Kerri Reid visited by Jesse Birch Second installment

Kerri Reid

Please describe the most recent work you have made that you feel
comfortable discussing.

Okay, this is in progress still, but I’m excited about it so I’ll tell you about it now. Recently I found a piece of a puzzle on the sidewalk by my house, which I thought was hilarious because I’m always thinking of my work as being like a puzzle — especially since I’ve been making more and more elaborate replicas of broken things. Anyway, so I found this puzzle piece, and it’s really impossible to tell what the rest of the image was. Initially I was thinking I would just make something up, and paint an image to complete it, but then I decided that direction has almost too many possibilities for me to limit it with whatever I come up with to complete the picture. So instead I’m now in the process of having the photo I took of the puzzle piece blown up and mounted so that the size of the piece in the photo is the same size of the actual piece — does this make sense? Then I’m going to cut the whole thing up like a puzzle, and replace the part of the photo that is the puzzle with the actual piece that I found. Of course this means that there will be another extra piece of a puzzle left over again, but I’m going to work out a way to incorporate that in the final project, so that all pieces will have a home. Is this confusing? Basically I’m making a puzzle — “The Missing Piece of the Puzzle Puzzle”.

That sounds great, I can’t wait to see the finished “piece”! The photographs of your studio contain some puzzles of their own. Could you explain the following:

Kerri Reid What is the history of the cup that appears to be shattered in a million pieces? There is a pair of old shoes sitting on a bag of cement, what’s up with them? And what’s up with the photo of the riot police with woven shields?

That cup is funny — I had been working really hard in my studio making replicas of all these broken things I had found on the street, and then one day I accidentally broke my own cup. I was pretty annoyed because it was an old favorite of mine, but I got out a broom and was sweeping it up, preparing to just chuck it. And then when all the fragments of it were in the dust pan I suddenly realized I was being a hypocrite — here I was in my studio making all this art about showing the potential value of a thing in its broken form by making broken multiples, but in my own life I was about to throw just such a thing away. So I took it to my studio, made plaster piece moulds of all twenty broken bits of it, and then ceramic slip cast a bunch of copies of the pieces. That photo shows one of the original pieces with several of its copies when they were fired but not yet glazed.

The old shoes are just a pair of shoes I keep in the studio for when I’m working in plaster, etc, because I’m pretty messy and that stuff gets everywhere. I don’t know exactly why I decided to keep them on top of the bag of plaster — have I mentioned that I need a bigger space?

Kerri Reid Oh, I love that photo of the police with wicker riot gear — so inspiring. It was taken by a man named Klaus Rozsa, and I originally saw it in magazine where it accompanied an article about demonstrations against cultural conservatism that happened in Zurich in the 80s, which I found pretty compelling. I did some more research on line and found images like this which show European police using straw shields against anti-globalization protesters as recently as 2001. This is fascinating to me; I’ve always been interested in the role hand-made objects like baskets play in globalized capitalism, and then it turns out these baskets are being used against people who have a similar concern.

After I saw these photographs I started doing more research on straw shields — which I think originally developed out of those really wide Chinese straw hats — and through that research I also learned about bullet-proof ceramics, which I also find amazing. Baskets and pottery are the original means of accumulation, and it seems like we’re now in a place where we’ve over-accumulated to the point where things like baskets and pottery can be seen as kind of excessive objects that are evidently easily thrown out on the side of the streets. Or used as armor by the people who are defending our present system of over-production and accumulation. And I’ve also been reading about the increasing militarization of the field of anthropology, as seen in programs such as the Pentagon’s “Human Terrain System”. So all this research has led to some plans to work with bulletproof ceramics, and a recent project where I’m drawing every work in Janson’s History of Art that has an image of a basket in it, which also goes back to what you said about drawing being a way of illustrating a certain level of care or reverence.

It sounds like you have a lot of great projects in the works! I’m curious!

Kerri Reid Ok this is a kind of fun one: I know that you are a fan of Abbas Kairostami, and Will Oldham. Could you add one other person to this list and then answer the following question: What is it about their work that appeals to you? Have they influenced your practice? If so how?

That’s hard…but to this list I’ll add Learning to Love You More, the collaborative web-based project organized by Harrell Fletcher, Miranda July, and Yuri Ono — I’m kind of cheating because it’s those three people plus the thousands who have contributed to it, hope that’s okay. I love this project because it’s a simple idea with limitless possibilities. And in some ways it’s pretty hokey, which I’m into, but it’s also smart. I’ve heard it criticized by people who feel it’s an unequal collaboration, as in Harrell Fletcher and Miranda July get the credit, and are responsible for coming up with the assignments, etc, but that’s not how I take the project at all. I’ve spent a lot of time looking at, reading, and listening to various participant responses on it, and I think all the people contributing are totally aware of how it works and what it’s about and are just really into the project. My favorite one to look through is the one where people are asked to sculpt a bust of a taxi driver in Connecticut, I think, named Steve. So good. In terms of how this may have influenced my practice, I recall getting really into it around the same time that I was starting to work more directly with the objects I was finding. I don’t think LTLYM is what led to my working this way, but it was definitely nice to see a project like that when I was going through what felt like a big transition, though obviously I was dealing with objects and not people.

