Coastal Post

Kristin Walsh visited by Kelly McCafferty

I met Kristin Walsh in October of 2013 when we both attended a month long residency at Wassaic Artist Residency in upstate New York.  We were both assigned to live in a house affectionately called the Lodge.  We bonded over the disastrous state of the communal kitchen, and a mutual love for Canal Plastics, the Pittsburgh band, Black Moth Super Rainbow, dogs (particularly our own), Sirius Radio and vegetarian cuisine.  I dragged her to yoga class and forced her to drink Harney & Sons tea and she liked it.

When we met, she was making mirrored objects that were shown in installations with digital images projected onto their surfaces and the walls surrounding them.  She was also making sculptures that were then photographed and only shown as photographs.  I liked her and her work immediately.

Kristin Walsh moved to NYC in June from Charlotte, North Carolina.  She lives in Chinatown and her studio is in Red Hook, Brooklyn.  She was born in Emerald Isle, North Carolina.  She attended the University of North Carolina at Charlotte at graduated with her BFA in 2013.  She has attended residencies at The Wassaic Artist Residency, the Vermont Studio Center and Grin City.  She has exhibited solo exhibitions of her work in the past at Visual Art Space in Raleigh, NC and has two upcoming shows in 2015 at 50/50 in Kansas City and Salisbury University in Maryland.   She is in the process of applying for grad school and we talked about how her work has changed since receiving her BFA, the process of moving to NYC, her recent residency at Vermont Studio Center, her upcoming shows and the struggle to make a perfect object.

Kelly McCafferty:  Your studio is really organized. It looks great.

Kristin Walsh:  It was a good cleaning deadline for me because it was not looking good in here.

Everything was really dusty and you feel dirty when you walk in here.

KM: How many pieces are you working on right now? Four?

KW: Mainly.  This black trophy sculpture is the only one that is finished.  All the rest aren’t finished.  These two taller ones— I think I am going to change the way they look.  I want to utilize the plastic’s ability to bend in a way that I am not right now. 

KM: Working on multiple pieces at once is different for you.

KW: I know.  Really different, normally I work intensely on one thing and finish it, then super intense on another.  I am trying to change the way I work.  Speed is a huge issue for me. 

When I first started making these new forms I was frustrated with how I would have this idea that seemed simple but it would take me so long to make it.  And it would be frustrating.  I have to get it out and move on.  Now I have been trying to get it to the point where it is almost finished and the rest is just maintenance or logistics.  I can utilize a new idea without wasting my time, even though I’m going to have to go back later and fix all the issues.  So I’m trying to rotate and that is why there are five or six trophies here that I am currently working on.

I’ve probably thrown away like 15.  I’ll just start them and be like, “No.”  Just get rid of it.  In the past I would see it to the end and then say, “No.”  It is better that I am deciding how I feel about the form early, because I can’t change that.  I can change the surface but the form is there to stay.  I’ll do that and then and leave it for a while and then see if I feel like it is worth pursuing further.

KM: Yeah, since you moved in to this studio in July how many pieces have you completed?

KW: I brought nothing.

KM: Ok. You started from scratch?

KW: I started from scratch.   Before I left, I had a show and when I applied for the show I applied with my previous work.  I had 13 pieces, and I proposed to make it 30 pieces because it was a big space.  I applied for it and months went by.  I got the show and it was in Raleigh.  I went to Vermont Studio Center and I decided I would make everything for the show at Vermont.  That was all I was going to do.

You know, I’m making that stuff and I’m just dying.  I’m just so sick of it. 

KM:  Well that is a very different residency experience too than the one we had where you went in there not knowing.  You just wanted to make stuff but you didn’t have an agenda.  But when you go to a residency and you know you have to make something for a show I feel like it changes your experience of it because you can’t do what you want.

KW:I loved Vermont Studio center, definitely my favorite residency.  I had a great time and I met so many like awesome people but the work I was making there was not fulfilling to me.  I had a tight schedule.  There is no exploration left in those.  I’m good at that technique and I can do it fast. Now.

