Saturday, May 22, 2010

Lacie Stiewing: "FABULASKANA"

"Sculptures created from Lacie Stiewing s experiences starting from Reno and Las Vegas in relation to living in Fairbanks. Stiewing pushes the iconic forms of "Wild Alaska into contemporary, urban pop culture using humor and kitsch while exploring formal elements of art."
Every once in a while an artist comes along that exemplifies the 'master" in a Master of Fine Arts - and by that I mean more than mere technical considerations of craft, but an exercise in prioritizing, transcending the inevitable complications ("There's bullshit at every point in life") and overcoming obstacles which, more often than not, will often speedbump the average artistic expression out of existence. Life's already going to derail the careers of the majority of aspiring talents: save for rarefied and glorified hobbies, achieving any sort of grand gesture towards a singular vision is logistically frustrating enough without family, finances and fuckups along the way. Ultimately, creativity is often simply in how one goes about rolling with the punches and learning to accommodate reality by letting one's vision evolve - often in completely different, unforeseen directions. Reflecting over the entire process in arriving at this particular exhibition and degree, Stiewing's perspective is simply that "you have to really want it," adding afterwards how much "stronger for it" she is, now that there's finally a little time to mull everything over.
This can be a truly daunting experience, and Stiewing credited a network of "virtual support" in helping her to deal with much of the requisite isolation, which is part and parcel of such a focused undertaking. This sense of community was in full swing at the exhibition's reception, which was an event unto itself, a choreographed performance piece on par with the actual objects on display. Openings in many ways are a symbolic validation of an artist's accomplishment: besides the show of camaraderie, the coalesced fraternity is evidence of how many folks are involved such an endeavor. Based on turnout alone, Stiewing has created far more than a casual following and obviously her excitement, passion and enthusiasm is really taken root in the tundra.

Forming a defensive perimeter around the slumbering creator

Learning to accept criticism (insightful, unfounded or otherwise), assert independence in the name of pursuing one's goal, maintaining momentum, and asking for help with the technicalities of process is an invaluable function and crucial asset from networking with peers in the arts. Quite often full-time faculty are overwhelmed with academic duties and bureaucratic minutiae to metaphorically hold every student by the hand, but fortunately there's no shortage of adjuncts and folks from the surrounding community as well as other students to tap for occasional critique and support. To these ends Stiewing tips her hat at two primary artists who provided immeasurable assistance and influential inspiration for this particular body of work: local phenomenon Rachelle Dowdy and Tanya AguiƱiga, who had recently done a residency at UAF's Native Art Center via a United States Artists fellowship.
According to Lacie " ...the inspiration for her thesis project comes from the experience of moving from the commercially overloaded environment of Reno to the more natural environment of Interior Alaska." Hailing from the heartland of cheap, chintzy commercialism, the graduate degree offered Stiewing an opportunity to re-immerse herself back into art after a brief hiatus. After exploring seemingly unconnected interests ("It all feeds into it") and challenging herself with completely new mediums and techniques, three-quarters of the way through the program she latched onto a concept and then it was full-throttle:

Process: musky buffing the pressed paper + fiber castings

I'd be remiss in not mentioning that "Fabulalaskana" wasn't strictly all about the musk-ox: for many, the centerpieces were the three horned hares that towered nine feet high (eleven feet when upon their pedestals). They also featured chest monitors which showed projections of casino-style slot-machines. Some great pictures that give a good impression of the gallery layout and positioning of pieces are posted over at the Arctic Garden Studio blog. Their presence in the gallery served to accentuate an atmosphere of a surreal Wonderland, reminding me of the transcendent moment in the Wizard of Oz when everything transitions into loud, lavish color.

In conjunction with Large Animal Research Station, Stiewing not only researched the physiology and behavior of the animals while doing reference sketches, she also scored some sweet bonus photo-ops (even more pics here). The one shot featured on the official exhibition card (posted up top) pretty much sums up in a single image much of what Lacie and her work represents and is a fabulous metaphor for the infiltration of art into new territories, either in some particular, peculiar place, or inside our own imagination.

Last winter a version the musk oxen made their debut when Stiewing tried her hand at carving ice in the World Ice Art Championship Single-Block category. The next musky manifestation (also included in the MFA thesis show) was when the "Box of Ox" sculptures migrated down to Anchorage for a solo show at the Out North International Gallery:
"This body of work consists of 14 highly textured, brightly colored modular musk ox sculptures. The lightweight pressed paper musk ox sculptures were designed to interact with each other and can be easily maneuvered to form a different, ever-changing composition."
So Nacho, Dusti, Buff, Ginger.matic, Hair of the Bean, Cassidy, Comfy, Protected Bed, Trigger, Down by the River, My Boat My Rules, Butternut, Sally, Butch, Judith Gayle and Lacie all loaded up for the road-trip. Pulling something like that off two months before the UAF show was maybe a wee bit insane - the pieces made it back only one week before the thesis opening (musk oxen don't move very fast even on the highway). Stress factor aside, it was definitely excellent prep-work for a smaller-scale trial run at the grand-opus opening.

Also worth noting is how exceptionally well Stiewing did in the marketing aspect, as there certainly was a groundswell of interest cultivated before the show. In fact, it seems the entire art department and students have been far more aggressive in promoting their works

And if all that wasn't enough, Stiewing's final thesis presentation took advantage of the high-tech facility at the Arctic Region Supercomputer's "Visualization Lab." A bittersweet topping as the lab is slated for shutdown after losing funding - this event was the last official gig for the lab. Given the facility's cramped quarters, an overflow site was set up in the department, and the presentation was streamed live on the internet. This confluence of technology raised the bar in the department as far as demonstrating the possibilities that can be achieved by integrating media to its fullest. Above and beyond concept, the final execution merged sculptural and installation elements, and involved performance and animation with other digital media for a well-rounded body of work. She's already lined up some future shows, which I for one am looking forward to with much anticipation.

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