ON SIGHT: Fawn Krieger – National Park

Over the course of the next few posts, we’ll share artist interviews and insights about this year’s ON SIGHT visual arts line-up. You can experience all of TBA:09’s visual arts installations from Sept 4 – 13, every day 12 – 6:30 pm. And join us for a free opening night party September 3, from 8 – 10:30 pm at Washington High School (map).
During her residency at PICA, Krieger will construct a stage set as national park. The structure takes its cues from Lewis & Clark, museum dioramas, Superstudio, and the U.S.’s post-war middle-class tourism pastime, the roadtrip. Inspired by the artist’s own family cross-country trip in 1984, she creates an inside-out, indoor landscape and a meditation on mobility. The sprawling plateau of faded and fleshy territories includes plush, upholstered hills, craggy cement valleys, and cliffs of fragmented cabinetry, while exploring notions of the untouched and preserved.
fawn krieger family photo
KK: I remember you showing me pictures of your family on a cross country trip you took with them in 1984. You pointed out that even though you were there to commune with one another and a majestic landscape, your family snapshots communicate an entirely different scenario…one that placed your bodies at odds with one another, and that felt disconnected with the scenery. For this installation, you have chosen to create a set of sorts where people can supplant themselves in the landscape. Do you think under these constructed conditions people will connect and commune more readily? Is this even a concern?
FK: I’m not sure if people will connect or commune with one another or the structure more so than the way tourists do at sites also made expressly for staged experience. What I’m interested in is making labs of sorts, where a collective kind of situation or context can be semi-simulated, so that a person entering into it–you or me or someone’s mom–are both inside and outside of it at the same time. Not unlike the way places like Colonial Williamsburg function, except I’m not interested in recreating historical spaces, but materializing fantasy sites, where social ruptures and perceptual collisions can occur, in the present tense. What’s important is that everyone’s as much a member of these laboratories as they are a performer within it; nobody’s on the outside, even though everyone who visits National Park will be “outside.” Actually, since it takes place in the library space of Washington High School, we’ll really be outside inside. But definitely not inside out.

KK: What is it about standing on, climbing up, building or regarding a mountain that inspires us? Man-made or otherwise, we have a reverence for peaks and valleys. What is your own personal interest in these landmasses? Where is it leading you and your work?
FK: For a number of years I have been researching a phenomenon from Post WWII Germany in which the rubble remains of the most demolished cities were collected and distributed–primarily through female labor–to various dump sites that became so substantial that these locations transformed into mountains–which still exist today, and mostly remain unmarked. The research has informed a lot of my recent ideas of hand-constructed landscapes (particularly woman-made), when wreckage (failure) and rebuilding (hope) occupy the same territory, and the inherent conflict between the monument and the monumental.
KK: Is your installation a stand-in for nature? A set? A fraud? or does the piece’s honesty–its obvious makeup of “un-natural” materials–make it something else entirely?
FK: It’s a fake thing that’s really real. Because it exists, and it is what it is because we say so, not because a public agency tells us to say it is so–or isn’t so. This is how we reinvent the world we live in–making fake things real. So yes, it’s nature, but not a depiction of nature…it’s actual, real nature, born out of human curiosity and personal agency.
KK: In your past work you have often found ways to collaborate with the public or with an audience, other artists or an institution. How have these interactions shifted your practice? How do they change the works you have proposed? Which collaborative strategies are you employing in National Park?
FK: Creating works that can be interrupted or partly shaped through their interaction and development means that I am constantly asking myself questions of control, safety, and access. It also means that accountability and communication must be part of the fabric of my work way before it meets a public. And most especially, it reveals the seams and ruptures–allowing for chaos and the unexpected to inform the identity of a piece, as well as my understanding of the work.
With ROOM–a set of collaborations I did with Wynne Greenwood for her band Tracy + the Plastics, from 2005-2006 at the Kitchen in NYC and the Moore Space in Miami–Wynne and I intended to create space that could support performative domestic narratives dealing with 70s Feminist consciousness-raising groups. I was thinking a lot about breaking down the power structures of the stage that separate or remove performer/s from their audiences. So a lot of my questions were about power–how it’s socialized, embodied, challenged–and were translated into structural concerns that dealt with architectural horizontality, material uniformity, scale and spatial compressions, and equalizing elevations.
It’s interesting to me that in performance-based spaces there’s all of these strict regulations and codes dealing with fire safety and structural security. If you don’t adhere to them, the city will ensure your work is dismantled immediately–after sometimes-unannounced inspections. With art spaces there’s no such thing like this. I find myself drawn to establishments that are concerned with the care of people, as well as to establishments that allow for transgression and serious risk. These pulls have informed the way I think about what I do, who it’s made for, where it goes, what it’s supporting, and how it could be engaged. It’s also led me to think a lot about the distinctions between good safety and bad safety.
National Park is the effort of many people who help to realize, build, and ultimately dismantle the work. It’s the result of questions and correspondences between you and I that have spanned over a year. As an installed piece, it makes room for people to enter into it, to interrupt its narrative in the process, and to subsequently continue its realization as a work. I’m also thinking a lot about things that happen in national parks that accidentally become focal points–like a bear sighting or Old Faithful not blowing its load at the time promised. I’m thinking of these moments as “anti-events” and will be planting some with a number of individuals throughout the run of National Park…unannounced moments that some people will get to witness and others won’t.
fawn krieger dramas
Figure VI: A video still from Fawn Krieger’s Dramas.

