often approach the subject in subtle, indirect ways. Is this reflective of your own experience of nature? Or, are you simply looking for less representational ways to discuss natural forms?

Kristina Estell

That’s an interesting question. I feel like I use nature within my work as more of a medium than a subject sometimes: a set of imagery and objects to think through, learn from, processes and events that are relative to my own experience but which are also just the common experience of living today. Nature is something that holds us all; it’s a reflexive subject and it makes sense to pay attention to it that way. It’s also just the language that seems most essential to me.

Installation view of Posture is Everything, 2013. Image courtesy of The Minneapolis Institute of Art

Installation view of Posture is Everything, 2013. Image courtesy of The Minneapolis Institute of Art

Jehra Patrick

That is beautiful and poetic — the notion of nature as medium. This resonates with so many disciplines: painting by way of oil, photography’s use of light and chemicals, sculpture’s origination in stone.  I also appreciate your intentionality in blurring subject-object-medium and the slippage between form and materials. These poetics seem to work their way into the title of your current exhibition. Would you talk a little about that title: Posture is Everything?

Kristina Estell

I liked the ambiguity and the structure implied by the title, Posture is Everything. It is obviously resolute, but I was hoping that – in combination with seeing the work in the gallery – this resolution would be dissolved a bit and the title would help create a sense of urging effort within the sculptural forms; a sense that this dense, heavy, sagging but beautiful material — with all its references — has intentions of real structure or ‘posture’ but no such actual potential without the wooden armature underneath it. The ‘everything’ in the title makes it just priceless, bringing up an elusive sense of value and what matters. I especially thought this title would be interesting within the institution context of the art museum.

Jehra Patrick

Let’s talk more about the work’s placement within the art museum. In form, the silicone brings to mind historical imagery within a museum such as classical painting, or assemblies of objects and fabric swaths from life drawing. The armature nearly references easels. In titling, ‘everything’ might refer to all the museums holdings, or all things of greatness – art as valuables, or the art or the artist’s role, or stature, but also implies that these roles or behaviors are misleading. Do artists, or the museum posture as well?

Kristina Estell 

Yes, all these points you bring up are connections I am interested in. Right away during the install process, I was getting comments from various people about the visual similarities the piece has to other artwork within the museum and beyond. I didn’t expect such a direct relationship to specific works held by the museum, but did anticipate the relationship to the tradition of drawing, painting, still lifes and enjoyed pulling from that [classical] ‘standard’ of beauty that suggests objectivity, as well as genericness of subject.

The practice of working from drapery or fabric shapes with such attention and detail to accomplish form without content is very interesting to me; it is the most simple and empty way to illustrate ‘posture,’ or the act of posturing, which I definitely believe art does. The genre of still life most honestly reveals its postured nature. Necessarily, I do think artists and art institutions build on a series of postures that feel flexible and tenuous…at times misleading as well, but possibly just more undefined in our culture.

Kristina Estell’s work references physical material systems through an exploration of the theme of landscape and vision. As sculpture, my work exists in pieces, parts of a whole. It is ephemeral in its design as well as in the quality expressed by the use of such materials as transparent resin, sheer fabric, lenses and clear silicone. Using a range of sculptural and drawing techniques, my work aims to expand our understanding of landscape to include sites outside of our immediate periphery, which might be deeply interior or vastly exterior. These processes often result in a collection of naturally suggestive but ambiguous forms that come together to narrate a space and question our perceptions of nature.

Kristina Estell’s Posture is Everything runs until Sunday, June 20, 2013 at in the Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program gallery at The Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Artist’s Talks: Thursday, May 16, 2013, 7-9 p.m.
Special Guests: Thursday, June 20, 2013, 7-9 p.m.

Look for Kristina’s work in the Minnesota Biennial at The Soap Factory, where she will create drawings from materials collected from the gallery, itself.

For more on the artist, visit her website at kristinaestell.com and blog kristinaestell.blogspot.com