Andrea Carlson lives and works in Minneapolis. She earned a BA from the University of Minnesota in 2003 and an MFA from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design in 2005. Her work has exhibited widely while gaining support through several fellowships including the Minnesota State Arts Board (2006) and McKnight/MCAD Foundation Fellowship (2007-08).
How does our region inform your artwork? For example, water plays a central role in your work. Is there a specific tie to our local waters in your art?
Lake Superior, Rainy Lake, and the Mississippi River have all left an impression on my work. Many of my paintings have a flat, seascape horizon line, and there are areas set to infinity, much like looking out across Lake Superior. Most people who haven't established a sense of living in proximity to large lakes, might get a similar feeling from the vastness of a dessert or prairie. Waterways in general become metaphoric in my work as stages or platforms for presenting “foreign” objects. I often describe waterways as conduits of trade and exchange. We move stuff on water. Things unintentionally float across water and wash ashore, and some things get pulled under. I grew up hearing stories about relatives being lost while fishing on the Lake Superior and of strange things being netted in the lake. There is something animate about large bodies of water—they have moods and are always in a state of flux.
How have the Minnesota State Arts Board and McKnight Foundation fellowships helped or informed your career? How important are grants and public funding to your work?
I've been able to make work that challenges my artistic abilities with grant funding. Some of my largest pieces, which have garnered wide attention, were made possible through grants. I'm able to take risks with my timeand devote more time to each project without worrying about the commercial aspects. Foundation/board support is an honor that makes me feel humble about what I do. State and foundation funding provide a different incentive for making things beyond personal career aspirations. When I am working on a funded project I want to say “thank you” through the work, and I find that I push myself a bit harder.
Additionally, art never stays put. My McKnight work has also been shown in Toronto and New York. Work that I made with MSAB funds eventually traveled to London and Venice. When I accompany my work I often find myself acting as an unofficial ambassador of the Midwest. People in other places see work that they enjoy from Minnesota and they often become just as curious about the place the work was made. I think people in Minnesota want to celebrate art, and strangely, trust Minnesotan artists to create challenging artwork.
You debate within your artist statement whether or not the representation of culture in films and museums better serve to inform public knowledge or invent stereotypes. What stereotypes are you most closely examining within your work?
Stereotypes are part of what people use to construct narratives about others. I am interested in storytelling, the transmission of knowledge and perception, but I'm not addressing specific stereotypes. The theme of cannibal genre film titles is less of a stereotype and more of an oddity. For example, cannibalism was sometimes used as a blood libel against groups as part of colonization, but even then, I use the idea of cannibalism metaphorically to free the concept up a bit more.
“Who is telling the stories for whom,” is an interesting question for me. Often people who are vested in an identity are unjustly saddled with old, anthropological ideas of who they are. Any changes to that code render them “unauthentic” and cultures are institutionally killed. I often call museums papa storytellers, as they tell stories for objects to give objects significance and cultural value. It is a powerful position to be in because it shapes people's imaginations about others. When they invariably get it wrong, it's too late. The narratives are stuck in the minds of people. Quickly people assimilate knowledge, and they start making movies and writing books about sensational subjects, like cannibalism, self included.
What are you using for source materials in your latest work?
My absolute latest work, one I am still working on, is a 150 square foot ink-on-paper drawing that is comprised of 60 panels of paper arranged in a grid-like (10 rows × 6 columns) manner. It is called "Ink Babel" and it utilizes the x and y axis to create two types of panoramic views: the columns have imagery that repeats from panel to panel in a diagonal, candy cane sequence making a pan-shot that you might see if you were holding up a film strip; whereas, each row is a still-shot panoramic view of a seascape. It is a bi-directional seascape.
The imagery in "Ink Babel" is mystic. There are towers and different creatures that are symbols or stand-ins for other concepts. The basic idea is about story dispersion. I drew in the golden record from NASA's Voyager mission, a South American smoking mirror, Thoth and Horus, the Wardenclyffe Tower, a Heikegani crab—I pillaged the internet. I also put in cartoonish mystic dudes, pigs, snakes…things that may have many symbolic meanings to different people.
What is the significance behind the black and white patterns within your work?
The black and white patterns—specifically in "Portage" and "The Tempest"—are there to make the viewer feel chewed on, confused or dazzled. However the viewer feels, I wanted to make an energetic obstacle in the work that the audience would have to look past or survived in order to mentally enter the landscape. Some people have told me that the pattern is hypnotic or that it appears as a aperture of a camera.
Are there any local or regional artists that have directly inspired you?
As far as local artistic influences go, I am a super fan of George Morrison (d. 2000). I lifted his use of seascapes, but his work is much more abstract than my own. Hanging on my walls are local artists, such as Jim Denomie, Bethany Kalk, Bruce Tapola, Noah Harmon, Jenny Schmid, Joe Sinness, and Caitlin Skaalrud, among others. I've pored over these images. Living with other artists' work must influence my artist decisions. I am possibly cannibalizing them. It definitely keeps me curious about the brain behind the work.
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