Interdisciplinary. Community. Advocacy. Humor.
This edition of Kinetic Revelations features an interview with Contemporary Kinetic Craftswoman Alexis Archibald!
Alexis is originally from Pittsburgh, PA and received her BFA in metalsmithing under the inspirational tutelage of Sue Amendolara and Cappy Counard from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. After moving to San Diego she was accepted into the Graduate Metals Program at San Diego State University where she had the honor of studying under Helen Shirk and Sondra Sherman.
As an Art and Science teacher at the San Diego Unified School District, Alexis continues to live and work in Southern California. Her recent solo show at the San Diego Art Department Main Gallery was well received as she continued to prove why she is an important contributor to the kinetic art world.
If you have any questions for Alexis feel free to leave a comment below and she would be happy to respond.
1. Do you remember your first kinetic creation? Was working with moving parts something that came natural for you as a child or did you come to it later in life?
I have always had an interest in kinetics; whether it comes naturally or not...I definitely have to work at it, which is probably why it has held my interest for so long.
One of the first endeavors with moveable parts that probably started this way of thinking or ‘minor obsession’ was when I was about seven. It involved poster board and a Popsicle stick. I attempted to make a character that I invented move along a path, similar to the old Nintendo game Super Mario Brothers, but on a large piece of poster board. Slits and circles were cut into the poster board so that the Popsicle stick (which was attached to the character) could move along the various paths I made into the paper. The character could slide, jump, spin, and climb. This was not a very complex example of kinetics, but there was some desire in me to make something interactive instead of a standard drawing. This idea of interactivity and play has been with me ever since.
2. You’ve recently finished your MFA from San Diego State University. How has the graduate school experience changed the way you view your own work and what niche it holds in the contemporary metals field?
What I really think graduate school provided me with, as an artist, is confidence and the ability to trust myself. I feel grad school was a very challenging experience emotionally, psychologically, physically, etc. However, it is the most rewarding endeavor I have ever done for myself, thus far. The reason I feel it was difficult at times is the fact that, in grad school, you are constantly confronting yourself. You are learning about who you are as a person and as an artist, all the while making adjustments, mistakes, progress, and new discoveries along the way. (Sometimes I was not quite ready for these revelations!)
Also the privilege of submerging my life in my work, while being surrounded by both faculty and peers that challenge and inspire is something very special. I learned to accept failure pieces, which often were the pinnacles of progress. I constantly challenged myself, which always lead to a humbling end.
Do I know exactly where to place my work at this time? Not one hundred percent. Although, trained in metalsmithing, my work has shifted in both scale and material. I still have that metalsmith sensitivity to material and always incorporate it whenever needed. In the metalsmithing field I aspire to make objects that speak of the truth in contemporary society while utilizing traditional processes and allowing the hand to play a major role in the outcome of those objects.
3. Could you talk a little bit about your workshop experience with Arthur Ganson? What did you take from that experience? How did you utilize what you learned in your own studio work?
Arthur Ganson is one of my favorite kinetic artists. He has the ability to create art machines that possess emotion and speak to the human spirit.
In the summer of 2010, I was awarded a scholarship to Haystack Mountain School of Crafts. I was given the opportunity to attend the class, With the turn of a Crank,taught by Arthur Ganson. In this workshop we worked with steel tie wire in various thicknesses. Our main tools were pliers, wire cutters, and our fingers. He taught us how to create cranks, cams, gears, and pulley systems. We made these systems by hand with the tie wire. We even created a ratchet and pawl. At the end of week 1, each student had a particleboard filled with samples that we attached found objects to. They resembled a sort of circus factory. Alexander Calder’s circus comes to mind.
As a class we took a trip to the local dump and rummaged through piles of discarded parts of machines and appliances. Someone’s garbage suddenly became someone else’s new, found treasure. We incorporated these new treasures into our kinetic endeavors.
When I returned to San Diego, it was the summer before my MFA thesis. All of the work in my show was going to be kinetic. I incorporated all of the mechanics I learned in the class, but applied them to a larger scale using welded steel. Having the opportunity for a hands-on experience such as this one allowed me to realize and create what I had envisioned. I cannot thank Arthur enough for the inspiration or begin to express how his class informed me of the endless possibilities. Thanks Arthur if you read this!
4. Your recent work has the ability to engage your audience on a sensory level. Could you speak to the impact the sense of touch has in your work?
The skin acts as a barrier between our internal body systems and the outside world making it one of the most important means of receiving information. The skin is loaded with nerve endings that send signals to the brain. The senses, especially touch, have a very strong relationship to emotion.
My recent work is a response to the lessening of tactile experiences within our environment and a decrease in authentic human interactions. Therefore, the sense of touch I think becomes a very important vehicle to bring about awareness to these shifts of experience. Technology has changed the way we interact with the world and the things in it. The intention is not to strip technology of its importance, but rather shed light on the value of authentic experiences, and the ability to access the innate tools we already have. I intend for my audience to gain a better understanding of our own existence through their experience.'
5. What do you hope the engaged viewer will take away from your work? Besides a tickle on the tip of their nose of course!
I feel art has the ability to transcend the physical world and speak to our spirit. I am an admirer of both art and science and see a strong similarity between the two. While science can explain things in our world that have definition, art can speak to those parts of our humanity that do not have concrete answers. Art can convey a feeling that can be expressed or sensed, yet not necessarily explained. The work is created for an adult audience; however, the objects are approached with a sense of play and curiosity, which is so prevalent in children. With this in mind, I attempt to create work that speaks to our humanness and questions the importance of those abstract areas of human consciousness, with a hint of humor!
6. What does the future hold for your work? Will kinetics be involved?
The process in which I tend to work most of the time is initially ignited by an idea or concept. I flip back and forth from playing with various objects and constructed things on my table, to doodling, to making parts. It is a very organic means of making and tends to keep me engaged.
I think Kinetics will always be in certain works when it is needed to promote the concept. There is something very intriguing to me surrounding the surge of artists making kinetic work. I often wonder if it is a response to our current human condition where everything happens by the touch of a screen. Even push buttons are on shortage now. As artists, most of us like to touch and feel everything. Maybe through making things that move I am responding to that.
Thanks for sharing this, Jeff. I've had an eye on her work since I came across it organizing the student exhibition during the Houston conference. Congratulations, Alexis! Keep up the great work.
Way to talk Lex! what's the next big project?