Borough Gallery: What the fuck is that bull’s head with the spider eyes!  It freaks me out.  I feel caught in its multi-eyed stare, like I’m about to have my innards sucked out by this placid animal.  How did that monster burgeon from your mind?

Eleanor Brennesholtz: The bulls head was a combination of a few ideas. I wanted to make something that was threatening and easy to understand, but also nod to the surreal. He (the bull) actually started out with the right number of eyes, he ended with a few extra. As a child I remember accidentally spending time in a barn with an angry bull thrashing and complaining about his lot in life. I had never been so scared and threatened by an animal, and I was a kid who grew up in barns. That bull may as well have had multi faceted eyes and a forked tail, at the time is was going to suck my innards out. Emerging unscathed from that barn was an exhilarating moment, I could live forever.

Eleanor Brennesholtz's studio.

BG: Whoa.  I know what you mean, those situations where you think, “This is it.  I’m about to die.”  Then half way through making peace with existence the danger suddenly passes.  In general, people seem surprised when I tell them such stories, like they’ve never been through such a harrowing ordeal.  But I think everyone must have such experiences, unless they like life under a rock, they just put them out of mind.  Is mortality a driving force when making your work?

EB: The most interesting and exciting part of any given day is when you realize that even though you are going about your day normally ( and without any extreme sports) you almost just died. And this is something you can think at any moment and it’s always true. Life is risky; buildings burn down, bridges fail, drunk people drive and desperate people hold up liquor stores. Humans are a strange species with all this emotion and tradition, protecting death like a priceless piece of art. Immortality is boring and consequence free. Fear of death and tradition keep humankind desperate for answers.

On the flip side of that dark and nasty coin is the beauty of the planet and how humans use the natural world to explain and essentially treat the affliction of life. The entrails are loosely associated with empty organ sacs after the organ part of the meat has been removed and now there is nothing inside. Organ sacs are dried, stretched, stuffed, eaten, painted on, chopped up and salted. Nothing goes to waste, life continues.

Eagles Fly

BG: Does “using everything” also apply to your art?  Whether that’s taking scraps from life or your own floor.  Do you find yourself sometimes more interested in incidental parts of an artwork, rather than the main subject you started with?

EB: I don’t so much “use everything” as I tend to use carefully chosen weird things. I pass up materials everyday, but hold on to some for years before I use them. I like old forgotten things, and children’s images from past generations. Many of the basic images I used in these pieces are inspired by two coloring books I bought at a tag sale. They were printed in the mid 50’s and nowadays are antiquated and dull. But the simplicity of the images as well as the subversive application of them really appealed to me.

I rarely begin with a main subject, usually it is at least two images or an image and a material together that kick starts a work.  The sculpture really is about process and seeing what can be done with a material. More often than not a fiber piece is forgotten for long periods of time before I pick it up again and either finish it or dismantle it.  These pieces are little bursts of inspiration and work that I essentially rediscover and use as complete objects. The rediscovery is always exciting, like thrift shopping in your own studio.

Seringe

BG: A sagely hermit comes from the woods and says, “I’ve placed the wisdom of ages in this cup,” then hands it to you.  There is a slimy liquid glowing green in the mossy bowl she’s given you.  What do you do?

EB: My mother always said that you should smile and thank someone when they give you a gift. She also says that you can get rid of it as soon as their back is turned.

Where is the fun in posessing the “wisdom of ages?” Life would be meaningless.

Don’t forget Borough is open today 5-8, tomorrow 10-7 and Sunday 10-5.  Come see Eleanor Brennesholtz and the rest of the show “Entropic Restructed,” because after this weekend it’s all scattering to other galleries, restaurants and living rooms.

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Borough Gallery: Anyone who’s driven an all-nighter through that mid-Atlantic void of I-95 feels drawn to South of the Border.  But the kitsch found there rarely makes one think of art.  Most snapshots only intend to say, “look at this funny shit.”  So how does SOB become a subject of one of your photographs?  Or anything else for that matter?

Raychel Severance: To be honest, the first thing I felt when we arrived at SOB was an overwhelming sensation of “Holy shit,” and in the best way possible. We drove back and forth, up and down the stretch no less than five times before we finally had the capacity to exit the car, and when we did, it was a struggle to put my camera down long enough just to keep up with my company. The place was a gold mine, and there were times when I wasn’t getting the photos I quite wanted when my swashbuckling companion had to remind me, “it’s OK, Raychel, some things are just too damn easy, ya know?” And she had it spot on; there were some things at South of the Border, be they abandoned bumper car rides or two-story gorillas with chipping paint, that were so out of this world that doing it justice with a photograph seemed impossible.

I think what draws artists and adventurers to places like SOB, or places riddled with abandonment and loss, is our ability to recognize artistic gain in what the rest of the population overlooks as uninteresting because it is deceased. While we see the abandoned bumper car ride as a golden photographic opportunity, others see it as nothing more than bumper cars that don’t bump into each other anymore. So we grant ourselves elite access to a place that’s no longer overseen, facilitated or secured in any way, and we turn over every stone in search of that thing that those not looking would never find. We see it as a brilliant representation of so much more than a place nobody goes to anymore. We ask ourselves Why, instead, and then we portray it.