KM: That might be something that happens to you a lot though because your brain moves quicker than the work does.

KW: Yeah, it takes so long to make objects sometimes.  That happens all the time.  I’m just like, “God, kill me if I have to sand this thing for one more day.”  I’m so sick of it.  But in the end that work actually reached the potential that I wanted it to reach and it would have been a mistake to not bring it there.  It would have been a waste if I didn’t push it that far.  But it still was not fun for me to do.  I’m glad I did it and I think it was good.  I changed the way I thought that month.  It changed me that when I went there my life was one way and I came back and I was like I’m moving to New York.  I think it was with me doing this stuff that I wasn’t into actually made me want to change a lot of stuff about my work.  I think it was a fruitful month for me.

KM: What is your schedule like? Do you work in the studio 7 days a week?

KW: Yes.  Well, I have a couple of deadlines.  I have two solo shows that open in January and February.  Applications for grad school are due January 15th. 

KM: Let’s talk about this new work a little bit.  When did you make the first one in this series?

KW: Umm, September?  I had all these ideas about it at first that I ended up abandoning one by one and the first of those ideas was that I wasn’t going to use any color that wasn’t of the material I was using.

KM: What is the material?

KW: Bondo.  I was selecting materials based on their color.  Also there is epoxy paste mixed with sand in it and concrete. It has a little bit of plaster too.

KM: And how heavy is that?

KW: That part is light because it is mostly epoxy.  You can feel.  This stuff is cool.  I like it.  It is low toxin.  Low odor.  Basically I use this like I would use fiberglass before—I switched over from that.  Which is good, because that is terrible for you.  It doesn’t really smell—it has a light hair dye smell.  It is epoxy dough.  It is like clay kind of.  But it hardens with heat.  I use wood to make barricades around them, put a heater in the box and it will dry in 30 minutes.  But it is lightweight.  It can float on water. 

KM: Is it hard to get a flat smooth edge with it?

KW: it is pretty hard yeah.  It is like this one is all like just fingery texture.  I just left it how I applied it.

KM: I think that works, it is interesting.  It is referencing clay and the mark of your hand. It almost looks like licorice or taffy or something.  The original idea was the colors of the material would determine the colors of the final thing?

KW: Yeah, I abandoned that pretty quickly.  I abandoned that with this black one because originally the black one was white and one thing that happens when you sand is that it dulls out the color because the texture is rough.

KM: The color is now made with paint?

KW: Originally the black one was white and I exposed the edges as yellow.  It was low contrast and I was disappointed.  I wanted it to be bright.  And when you are mixing the dough it looks bright but when you sand it dulls out.  The color is mixed in with powdered pigment.  I thought it would be super bright.  I have no control after I apply the layers.  How it looks, that’s how it looks.  I didn’t work on it again for three weeks and then I thought, I’m going to throw it away but then I decided, no, I’m going to paint on it and see if it is better, and it was.  At that point I decided to abandon the rule that I set for myself that I wasn’t going to apply color.  Which was sort of stupid and who cares about that.  I stopped doing that. 

KM: How did you arrive at these structures?  Where did the idea come from and what do they mean to you?

KW: Well, I was thinking a lot about any object’s ability to hold sentimental value—to change the memory of an event just by its’ association and I settled on this as a literal symbol of that—trophies referencing an event as a positive thing.  I wanted to formally represent the same generic event over and over.  All of the trophies are going to have these generic emblems.

I don’t want them to represent any specific event.  It is not like a sports trophy or something.  But just the notion of the trophy as a placeholder for an event and the form of the trophy becomes irregular and different with each one, like bent or kind of uneven or eroding.  Me grinding away exposing their layers act as an artifact to the event, the forms functioning as a point of resistance for perception.

KM: How your memory of it changes over time?

