Rebeca Bollinger

Artist, Oakland // September 2012
Making requires incredible commitment, rigor, time, energy and resources, all of which, for me, come before doing many other things. It can sacrifice a lot –relationships, security, being on a normal schedule with other people, all kinds of things –but really it is a privilege.

The snapshot— that quick rendering of one small moment in time, made with spontaneity and without the concern for perfection, is often where Rebeca’s work begins. She uses the camera as a tool to perceive beyond her own field of vision and her straight approach to photography is all about chance, allowing for accidents, clumsiness, and experimentation. Rebeca’s work with ceramics comes directly from the pictures she takes; she hones in on a discreet point in the image, and then uses that as a starting point for her sculptural pieces. By extracting shapes, abstractions, and artifacts from the images and then creating actual objects that interpret these elements, Rebeca brings tangible form out of flat space.

Rebecca’s practice is loose, varied and propelled by questions. Her work is anchored in deliberations on the nature of image-making, the materialization of what we see or think we see, and the way in which patterns emerge and recede. She readily follows lines of inquiry without worrying too much about where her work will go, and instead seems more preoccupied with creating unexpected possibility, even if that means encountering quite a few mishaps along the way.

As we wandered around Rebeca’s HUGE Oakland studio (I’m not joking! She has so much space) we talked over a slew of subjects ranging from spiritualism movements to Apple’s new mapping service to her background in painting — but at one point sitting in one of her many work rooms we began discussing how important it is for artists to stay fully present with their own work. Rebeca has an easy-going vibe; there is a gentleness to her, but as we talked about this idea— her words became firmer, full of conviction. She stated that making art is all about having faith in your own work and pushing and growing despite previous successes or current expectations— and that sticking to one thing, especially if it’s what you are known for, long after you’ve outgrown it is a disservice to art practice. Rebeca seems to be heeding her own words as she follows the twists and turns of inspiration, negotiates new materials, and confronts questions new and old.

How would you describe your subject matter or the content of your work?
I’m interested in translations between 2-dimensional and 3-dimensional space, materiality and ephemerality and how materials can be used in unexpected ways.

Most of my work begins with photography, as an idea or material. The fluidity of archives, snapshots, emergent patterns, and shifting representations are of interest to me. I take a lot of pictures and include them in my studio process as well as the work itself. Portions of photos are translated into objects, and then sometimes photographed again and made into new objects or new pictures. It all tends to get re-circulated or subsumed back into the work, thus everything becomes part of a larger and ongoing archive. In a sense, I think of photography as a kind of structural base to make other forms.

What mediums do you work with? You employ a vast array of materials, how do you go about choosing them?
I work with ceramics combined with glitter, paint, string, charcoal, leather, glass, graphite, mirrored and fluorescent Plexiglas, animation, photographs, video and works on paper. My decisions about materials are based on a combination of intuition, formal qualities and ideas.

With the ceramic sculptures, I begin with photographs, which I shoot outdoors, in the public landscape. My camera setup has two specific conditions – bright light and a fixed aperture. I think of it a bit like a camera obscura or what it feels like to use actual Polaroid film (not an app), and the element of chance involved with those processes. Unexpected things happen at the moment of capture, so often the pictures are sort of unknown to me until I review them later in the studio.

At first I exclusively made photographic prints and animations from these pictures, and then I became interested in creating new 3-dimensional interpretations of some of the flattened abstractions and artifacts that occurred, including repetitive circle shapes from light refraction that often consume a single image, found colors, and clumsy croppings, like a part of a woman’s head awkwardly popping into the lower edges of the frame, cutoff just below the nose and ear. Importantly, these pictures offer a different and new way for me to see something and by extracting shapes out of them and bringing objects back into the world, it was a way for me to understand them or somehow make real what wasn’t there before.

I studied painting in art school and think the formal processes of layering, knowing and not knowing; shifting, changing and editing have always stayed with me in my practice. Now, even with ceramics, I think about the shapes and forms more as collage, painting, and pieces that can be assembled and reconfigured, layered in a way. For example, I’ll try to visually flatten the space of a sculpture by dissecting it with a single marked line, as if it is a drawing.

I suppose a shorter answer to your question about how I choose materials… in some way it’s really about pushing materials and forms, which for me defy their historical precedents.

