By Leah Gallant
Andrew laying out sugar on the floor of his installation space at the Commerce Center.
How did you get involved with the Birdsell Project?
I went to Whitman College with Nalani Stolz, one of the co-organizers. After she moved back to South Bend and connected with this developer to start the project, she called me up and invited me to install work in the first show, which opened in December 2014 in the Birdsell Mansion, as well as help with some of the logistical aspects of the project. In January, I started working with the project to conceptualize and implement the artist residency program.
How did you become interested in working with cartography and space as the primary focuses in your art?
I studied environmental studies in college, and it’s conceptually connected to that— I took a lot of classes that were analyzing social situations and interactions with nature and landscapes. I was always attracted to the maps in books that I was reading, as well as the diagrams, of people and transportation systems. I also have this inherent attraction to that sort of imagery. When I was little I collected atlases—that was what I would ask for every Christmas.
What’s your favorite project that you’ve done?
The piece I’m most proud of is probably ‘New and Altered Cartographies,’ in which I explored concepts of mapmaking. As part of the project I took state road maps and cut out everything except for the roads and highway systems, so I cut out all the spaces in between. I was left with these giant networks of roads that floated on their own, kind of like spider webs, and then I used that as my material to sculpt with. It was a funny process because it required a lot of patience—over the course of three or four months I just really dedicated myself to that task of cutting up the maps, and it wasn’t until the last one or two weeks where the structure really came together. It also had this conceptual integrity, because it included two videos that looked at micro to macro levels of map making, but all of the maps were then altered in these different ways, and I think the three pieces worked really nicely together. One of the videos is an exploration through Google Earth. During its early stages of Google Earth, Google was creating three dimensional models on top of their satellite images. At the beginning of every technological advancement there are these glitches and things that need to work through, and so I was kind of exploring this pre-refined landscape. It ended up having a lot of similarities with the sculpture, which was in front of the videos. The other video was of this small bug walking along a computer cord, and I thought that this was so funny that of all the places he chose to walk, he chose to walk along this structure that had been laid out before him. I followed him for about twenty minutes.
It seems like some of your work uses personal maps as a beginning point, such as ‘Line’ and ‘Map of current clothing,’ whereas others are less about you and your self.
It’s often easier to just work from yourself and from your own experiences than it is to catalogue data and try to compile that into some sort of map that is interesting because there’s so many other factors that go into that. When you’re focusing on yourself, the scope becomes a lot narrower. So it’s easier because you don’t have as many factors going on. That being said, I would love to eventually move into the kind of work where I’m incorporating a lot of data that I’m pulling from different places.
I’m drawn to the more performative elements of some of your pieces, such as ‘Line’, where you traced your route over the course of a day in tape. You document it through video, but it’s also interesting as an experiential or performance-based piece. How do you think about bringing in other ways of making to the production of art objects or videos that can be shown in a formal gallery space?
I think for the most part my work is much more about the production experience than it is about the end result. There is a general aesthetic that I’m working towards that’s informed by artists I admire that are doing work that’s clean and minimal, but that is produced by a specific action or task. An example of this was my piece, ‘Winter Collection,’ for the show at the South Bend Museum of Art whose focus was the city of South Bend. I had been living here during the winter months, and it was the first time I had ever lived somewhere snowy. It’s a pretty incredibly snowy place during the winter, and I didn’t have a car or any form of transportation, so I would walk everywhere through these huge snow drifts. It slowed down the experience of moving through space, and I think that’s something I’m really aware of, and something that a lot of my work turns to. So I was collecting these objects that I would find in the snow drifts, and the piece itself was the experience, but the end result was a sculpture that went into the show that cataloged these objects that I found.
Who are some of your influences?
Artists like Maya Lin, or Nina Katchadourian, although Nina Katchadourian’s work is pretty simple because she uses very fine materials and also restricts her material choice. Her artwork is also very much about the process of making.
What are your plans for your space at the Commerce Center?
I had a few different plans but the idea I’m moving forward with now centers around the texture of flour and sugar. What I’ve been doing is laying them out on the ground of my spaces, which form perfect circles, and using them to highlight the texture of the floor and build a topography. It’s a little bit about the material, but it’s primarily about the aesthetic. I really want something clean and simple because these are such dramatic spaces that I’m working in–they’re tall and dark and confined. But there’s also something very calming about being in them, and so I’m playing with those two things.
Say you had $50,000 and a year to spend on a project. What would you do?
I think I would travel to various cities I’ve never been to around the world, and find some interesting way to catalogue their layout that’s different from the way that we see their layout in online maps or books. I would probably just spend the time experiencing the place and wandering the city and observing it, and maybe do some performative art in those cities. It’s funny actually, performance art, because it’s not something that I’m totally comfortable with, I think that it’s something that has happened as a result of my interest in producing work that’s experience based, but it’s very challenging to me. I like working with people but I think that art is also a very insular process, and it takes a lot of time to think through an idea, and so just doing something and putting the process out there is a daunting task. But I also find it to be rewarding.
For more of Andrew’s work, go to his website at http://www.andrewstrong.net/ .
Photo credit: Andrew Strong, Leah Gallant