KW: It’s ability to, yes.  Even though I’m making literal trophies, I’m thinking of any object as a trophy.  Not everyday is your birthday, have you ever heard that expression?  Like to say that when you think about your life, you aren’t thinking about the 90% of the time.  The trophies are formally all different but they are all representing the same situation.  I am trying to make them irregular in different ways.  Like this one is uneven.  And this one is, you know, bent.  Another material that I really like is green edged plexiglass.  It doesn’t look like it there, because of the paper.  It looks like glass.  I am forefronting that tension between visibility and invisibility.  But it is definitely something that I have worked with before and it does closely tie with my other work in a weird way.  I’m still picking a symbol and applying content on that symbol.

KM: You are also neutralizing that symbol in a way.  With the mirrored objects you made in the past, it becomes about what they reflect, not what they really are.  With this new work, it is a symbol of an event, but you have taken away the event. 

KW:  Yeah, I guess I want them all to be vessels for some sort of content that is not implied in the form of the object itself.  This is one of the first things I’ve made where I don’t know how it is going to be at the end.  I just don’t know how it is going to look.

KM: Did you ever win any trophies or do you have any personal connections to the idea of a trophy?

KW: No, I am not a sports person.  My little brother was the sports person.  I think I do have some trophies.  I played rec basketball when I was younger.  I was actually going to try to get them when I go home for Thanksgiving.  In the beginning I wanted to make a mold of a really big trophy and cast it in rubber so that it was a puddle.  But I don’t even know if I want to do that anymore.  Beyond that, I don’t feel like I need the actual trophies to make the work.  They aren’t important. 

I went to visit my grandparents and I was walking around and I saw this trophy store and I was like, “Hey, do you guys have any trophy parts that you don’t want?”  And they gave me this little basketball trophy.  That is my only trophy here.

This is arbitrary but I watched this movie called Brooklyn Castle. Have you ever seen it?  It’s a documentary—it’s good, I definitely recommend it.  It is on Netflix.  But it is about these kids who go to a middle school in Williamsburg and they are poor and predominantly black and they have this awesome chess team and the teachers put forth the effort.  They all put in so much time after school and they do all this fundraising to travel and sustain the chess team and it is a big thing for them.  It is cool to be on the chess team and they are good and they win all these nationals.   Kids leave better schools to come play chess for that school.  Anyways, they just talk about the trophy like it is this Holy Grail.  When I watched that is when I first realized that the trophy is a great symbol for projected emotion. It is one of the only objects that doesn’t have a function.  Even when you have a sentimental object like your movie ticket stub—it still has a function.  It is for you to get into the movie.  You bought it because you had to.  A trophy has no function at all.  It is a thing that you look at and you feel emotion and the way the kids thought about it, I just started thinking about it. 

KM: What strikes me about that, for regular people that aren’t artists or art collectors it is one of the only pieces of art they might have in their home.

KW: Yeah, by it is kind of amazing that a normal person would even want that.

It has no value, art objects.  I thought that was an interesting symbol for generating memory.  I settled on it.  I didn’t know what I was trying to do, but I was trying to work around those themes.  Then I made this little trophy that I ended up throwing away.  I started the trophies and I just settled on it.  A lot of potential.  I still feel like I can make like 10 more.  A lot of times I’m struggling for ideas because I’ll have an idea and I’ll feel like I demonstrated that entire idea really well in one work.  And past that, I just need quantity.  I find an image, it is striking, and I need more.  It is not about saying something different.  It is about the power of multiples.  I’ll try to think of ideas that are reinforcing the one that is the main thing and that is where I have trouble.  But this is not like that at all.  I feel like each one that I have the idea to make is working towards what I want.  And I’m not really running out because the form is so endless. 

KM: It is weird how monument forms, like these, and grave markers as objects don’t change over time, but other everyday objects have designs that change.

KW: I had this very distressing thought, maybe a week ago—and I’m trying hard to get away from arbitrary aesthetics.  I want to ask myself is this doing something other than making me happy.  I feel like I can say yes.  With the mirrored stuff, I was asking myself that and I said yes, it is not arbitrary and so I can keep it.  But I had this thought last week that maybe they should look exactly like trophies.  Maybe they should be foil and plastic or whatever.  I got some of that stuff and I made this one like that.  Just a column and I hated it so much.  Even a choice to not make an aesthetic choice is an aesthetic choice because the way the trophies normally look is aestheticized.  That is kind of a trend in art and in sculpture now too.  That kind of material—sparkly.  It felt wrong.  Yeah, I know I’m making an aesthetic choice by aesthetics adhering to the guidelines that trophies adhere to.  But it still felt like I was making someone’s student contemporary sculpture.