You often bring photography into your sculptural work and seem to utilize it to help you translate and reinterpret space and form— how did this technique come about and can you explain the process?
I’ve described a lot about process already, but there was a wonderful moment where it sort of started. I was eating lunch with a good friend, the artist Kathryn Spence, and she showed me her new and extremely high-quality binoculars, the ones she uses for birding. When I held them up to my eyes and looked through, everything changed, everything was transformed and different. Perhaps finely ground German optics can bring on a heightened experience for anyone… but it altered my way of seeing and thinking about representation, abstraction, space and perception. It didn’t matter what I looked at, I perceived everything as different, which opened up possibilities.

I found an old camera lens that functioned in a similar but different way. It turned out to be a fortuitous tool because the kinds of pictures it produces have a specific visual artifact that spoke to existing ideas I had been working with – fragmentation and the ways in which a sort of particulate matter of images and information can come together in an instant and create an image or one sort of representation, a snapshot in time if you will, and then fall away again into a larger field of information. That sort of porosity is something I’ve always been interested in.

Do you see your work as autobiographical at all?
All artwork is autobiographical.

Do you have a day job? What is it? What does it mean to you?
I teach at California College of the Arts (CCA) in the MFA Fine Arts program. It’s great to have a job where I get to talk with other artists about their work and about ideas. I am constantly challenged and engaged by incredible people that come through the program.

Have you had to make sacrifices in order to live your life as an artist? Do you encounter misconceptions about that life or choice?
The most consistent misconception I encounter about being an artist is that somehow making work just happens, like getting a cup of coffee in the morning or ordering a book online… suddenly it just appears. The whole notion of having a studio practice is incredibly opaque and inaccessible to a lot of people. Making requires incredible commitment, rigor, time, energy and resources, all of which, for me, come before doing many other things. It can sacrifice a lot –relationships, security, being on a normal schedule with other people, all kinds of things –but really it is a privilege.

What are you presently inspired by— are there particular things you are reading, listening to or looking at to fuel your work?
I found a copy of Louise Bourgeois:The Fabric Works by Germano Celant at the public library last week and have been looking at it everyday. Bourgeois’ use of fabric to create exquisite works that are both simple and complex is breathtaking and so inspiring. I admire when an artist works in different mediums, but the ideas still manage to transcend the material because the artist has a distinctive aesthetic and point of view.

Thought-Forms by Annie Besant and Charles Leadbetter, Collected Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges, and Spook by Mary Roach.

Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting that you can tell us about?
For the first time I am not utilizing photography as part of my process— but the notion of image-making is still present because I’m working with images from a book. I’m working on some new ceramic pieces based on the book Thought-Forms by Annie Besant and Charles Leadbetter, which was first published in 1901. Besant and Leadbetter were theosophists who proposed ‘a meaning of colours,’ and specific visual representations created from music and thoughts such as ‘vague selfish affection,’ ‘vague sympathy,’ and ‘the intention to know.’ The illustrations in the book are amazing: many amorphous, cloud-like masses of color with good titles.

What risks have you taken in your work, and what has been at stake?
Being a practicing artist and sustaining it over time is a huge risk. It’s sometimes a fragile continuum of questioning, redefining, moving into unknown territory and never being quite comfortable, pushing against yourself and the existing work, and finding new ways of thinking and making.

How do you navigate the art world?
I think about that amazing graphic of concentric circles in Mike Davis’ book City of Quartz depicting an urban socio-economic stratification from homeless encampments to gated communities.

What do you think is the function of art in society?
It’s a good question. I don’t have the answer.

Do art or artists have a responsibility to do anything in particular?

Do you see your work as relating to any current movement or direction in visual art or culture? Which other artists might your work be in conversation with?
I’m much more interested in sustaining the work over a long period, than in ways in which the work may fit into any particular current movement.

But certainly I look to other artists, John Baldessari, Ed Ruscha, Luc Tuymans and a lot of painters. Charles Burchfield is someone I’m looking at a lot right now. I’m interested in the creation of visual language, emerging and abating patterns, the materialization of what we see or think we see, and I think Burchfield was working with these ideas.

Are you involved in any upcoming shows or events? Where and when?
I’m working toward two solo shows at my galleries, dates TBD.

To see more of Rebeca’s work: