KEEGAN LUTTRELL IS AN ARTIST LIVING IN OAKLAND, CA. HER WORK EXPLORES PSYCHOLOGICAL RESPONSES TO THRILL AND FEAR THROUGH PHOTOGRAPHY, SCULPTURE, DRAWING AND VIDEO. WE'D TOTALLY JUMP OUT A PLANE WITH HER, IN THE NAME OF RESEARCH OF COURSE:)
What has inspired you recently- what are you listening to, reading, watching?
Lately I have been reading Joan Didion’s Essays Slouching Towards Bethlehem which is a great portrait of California in the sixties. I just read two small pieces of writing that were very inspiring, Entropy and the New Monuments by Robert Smithson and Alessandra Ponte’s The House of Light and Entropy: Inhabiting the American Desert. Entropy has been a word used to describe my work and I have been curious to read more about how artists have dealt with this topic. I have also been reading Buckminster Fuller’s Utopia or Oblivion. I’ve been trying to discipline myself after school to read something, whether its an article or just a chapter from a book that is more theory based to fuel some of the work I have been making now. I also look at blogs all the time to see what’s happening here and internationally in the art world.
Which artists are you looking at? Who are your all time favorite artists?
James Turrell, Robert Smithson, Donald Judd - Although these artists have been around the block, I never really understand their relationship to phenomenology and perception, or rather didn’t consider it as something that I was interested in. I love Marina Abramovic, Doris Salcedo, Mona Hatoum, Sarah Sze, Rebecca Horn, Tomas Saraceno, Olafur Eliasson, and Los Carpinteros, just to name a few. I just discovered an artist that really excites me and her name is Rosa Barba. I saw her work at the Venice Biennale years ago and loved it and I think she is a great example of blending photographic technologies, mostly by using outdated devices, and creating installations that speak about how time shifts through experience.
How to your ideas come to life? Describe your studio process.
Most of the time I begin with photography and drawing. I then try to flesh my ideas out through those mediums to then come up with larger more experiential and sculptural works. There is a build up that tends to happen where it take a lot of planning and preparation for the other works, so keeping myself busy with smaller projects will always lends to the bigger picture. Recently I have been thinking about combining sculpture with photography and video so that there is less of a separation between two-dimensional and three-dimensional works. I find this to be an exciting place to be so that I can figure out how to make images more interactive and immersive. I also like to experience whatever I am making directly. Last summer I rode roller coasters and tried to capture the momentum of the ride through drawing. I also went skydiving recently to understand the purpose of a parachute and how time shifts in moments of heightened adrenaline.
How has being in the Bay Area influenced your work?
I think it has. More so recently as I am trying out a new body of work. I think a lot about how the ‘American West’ has been represented throughout history. The idea that there was such a push to find gold here and to experience the edge of the unknown is evident in a lot of the work that is coming out of the Bay Area. The sun has a way of making everything a little clearer out here so as to challenge the way in which we see. So I think California as a whole is seeping into my work.
Do you ever miss Tennessee? If so, what about it?
Sometimes, I do miss home and have gone back to Tennessee from time to time. It is really beautiful there. The Smokey Mountains are majestic and people are super nice. But it wasn’t really cutting it when it came to the arts and I felt like I needed to find a place that could support what I was doing. I do plan on going back and possibly trying to do a project at the Oak Ridge National Lab where the atomic bomb was first developed, very close to my hometown. And to go to Dollywood.
What are your favorite materials to work with? What mediums do you work in?
I was working with parachutes, toy roller coaster parts, acrylic and wood for a lot of my works. I am more interested now in video and photography to speak more about how we used to experience places, time, and images through devices and how that has changed now. A distance between experiencing and viewing has been created with all of this new technology. I think a lot about Susan Sontag’s On Photography, in regard to that. I really want to learn older film technologies and right now I have been making manipulations of photos on a scanner. I think these obsolete objects can aid in producing works that are still relevant in this day and age and challenge some of the new more cutting edge ways of engaging with the world.
Do you listen to music when you are in the studio? Who are you listening to now?
Currently I am listening to Karl Blau, Grimes, Bonobo, Samadion, Jolie Holland, Hush Arbors, Dr. Dog, Fela Kuti, Beach House and the new Daft Punk album. Anything really that gets me going or helps me reflect on what I am making.
What risks have you taken in your work recently?
I took a big risk for my MFA show. I was creating and struggling through some work that I was preparing for the show and then I had a breakthrough. I went skydiving and wanted to recreate that experience. I decided to do this with a two-channel video installation rather than a physical parachute as a metaphor for that feeling. There are things I would do differently with that installation, however it has led me to think about my work differently now.
What has been your favorite reaction to your work?
I always enjoy when kids experience my work. Sometime they are scared or in awe, but they always have the most genuine responses. Grandparents are delightful too. My 97 year old grandmother did not like a piece I had once because it contained nudity. She proclaimed to me that is was ‘not art’. My grandfather experienced an installation and told me it made him feel like a kid again. For me these responses that span generations are the most rewarding to hear.