Raychel Severance "Tokens Sold Here" Digital fine art print, 24"x36"

BG: Photographing both what goes literally unseen and in ways people rarely see is a helluva combo, but what about when you photograph something familiar?  As a photographer, what qualities do you catch at first glance in the everyday that others might miss or ignore?

RS: I’m lucky in this regard, because I’m normally a candid portrait photographer; I shoot a lot of bands and performance, but not your average rock band or smiling face. The people I’m surrounded by each day have an exuberance that goes unrivaled by that of most average everyday life. It’s easy to take a good picture when your subject is a beautiful person doing something eccentric and exciting. So a familiar picture for me is still usually out of the realm of the ordinary to most people who I am usually trying to show them to. I am fascinated with gypsy culture and life and strive to become a bigger part of it, not because I want to live a life without work or responsibilities and eat donuts out of dumpsters, but because I’m determined to uncover a world of incredible characters and lifestyles that often go entirely overlooked. It’s become a good outlet for me because not only do the personalities themselves appeal to me, but the photos I get usually have people asking themselves “what the hell is going on here?” which I like, because to those pictured, it’s really just another day in the life. I’ve got more photos of accordion players than I know what to do with, yet people outside the social circle are still drawn to each one because it’s something they’re not used to.

I try to keep my eye out for not only the things I know most people don’t get to experience, but especially the things that are new to me. I’m still young and there’s still so much I haven’t seen, so the curiosity I have is ferocious and I couldn’t ignore it even if I wanted to; I see these travelers and gypsies and hobos and swashbucklers all around me and they’ve all got different things about them that separate them from the rest, and that’s what I usually try to capture when I’m shooting them doing their thing. I don’t like to pose people and usually like to catch them in their natural element, so with candid photography it’s almost as if everything is new. When I see someone busking for some beer money by stomping on a suitcase drum, juggling hackey sacks and playing the banjo, obviously there is an appeal. I feel like not everyone is as lucky as I am to have become a part of this kind of culture, so it’s like a duty of mine to show them how incredible it really is. I’m always looking out for joy and the circus in everything, so that’s what usually catches my glance and gets my camera out.

BG: The subjects in the show are all inanimate, but how do you go about capturing candid shots of people and culture in motion?  Is it rapid fire or a careful waiting?  Any pointers about how to hone a photographer’s eye?

RS: I shoot and shoot and shoot. And then I shoot. And shoot and shoot and shoot. When I do band photography, for example, of fast-paced energy and motion, I’ll take anywhere from 100-300 pictures of one show, 80% of which I usually delete. I used to get down on myself over this until I realized that if I get anywhere from 5-10 pictures that I love from a band’s show, then it’s an absolute success. With things not music-related, I just shoot everything going on around me; like I’m participating in all the festivities only with a camera between me and everyone else. So it’s a combination of rapid fire and waiting; I wait until there’s something going on that I know will produce a good shot if I can nail the timing and placement right, and then I just shoot away. As for honing a photographer’s eye, I’m not sure; people saw I have a way of making people look like rock stars when they’re living their everyday lives which may or may not be exciting, but I think I just like the photos I’ve taken because they capture the way I see my subjects, rather than just the way they look. I see so much beauty in the people around me that I’m not interested in trying to convince others that it’s beautiful, but rather just show them exactly what I see. I guess you can’t take a good picture if you yourself aren’t passionate about what’s there in front of you. If I’m into it, the shots just frame themselves because I’m trying to accurately show other people how I saw it through my own eyes. Sometimes you’re successful, and other times you’ve just got to resort to mental pictures. A retina camera would help with this. I’m still waiting for the introduction of this invention to the world.

Raychel Severance "Ferris Wheel" Digital Fine Art Print, 24"x36"

BG: If you could have one prehistoric and/or mythical animal for a pet what would it be?

RS: A wooly mammoth. No question. I’d ride that thing everywhere and slay everything and at night we would snuggle because he would be friendly. But only with me. Everyone else gets slain. Kinda like a really big hairy pit bull.

See more of Raychel Severance‘s photographs in our current show “Entropic Restructed” before it closes May 9th.

Borough Gallery: A lot of your artwork is constructed from found objects and materials, much of them desiccated and fragile.  How do you collect them all?  And is the collecting important in some personal way?  Because they do seem like you happened upon them at opportune times, a month earlier or later and they wouldn’t have the qualities they do, or even be preservable at all.

Michael Heeney: I do work with a lot of found objects and materials. The act of collecting them can take on many forms.  Sometimes I know that I want, say, an antique light bulb, so I search for the perfect one in junk shops, industrial areas, online, or wherever else I think I might find what I’m looking for.   Other times I’m not even looking for anything specific, but the thought of collecting an object and incorporating it into my art keeps my eyes open all the time and makes me look into the dark and dirty corners of my everyday life. So the act of collecting is important to me because it forces me to look into the places that have been forgotten about.  I don’t treasure the objects in and of themselves, but I do treasure their symbolism, and I love the mystery of their stories and their history that I will never understand.