KM:   There is something weird and cool about you are making these trophies out of non-trophy materials. 

KW: I think that while I was applying it, I wanted it to be lumpy.  That was the generator of content for this trophy.  I wanted it to be lumpy and I wanted it to be not symmetrical.  I wouldn’t call that arbitrary.  

KM: I think that is a good impulse to go with something that feels opposing to the form itself.

KW: I think that is what these are kind of about.  They are opposing all the normal formalities of a trophy—that they are commemorating a specific event that happened on this day and you are remembering it.  You won.  But these are not anything.  They are just there.

KM: How do you feel about the pressure on young artists to work in multiple mediums?

KW: It pisses me off, honestly.  And it sucks that sculpture is lumped in with video and performance.  On what planet does me being able to fabricate an object make me a performer?  Why is it like that?   The object is not going anywhere.  No one is going to stop making objects.  It is frustrating for me because I like video work.  I think video work is great.  I like painting too, but I’m not going to go paint a painting.  I have ideas for videos but at the end of day, I’m sanding for nine hours a day.  That is what I do.  I can’t.  It’s not the way my brain works.

KM:  I think another big difference about this work and your other work is…I think before you wanted to make these perfect objects that almost looked like you hadn’t made them.  Someone had come upon them.  A machine had made them.  Or a factory had made them.  They were perfect.  The edges were perfect.  Everything was about seamlessness.  That is the way it had to be if they were combining with those other mediums.  Photography makes you scrutinize things more.  Projecting video makes you aware of the edges.  And now you are embracing this idea of putting yourself into it.  It’s not made by a machine.  It’s made by you. 

KW: It makes me happy that you say that because that is something that I wanted to get away from.  It is just stressful.  I don’t have the tools to make perfect objects.  I am just doing it with my hands.  That is one of the things that made me spend so much time on things.  I had to make it perfect.  It wasn’t a fruitful way to spend my time.  I read this short story while I was moving.  I was already thinking about these things, but it really summed it up.  Do you know the Whitechapel gallery series of books?  The one on objects is a great book if you ever decide to explore that.  The short story is by Terry Eagleton, it’s like a paragraph and it is talking about this guy who had the opportunity to make the perfect world and made it really smooth but kept slipping and falling.  It sounds corny but it was good. I’m making it sound bad.  Then he finds out that actual perfection is in the friction.

For a while it was hard for me to make the conscious choice to let flaws stay.  That bothered me.  It is not better for me to just leave stuff crappy.  That is not the answer, to just not fix the things.  But it is to change my notion of perfection to something different.  And that is what I am trying to do.  Not to expect less of myself, just to change a little bit. 

KM:  That is really good. 

KW: I think the past year has been big for me.  This is my second year out of school.  My first year out of school, I felt like it was beneficial for me to stay in the school mind set in order to produce the same amount of work I made at school.  I didn’t want to lose momentum.  I even adhered to the semester schedule.  Just to make artificial deadlines because I do operate well under time pressure.  To create deadlines, obviously I didn’t need to clean and put down linoleum floor for you to come but it was good.  I wanted to do it.  Why not?  I was adhering to that school schedule.  I was still spending time with people who were in school and talking to my professors all the time.  I still talk to them, but they are not here.  And I felt like it was not a bad thing for me to try to keep my momentum.  No one makes the same work as they did in undergrad forever.  That is not good.  That is one of the reasons I felt I didn’t want to go straight to grad school because I felt like I hadn’t gotten far enough away from that work.  I was working in acrylic in undergrad at the end.  I hadn’t even made any major change after school.  It wasn’t like I had changed my practice over to a life practice.  I feel when I moved here, it finally happened.