20.09.20

Interview with Allison Baker

Signs of an Unhealthy Gut, 2019, mixed media

Tell us a little about yourself.

I am a multimedia artist and Assistant Professor of Sculpture and Studio Art at Hamline University, Minnesota. I clawed my way into higher education with a thesaurus and words that I cannot pronounce. To the students, I try to impart some knowledge of finesse, persuasion, and manual labor.

 

Can you tell us about your practice?

My creative research is firmly rooted in feminist scholarship; my goal is to actualise abstract theoretical concepts as tangible objects and experiences mediated and documented through sound and video to push the boundaries of both academic research and public education in our precious post-digital moment. 

 

Utilizing sculpture, video, new media, and medical narrative of “environmental illness” to examine the competing scientific paradigms that currently, but contradictorily, define and govern the “health” and “normalcy” of our post-digital bodies and homes. Sculptural feminist praxis (specifically, the abject) reveals what our previously considered “safe” and “sterile” domestic spaces, objects, and bodies really are: Semi-monstrous organic communities, of which “we” are only one tiny, post-human part.

A thematic subtext of my work revolves around cleaning, care giving, and labor. I’ve been unintentionally making work about class and gendered poverty from a position of lived experience. Not with a laser focused clarity or awareness of my intentions and material choices but from within what Bourdieu would call a subordinated position as “the working-class ‘aesthetic’ is a dominated aesthetic,” because I’m trailer trash that likes shiny things and trashy things and nacho cheese.

Unsterile exhibition view2019
Unsterile exhibition view2019

Your work crosses many disciplines and uses many different materials. What processes have you developed that have allowed your 2D and 3D works to effectively connect with each other?

 

I listened to Todd Frahm and started making 2D work because sculpture is huge, no one really wants it, it is expensive, and my body is literally breaking in half. I now start with a series of small scale hand cut 2D works that I started working on while teaching so I have a distraction so as to not hover so much. I am nearing 100 of these cut paper 'sketches' that take 2-3 hours per 10 x 7 in (imperial, sorry!) sketch. These allow me to work through my ideas quickly, well quickly for me. One of maybe 10 or so I like enough to turn into a small scale maquette, the maquette is affordable to make, often out of 'junk' materials like cardboard and whatever I have in the studio, I am really into thin set flex mortar right now. And if it passes mustard then I make a large scale version. Things always change and evolve and I end up making multiple versions but this allows me to really think through an idea before I invest loads of time and money into a large piece only to decide I hate it. Also shipping monumental work is prohibitively expensive and I'm vain enough that I always want mine to be the biggest in the room so the maquettes also serve as shippable versions of my big boys. I can crank out 75% of a sculpture in a few days, I've always worked fast. Then it takes me weeks to do the other 15%. In reality I usually leave about 10% unfinished, once most of the work is finished I lose interest in closing up seams and retouching paint. 

 

I talk a little about this is my statement below, but my choices are a result of my background, I'm trash. I like shiny things and trashy things and nacho cheese. I also use a lot of steel, it was my first love and my brain 'works fastest' in steel, it is also the place in the world I feel the best about myself. The metal shop is my dominion. I'm confidant there, I like blasting Anthrax and sneaking behind the back of the trailers (oh, yeah.  I teach in glorified trailers) to sneak a cigarette before I get yelled at by 19 year old security guards that don't realize I'm a prof because I 1. look young for my age (wear sunscreen) and 2. I am usually covered in shop dirt and profs aren't supposed to wear carhartt jackets and be smoking cigarettes behind trailers. 

My work focuses on femininity as a site of transgression/resistance-- often with tongue firmly planted in cheek. I deploy irony and the abject in order to make space to ponder the soul crushing banalities of what many might term “women’s work.” It’s funny (hopefully) but funny with a serrated edge. While my work does not always reflect a commitment to traditional materials -- eschewing mythic/heroic subject matter for an aesthetic that combines commercial hardware, repurposed detritus, dime-store kitsch, and day-old pastries to embrace radical eclecticism and the carnivalesque -- my techniques are derived from skills-and-drills of precision and fabrication.

Unsterile exhibition view2019

How do you manage a working life with the pressures of producing that come with being an artist?

For the first time in my career I am taking the advice my mentor gave me over ten years ago. I have a sustainable studio practice and am working on having a life and not chaining myself to a welder to hide from my problems or kowtow to the pressures of capitalism to always be producing. Now instead of sitting in my studio feeling accomplished for being there I now also over produce in my kitchen and have at least two side crafts in the living room. 

Cut paper sketch, 2020
Cut paper sketch, 2020
Your response to Reset's open call was memorable - how you talk about class and your position at a university was particularly candid. Why did you feel as though you wanted to respond to the call?
We talk a lot about the precarity of women in higher education we do not talk enough about the precarity of workingclass individuals that have made it into higher education, or the fact that most people in the humanities and the arts live at the margins of economic insecurity.  I may work Ivory tower adjacent (I teach in --no joke-- quonset hut trailers off campus) but still skulk around campus in a ratty Carhartt jacket where I am often mistaken for a facilities worker, which may have something to do with the fact that I ride around in their golf carts smoking cigarettes between meetings. I don't, won't, and will never fit in or feel comfortable in the petite bourgeois class; I will forever have 'poor person brain.' I love that Reset// offers a platform for working class and working poor artists, representation is important. I try to be my most honest, ernest self for my students; to use my southern-trash patois with pride; to wear gigantic, cheap earrings from Walmart and chipped nail polish. It is beyond incredible that Reset// is a platform, sounding board, and support system for folks without means but not without talent. 
Koons Poos, 2019

You can see more of Allison's incredibly juicy collages and sculptures on her Instagram.

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