Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Art Space Talk: Tracey Snelling

Tracey Snelling creates structures that reference popular culture and history. She finds inspiration in film, architecture, books, and landscapes, as well as viewing the environments that surround her. A photograph of an actual building can lead to a mixed media sculpture of that building, which in turn is photographed. By doing this she explores the psychological aspects of doors, windows, shelter, home, etc.

In a sense, she takes the subject of her work to a new level by utilizing scale and embracing an end result that challenges the perception of viewers. In her own words, “overlooked and neglected buildings suddenly become the focus, receiving the attention they deserve. Weeds growing in the concrete cracks and an old piece of trash are not things to avoid, but rather they are details to pay attention to". Her structures remind the viewer that every detail in life has value-- that every detail, all the things that we often fail to notice in our busy lives, can have meaning if only we observe them.

Chinatown, 60x44x48", mixed media, 2006

Brian Sherwin: Tracey, you are inspired by what you see while driving-- be it on a lively street filled with movement or a street lined with the decay of past glory… abandoned buildings and industrial ruins. It is my understanding that when you view these cityscapes you create stories about the people who live-- or once lived-- in those locations. Can you discuss this and the motivation behind your art?

Tracey Snelling: I am inspired by what I see when I drive, but also by what I see when I walk around my neighborhood, travel, visit friends, or see new places. Several things interest me when I view a place: the visual landscape, the mood of the place, the culture of the place, and the people that live there. Sometimes I won't have enough information about the person or people that live in a place, so I will make up a story about that place.
Chinatown (detail)

BS: So what is the beauty you observe in neglected or abandoned buildings compared to say… a new development in a lively area? Do you focus on things that others might see as trivial?

TS: I'm not sure where the attraction to old buildings came from. I can't remember a time when I wasn't attracted to buildings that had been around for some time. But I have noticed that my tastes have expanded. Where once I was repelled by older strip malls, now I am enthralled. Uglier buildings have become more beautiful to me. The peeling of paint, old hand painted signs, smudges of dirt, and the unbelievable but inevitable breakthrough of weeds through concrete are all appealing to me.
3 Intersection Buildings, installation view, mixed media, 2006

BS: What do you consider when creating the spaces that have been unlocked by your imagination, so to speak. Tell us about your process of creating these spaces. What materials do you prefer to use? How do you give the spaces you create a life of their own?

TS: The structures begin in a few different ways: either purely from my imagination, from an image or combination of images that I find, or from photographs that I take. I usually build them as I go. There are no strict blueprints, in general. I use most of the same materials that general contractors use to build my small structures. As I work on the pieces, they develop a life of their own. Photographs, sound, lights, and video add a sense of reality to the works.
Quick Stop, 18.5x18.5x2.5", mixed media, 2006, edition of 5

BS: So when you create these structures do you view it as if you have inhabited the structure or do you view it as an outsider looking in-- philosophically speaking?

TS: I usually imagine who would live there and what the place would look and feel like. I rarely think of myself as living there though! If I am building a place that I have been to, such as Istanbul, I will refer to my photographs and other information, but also pay close attention to my recollection of my feelings while there.
Another Shocking Psychological Thriller is an installation of sculptures and video works that depict a story of murder, desire, and mystery. This embattled tale of crime and deception takes place on 3 screens. Do they represent the past, present, and future, or do they reflect the reality of a fractured schizophrenic mind? The three part video piece explores the idea of suspense through using found footage from film noir and other genres, along with original footage. The story moves from the house, to the landscape, to a drive-in screen, continually complementing and augmenting the narrative.

BS: What are the social-- or psychological --implications of your work? Do you strive to give viewers a message about society or the human condition with your art? Do you ask questions about identity as reflected by the sites you have seen? Or do you prefer to leave your work open to interpretation so that viewers can create their own stories and meaning from what you have provided?

TS: It varies from sculpture to sculpture. When looking at other cultures and places, I try to have an open view of the place, expressing what I see and feel. I try not to censure myself, but rather to show the good and bad aspects of a place, and everything in between. Occasionally, I will aim to express a particular viewpoint, as I did in the sculpture "We Are One". This is a sculpture made up of different buildings from around the world: the White House (with prayer rugs and a crystal ball inside), the Taj Mahal, a Chinese building, etc. The word "together" is written in graffiti style in different languages all over the sculpture.

In "Last House on the Left" I have recreated 4 houses from different American horror films. On one hand, the installation is an homage to the film genre that I grew up with; on the other hand, it's a comment on the fascination us Americans have with violence and horror.

Many of the sculptures are defined just enough to give a hint of a story, so that the viewer may bring his or her own experience to the piece while viewing it.

In the installation "Convenient," travel, road trips, and the stops along the way are featured. The projection combines real video with green screen and animation techniques. In the windows of the motel, Jason (from Friday the 13th) catches the woman, a lone woman plays with the vibrating bed, and a couple have sex.

BS: So how is your upbringing… your own past… reflected within the context of your art? That is… if you don't mind me asking.

TS: Well, when I was 7 years old we moved from the city to the country. Often I find myself recreating buildings and houses that echo a place I have been to or have seen when I was younger.

BS: What are you working on at this time?

TS: I am working on a project called "Woman on the Run" which will be at Selfridges in London this fall. It's a mixed media installation made up of buildings that are 6 to 8 feet tall, with video, sound, lights, and neon signs. The buildings are very similar to my small ones I build, but blown up to a larger scale. The installation centers around a film noir mystery I have made up, about a woman on the lam, wanted for questioning in a crime. Later this year, I will be doing a residency in Beijing with Galerie Urs Miele.

BS: Your work has been exhibited at several art fairs-- Next Art Fair, Pulse New York, and several others. What do you enjoy about art fairs in general compared to exhibiting at a traditional gallery space?

TS: Though a traditional gallery space is much more appealing for the obvious reasons, there are some benefits to an art fair. I look at it as an introduction. It's an opportunity for those who aren't familiar with my work to experience it. I've also had the chance to meet some great people while at fairs, and to discover other artists' work.

Another Alley, 42x96x10”, mixed media installation with two dvd's and soundtrack, 2005

BS: Where can our readers view your work at this time? Will you be involved with any upcoming exhibits?

TS: I am in an exhibit called "Road Trips" at the San Jose Museum of Art. I will also be having the installation "Woman on the Run" at Selfridges in London, along with a solo show at Wedel Gallery in London.

BS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your art or the goals that you have at this time?

TS: I would really like to start doing installations in unusual, unexpected buildings and spaces. I'd also like to eventually design a life size building of some sort. Film is something that interests me, and I would like to explore this more. I eventually want to make a full length film, based on an idea I cannot tell...

You can learn more about Tracey Snelling by visiting her website-- You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page--

Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor

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