I actually did one of their assignments, the one where you draw a scene from a movie that made you cry, and I drew a scene from Abbas Kiarostami’s film Close Up. His films appeal to me on a lot of levels — first of all, I find them immediately visually stunning. I love his long shots, how he’ll just stick with a seemingly insignificant scene or detail and let it completely unfold and work itself out. I think he’s a very thoughtful and patient filmmaker with a great deal of respect and compassion for his subjects. Plus he’s got a great and subtle sense of humour. And I hugely appreciate his notion of a film that is “half-made”, with details deliberately left out that require an actively engaged audience to sort out in terms of interpretation and meaning.

Though I don’t work with moving images, his films really resonate with me and I think there are some overlaps in our concerns and sensibilities. Like his interest in things and people that often go unnoticed, typically existing only in the periphery of our consciousness. And the fact that though he works in a time-based medium, he seems to have a very slow and methodical pace — I can definitely relate to that. And his constant revisiting of old ideas, settings, concerns. I love Life and Nothing More for that especially — there is a scene in it where you see the zigzagging path in the hill that Kiarostami had dug especially for his previous film, Where is the Friend’s House? And when you see the path again you realize that the local villagers had continued to use it long after the filming was done, so what had initially been made as a mere prop for a film became an essential part of their daily lives. I love that.

And as for Will Oldham, well, I just really love his music, and I listen to it a lot in my studio, so it’s quite possible that it has influenced my work in ways I have yet to wrap my head around. I’m drawn to his music for a lot of different, and sometimes contradictory, reasons, but in general I’ll just say that it makes me really happy. I once was listening to an album of his so much while making a particular piece that I ended up putting one of the songs in the piece itself — actually it was “Portrait of my Studio as a Doormat”, and I put the song “Wolf Among Wolves” from Master and Everyone in it. But I had some problems with that after the fact. I kept worrying that the song was what made the piece, and I’d used it without permission and in so doing had forced a collaboration on an artist I really respect … I don’t know, it just didn’t sit well with me. So I ended up emailing him and telling him the story way after the fact, and he very generously granted me retroactive permission, which was great. But I don’t know … in a way I like that I made that sort of impulsive decision to give a doormat the beautiful soundtrack I thought it deserved, but I also wish I was musically inclined myself and could just do that sort of project without imposing my ideas on someone else’s art.

But in general I’d say film, music, and books are what I feel most hugely inspired by. I have a job at a local bookshop called The Monkey’s Paw and I swear after every shift I work there I have three new art project ideas — so inspiring … I could go on and on…

Speaking of inspirations, could you talk about the mail art collective that you instigated? Do you see the reciprocity which is inherently part of this project as something that you consider as a part of your individual practice as well?

Well, first off I should say that though I did instigate this particular group, it wasn’t my original idea to begin with. My good friend Kirsten Johnson is in a similar group called the “Of the Month Club” — I think — and when she told me about it I just thought it was a great idea and I wanted in. Basically there are 12 members, and every member gets a month, and when it’s your month you send a piece of art you made to everyone else in the group, and the rest of the year you get some rad thing in the mail once a month. In any case, I wanted in Kirsten’s group but they were all full, so I just started my own. Totally unoriginal, but still good.

Part of why I was immediately drawn to the idea when I first heard about it was that at the time I was in the middle of researching my thesis paper, which was all about gift economies in general, and Mauss’ notion of “The Gift” in particular, so yeah, it definitely relates to my own practice and set of interests. I like the idea of working with notions of generosity without trying to claim them as pure altruism, and instead admitting that you expect something in return. My own art often involves freebies left out in the world, but I wouldn’t say that I have no expectations; at the very least, I do want someone to notice it and think about it, and ideally even use it … even if they don’t recognize it as art.

It’s been interesting with that mail group because we’re now in our second year, and as you know some issues have come up in regards to the expectations of everyone involved. One thing I’ve noticed is that many people in the group were frustrated by the people who never sent anything in the first year, but everyone seemed to feel bad about voicing this frustration. So even though the group is structured around an understanding that to be involved you have to contribute, the people who had contributed felt guilty about expecting those who hadn’t contributed to get their acts in gear and send something out. To me this speaks to a condition that is the exact opposite of what Mauss described in societies with gift economies, where there is an implicit understanding of the expectations of reciprocity, and this understanding is ultimately a very good and important thing that is central to how those societies function.

But theory aside, I also just really love the idea of us all sending art out to each other through the mail — it’s just so nice to open up those packages and see what everyone has been up to.

Thanks Kerri!


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