KK: Can you talk a bit about Dramas, the short vignettes that are being broadcast on television and via the web? Are these videos related to National Park in any way? Are they commercials? If so, what are they selling/ promoting?
FK: The Dramas came out of a commissioned project I did called COMPANY between 2007 and 2008 at Art in General’s storefront space in New York City. COMPANY was a shop-as-work-of-art and looked at commercial exchange, value, and positions of consumption. I designed the interior of the shop and made “merchandise” to fill it, later bringing other artists and writers into the project to make their own lines. As the merchandise was selling, I began to get totally freaked out that it would all disappear and I would never see it again. I didn’t have the time to reflect on the work, to form a bond with it as I would with a more conventionally structured exhibition. So I began making secret videos in which some of the objects would be permanently mine, on tape. I started to think of these short recordings as mini-glimpses of tactile intimacy with objects, somewhere between a commercial and a movie. As they accumulated in number, I also began to notice that each featured object slowly became the subject (of their respective narrative), and the subject, or protagonist–mostly friends and colleagues–became sort of like a prop or structure in which to elevate the object’s transformation. This transference of roles was really where my challenges with COMPANY landed, though I never showed the Dramas publicly, until now.
The Dramas are souvenirs of staged intimate moments with the material world. They are the remnant or trace of the site in which contact transforms public domain into private ownership. And as commercials aired on TV, they represent a stage for consumption and desire that is tangible, intimate, and anti-corporate. To me all of these things relate to my questions of the history and industry of our US National Park system, a public institution founded on commercial interest, mythologies of the untouched, and the preening of “American lifestyle.”
KK: You have said that visitors to National Park will become performers, and you have asked a choreographer to use the space and installation to “rehearse” in. Why is it important for you as an artist to have your installation become a performative space?
FK: I believe that every space is performative. It’s just that some spaces are underutilized, and some movements are not witnessed, acknowledged, or recognized.
Fawn Krieger is a New York-based artist whose multigenre works reimagine everyday sites like the shop and home. Her “stages” are inhabitable sculptures that transform spectators into participants and examine the politics of ownership and exchange. Krieger’s Flintstonian tactility and penchant for scale compressions reveal an unlikely collision of private and public space, where intimate moments also serve as social ruptures. She received her BFA from Parsons School of Design, and her MFA from Bard College’s Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts. Her work has been exhibited at The Kitchen (NY), Nice & Fit Gallery (Berlin), The Moore Space (Miami), the Rose Art Museum (Boston), and Neon>fdv (Milan). Krieger is the recipient of grants from Art Matters Foundation (2008) and the Jerome Foundation (2007).
This project is made possible in part by a grant from the National Performance Network’s Visual Artists Network. Major contributors are the Andy Warhol Foundation for Visual Arts, the Joan Mitchell Foundation, and the Nathan Cummings Foundation. www.npnweb.org. The commission and exhibition of this piece is supported in part by the Kristy Edmunds Fund for New Work.

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