Who is your biggest fan?
My mom. She is a working artist herself and has been an art teacher for 18 years. We weren’t well off, but she was determined to make sure that we had a good education. My brothers and I went to private schools she taught at for half-price. During her teaching career she helped students get into art schools, organized trips around the world and every saturday she would open up the studios at school so dedicated high schoolers could come in and work. Her dedication as a teacher and as an artist is a huge inspiration. A few years ago she lost her job at the school she taught at for 13 years, she taught for a year in Switzerland and came back to Tennessee to make work. Now she sells her art every weekend at different art festivals around the country and has a dedicated studio practice. I am always telling her of my ideas and we have a rapport and support system with one another that has been really important for me over the years.
Who are your mentors?
My mom and my dad. Ken Tisa who was my teacher at MICA in my study abroad program in France. Him and Michael Rakowitz were the first teachers I had that really pushed me. Ken and I still chat from time to time and his teaching methods have stuck with me over the years. Anna Murch who was my professor at Mills has taught me a lot through studio visits. She understood what I was trying to do and could articulate it with me through a very engaging and almost psychic way. Hung Liu at Mills has also been very support of me and my work and always tells me of opportunities that are out there for me.
Do you have a day job?
Yes, I work retail, have my own little side business, and organize events at the artist co-op I live at. I am working on some curatorial projects with friends and hope in the next few years to start an alternative art space in West Oakland.
If you weren’t an artist, what other professions would you enjoy?
Secretly, my dream profession is to be a background singer. I love to sing, but I’m not the most musically inclined. I wouldn’t want to be in the spotlight, just in the background.
What are you working on now that you are super excited about?
A current body of work that I have focused on exists in a place in the Mojave Desert in California. In the midst of the vastness there is a town called California City that was never developed. Real Estate developer Nat Mendelsohn thought that the town would be able to rival San Francisco and L.A. and become the next greatest city in California It consists of unbuilt roads and empty cul-de-sacs, that were intended to become a place where life and suburbia flourished. The landscape appears post-apocalyptic, while in reality it never became what it had the potential to exist as. In this space I am interested in what happens before and after the ruin, why ruin is inherent, and if there is possibility in emptiness and how that shifts in representation of space and time. I have created site-specific interventions and digital photo collages to allude to the disillusion of utopia/dystopia found in this environment
What do you want people to get out of your work?
I want people to be able to have an emotionally charged experience that questions what we know and how we feel about the world we live in. Creating installations allows me to do this much more than ever, but I want people to feel something ultimately.
Do you enjoy art openings?
They are fun and sometimes awkward, but they are always filled with energy and potential. It’s nice to talk about my work with the work present. I find that I tend to get shy, but for the most part I am getting better at talking about and interacting with people in the art world. It’s intimidating, but it comes with the territory.
What is your least favorite part of the “art world”?
I find that if you don’t know people in the scene it can be hard. I moved here two years ago, so I was starting from scratch and knew no one and the bare minimum of what was happening in the Bay Area art scene. Creating real relationships amongst a lot of people trying to get noticed can be daunting. Although we have come far, for women it can be a male-dominated art world, and that is tough. I strive to make real connections with people who enjoy my work, want to have a dialog to share thoughts, instead of being competitive or having an agenda.
How do you navigate the art world as an emerging artist? Do you have any tips for our readers?
Go out and be a part of it. On any given week I try to go to an event, art opening, or to a museum, just to stay fresh and up to date. I am still navigating this, but I feel like being present is important. Also having a group of people to maintain dialogue with. I have friends I went to school with from both graduate school and undergrad, as well as people who I have met who are artists.
Do you see your work as autobiographical?
My work before I went to graduate school was very much focused on the idea of childhood and memory, so the work’s materials reflected that. I used weathered, found wood, or rusty apparatuses to connote something that was lost or discarded. Nowadays, the work and the material is more centered within the present tense. There still is a sense of fleeting moments, but it is articulated through themes such as chaos, trust, and destruction. I feel that shift is pivotal in my evolution as an artist – a move from mourning what we’ve lost, to watching us lose new things all the time, every day. I don’t want my work to be a portrait of me, but instead deal with larger concepts that have a universal thread, yet still hit home for me personally. This offers an audience the most freedom of interpretation, as opposed to the self-referential works that pin the viewer to my own story.
What is the role of an artist today?
I think the role is very important but overlooked. We are the noticers, the regurgitators, the ones that can try to make order out of chaos. I think we are more interested these days with how a work can make you see the world differently, be it a place that is positive or negative. I wish being an artist was a more respected profession and that it wasn’t such a struggle to get your vision seen, but it is progressing in a very interesting way. Technology has certainly changed things and I am curious to see how it will affect art making in the future.
Are you involved in any upcoming shows or events? Where and when?
I will be having a show at Backstock Gallery in August at Oak Common. I am applying for residencies and trying to create more work and conduct research in California City. I also plan to start a research project in Oak Ridge Tennessee, where the Manhattan Project began and the atomic bomb was developed.
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