Michael Heeney's studio space

BG: Is that “history that I will never understand” a subject you explicitly express through your artwork?  Do you think a person can have an intense relationship with something they cannot know?

MH: I try not to explicitly express any subject with these pieces,  I don’t want to define them too much, I want them to be a beautiful mystery mounted to the wall and I’m just relaying that mystery.   I love that I don’t know the history of these objects, where they came from, who the last person was that touched it, misplaced it, drop-kicked it, or how or why.  And yes, I do think that someone can have an intense relationship with something that they cannot know, but I wouldn’t encourage it; it will probably just lead to heartache, sleepless nights, or trespassing.

Michael Heeney "Untitled VII" shotgun shell, 100 year old barnwood with original nails, and dirt, 5"x8"

BG: I was talking with a friend the other day about ghosts; that, rather than disembodied spirits, they are aberrations in an attempt to understand unanswerable mysteries, which is actually more terrifying if you think about it.  Is making your art anything like that?  Do you ever get spooked with all these collected objects assumedly in your closet?

MH: Wow.  Great question.  I don’t know, but I love the theory about ghosts being unanswerable mysteries.  It is very human to want to solve every mystery, even if it is beyond our capacity, i.e. religion, god, the afterlife…   I like to theorize and fantasize about the answers, but I accept the mystery as  unanswerable.  This grounds me and makes me feel human and a part of the natural food chain, and I like that.   I don’t get spooked by the collected objects.  I am delighted by them.

BG: If the moon is colonized and the city there suddenly became “the it place” of the culture scene would you leave the earth to live there?

MH: Nah. Well, maybe if there was an atmosphere on the moon.   I wouldn’t want to wear a space suit every time I went outside.   If the new culture scene was on a moon of jupiter I’d be down…

Michael Heeney "Untitled III" inkjet photo transfer, joint compound, polyurethane, and found wood, 11"x12"

See Michael Heeney‘s work and the rest of the artists hanging around our current show “Entropic Restructed” before it closes May 9th.

Borough Gallery: The roadside junk you photograph isn’t just trash, but symbols of what you see as systemic cultural destruction.  But your subjects are out there on rural roadways, far from cultural “hubs,” and the people who erected them likely don’t see them as destructive at all.  Why make photographs of these “landmarks”?  What compels you to share your perspective of them?

Diane Gabriel: I agree with your statement.  I do not see these images as photographs of roadside trash, but rather symbols of cultural destruction that I find problematic. Each of these photographs was taken before Shawna invited me to be part of “Entropic Revisited”. I photographed these places exactly because ” the people who erected them likely do not see them as destructive”, but I do – as you can see in the statements which accompany the images. I’m happy to elaborate on these statements if you want me to.

Interestingly, far from being”out there on rural roadways far from cultural ‘hubs'” each image was taken from a major Interstate highway, primarily Route 40 which replaced the older, kitschier Route 66. In fact “The Largest Cross In The Western Hemisphere” is noted in the reference book, “Next Exit.”  “Next Exit” does exactly what its title says it does, listing which gas stations, eateries or Malls, etc. are located at the next exit of each and every Interstate in the United States. The LCWH is one of the few references other than the afore mentioned attractions. Quite a tome in and of itself.

BG: You’re right, I hadn’t thought about how these are not roadside anomalies one only happens across, they are endorsed far and wide as a cultural “must see” for travelers.  And what we must see on our road trips seems increasingly absurd.  In a way, the “biggest holy cross in the western hemisphere” is even more absurd than attractions like “the world’s tallest thermometer” or “largest box of raisins.”  Beyond just destructive, what cultural value do the subjects in your photographs share?  What cultural morals do you see expressed along our highways?

DG:

What the photographs have in common is the wry amusement I feel which makes me want to document these places; it is feeling the despair which I perhaps keep at bay by taking these pictures.

BG: With the ubiquity of cameras, picture taking is an everyday activity.  Many cultural shifts have resulted, some for the seeming worse (like oversharing), others for the seemingly better (the public revelation of Oscar Grant’s homicide, for example).  Do you think this also has an impact on authentic experience?  How is that “highway culture” also a part of your life?

DG: There are different kinds of photographic experiences for me. Taking pictures can sometimes make me  hyper vigilant. I feel as if I am stalking, looking for just that moment when the pieces come together. I like it the feeling and it is exhausting. Photographing on the highway was sheer pleasure. Some of my favorite pictures are “drive bys”. Ha, there are drive by shootings and I do another sort of drive by shot!

I was disappointed there were not more photographs to take. I think that is the highway culture. However, it also allows me the opportunity to see my family in New Mexico, something that would be very difficult without the Interstates.


BG: What is the highest point you’ve ever been?

DG: Is this a literal or figurative highest point?

BG: Is the question too loaded?  Is that high point something you fear publicly revealing?

DG: Actually it is. Remember I am a child o’ the sixties!

See more of Diane Gabriel‘s photographs as part of “Entropic Restructed” at The Borough Gallery, now until May 1st.