a charlotte street 15 year anniversary project considering the history and future of artist-driven pioneering in Kansas City and the changing nature of the city's "frontiers"
Interview with Erica Mahinay
Jonah Criswell: What have you done since your UCP Residency, how has it affected you?
Erica Mahinay: The yearlong Urban Culture Project studio residency program through Charlotte Street Foundation helped me evolve the direction of my work directly after coming out of undergrad at the Kansas City Art Institute. This program helped me develop my studio practice outside of an academic environment, pushing me to define my own studio building habits to prioritize my time to the studio. I was able to focus on my work, pushing it forward by learning to seek out external feedback from the community. I learned how important it is for me to be surrounded by peers who are as equally devoted to their practice, and that it is crucial for me to participate and contribute to a tightly knit, constructively critical, and intellectually engaged community. This type of involvement in both studio practice and intellectual participation is the kind of balance I seek, allowing for both self-exploration and rigorous growth. Because of this program, I was able to gain momentum for my work, figure out what I wanted my next step to be, and prepare for graduate study at Cranbrook Academy of Art. The kind of program that Cranbrook provides is heavily studio based and completely self-directed, but provides an incredibly tight-knit, community of individuals who are critically engaged. The UCP program helped me realize what kind of program I wanted, and in many ways made the transition to graduate study very fluid. It became a launch pad that prepared me for not only graduate study, but also pushed me to develop lasting approaches to a professional studio practice.
In addition to the development of my studio practice, this residency also provided me with opportunities to develop a professional practice. Working with Kate, David, and Jared on a professional level, and working in the galleries helped me gain an understanding of what it takes; the kind of community it takes; who it takes; and the kind of devotion it takes—to operate this kind of foundation. This, paired with open studio nights and the final exhibition, helped me become comfortable discussing work and initiating connections with arts professionals in the area. In addition to everything that came with the studio residency program, Charlotte Street Foundation also linked us to opportunities like Artist, Inc., which fostered additional connections to a committed group of peers, and provided me with necessary tools for entering into a professional dialogue. Despite a cutthroat and highly competitive art world in the periphery, I feel in many ways, that I am at an advantage because of my experience at UCP and with Charlotte Street Foundation. I have seen that it takes generosity- a give-and-a-take, and a village.
The foundation of my studio practice is positioned within a vocabulary that draws upon the history and syntax of painting, incorporates physical materials, and sets up systems for allegory and metaphor– indicating shifts in time, consciousness, and perception. Painting reveals truth through a process that is inherently deception.
Illusion is fruitful territory for trickery and fabrication. Contradiction has become a language for navigating the familiar. Concealing and revealing, connecting and reconnecting, displacing and replacing, my process can be related to gossip and oral story telling, creating shape shifting tableaus that intermingle myth, memory, dreams, and imagination. Themes take on double meaning, as material becomes metaphor. Glazed, dripped, and slathered paint describes form with vitality and presence, while cast plaster and found objects become skeletal memories or dislocated desires.
Constructed realities utilize emotional registers inherent within the familiar, fusing with allusions to vanitas and still life painting, in order to conjure themes of death, decay and desire. In translating the description of an object through multiple mediums, I find a tactile truth, which suggests vulnerability, and engages the viewer on a visceral level. In one piece, a painted image of a chandelier is positioned with an anthropomorphic object with a translucent silicon skin, doubling as a ghostly representation of an idea of a chandelier, and becoming the conduit for a desire for a life that does not exist. In another piece, dozens of small vertically stacked chairs are wrapped with long-john, thermal-knit material- a gesture, which suggests protection and warmth as well as a state of undress and vulnerability. Lemon chenille forms become discarded layers at the foot of the chairs. Peeled and piled, this piece begins to invoke an awareness of a transformation, a repression, a need for comfort and a wanting for escape.
Using the familiar, my work pushes towards the strange, the uncanny, the misplaced, the surreal, approaching aspects of experience that escape logic and definition—a fulcrum at which reality is deciphered through limitations of memory and translation. My work is often fragmented and seeped with an emotional residue, indicating moments in which our minds and bodies falter—instances of loss, vulnerability, and deception—but also moments offering possibility and invention. I am curious about the mind’s ability to trigger coping mechanisms. Memory is an agent for erasure and fabrication, making it difficult to separate reality from fiction, past from present, mental degradation from channeling the mystical. I want my work to function in a space that straddles the conscious and the unconscious, exploring the slippery places in the psyche—flirtations between sex and death and longing—between the spiritual and the secular as unearthed forms of visual representation that parallel the trickiness and poetry of daily human experience.