Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Artist of the Week

Noelle Mason

Through out our lives we are watched and tracked in many different ways, from the dots plotted on a map to the GPS in our vehicles and cell phones. The ultimate question is whether these surveillance tools make us feel safe or make us feel intruded upon and nearly violated? I suppose the popular answer would be that it depends on how far they take it, and who they are? Observation is always an important part creating art that is informative and that relates to a specific culture or concept. So, what would it look like if art was created to observe observation? Maybe the view from inside the binoculars or from the camera phone or security footage, well these are they ways our lives our followed and made available. Yet, this is only a mere symptom of the bigger issue in the United States right now. This Friday a new exhibit opens here in Chicago at the Thomas Robertello Gallery called "State of the Union". Three artists (John Delk, Noelle Mason, and Conor McGrady) have come together to assemble a show that addresses terrorism, police brutality, immigration, political greed, the Bush administration, and the blinkered ways in which many Americans choose not to view their country's political standing from a global perspective.

Once the announcement of the exhibit was made I reached out to Noelle Mason, a graduate the School of Art Institute of Chicago and a currently a member of faculty of the University of Houston's sculpture department. Noelle's work speaks to both the voyeur and the paranoid alike while focusing on surveillance. The key to her current work is observing the ways we enhance our abilities to see, and how it is these very enhancements that limit our ability to interpret what it is that we are seeing. A perfect example of this is her illuminated stain glass that projects a surveillance image of 9/11/2001 hijackers passing through security at the Portland airport. The enchantment captured the image of this moment in time, but how did it change our understanding and ultimate action. It is an interesting perspective, and should make "State of the Union" one of the more exciting exhibits of Chicago Artists Month. The exhibit opens on October 10th and run through November 15th.

Here is my conversation with Noelle Mason.

Orange Alert (OA): This month you return to Chicago for a group exhibit entitled, State of the Union. What can we expect to see at this show?
Noelle Mason (NM): My work in this show is an aesthetic investigation of law and representation. It is an interrogation of who can see and who cannot and how those in power determine what is seen and what is not. In our surveillance culture the eye has prevailed and those who can see further, better, smaller, more, have the power and autonomy. The military industrial complex has surveillance systems, satellite photography, x-rays, back-scatter, infrared and many other vision technologies that have extended their ability to see beyond our own evolved eyes, effectively rendering us blind. My work tries to recuperate these technologies from their virtualized minds-eye and through embodied performance and remediation interrogate our human relations mediated by instrumentalized vision.

OA: Looking back at some of your previous pieces and projects, like "Cul-de-Sac" for example, you seem to challenge the way we are viewed and how we view each other. Is this a fair assessment of "Cul-de-Sac", and how does this principle apply to your current work?
NM: This is a fair assessment. "Cul de Sac" was about literally taking an axe to the institutions that serve to separate us from each other; the gallery to the planed community and everything in between. I think all of my work tries to work against reactionary bipartisanship that is fostered effectively through the politics of representation (think Leni Riefenstahl or the Birth of a Nation.)

OA: Do you feel the way our daily life is viewed or monitored has changed since 9/11?
NM: Of course it has become more invasive, more technologically advanced. But we are more worked over than we are willing to admit. People love being searched and surveilled. It turns us on. It is a perversion of the human interface. In that moment at the airport security when the content of your bags are x-ray-ed for everyone to see you become intimately engaged in the representation of security.

OA: What was your experience at SAIC like? What were you able to take away from your time there?
NM: When choosing grad schools my adviser in undergrad shot down every school I said I was applying to. He said that I would punch somebody if I went to one of the brand name California schools and he said that the east coast schools were too conservative. I didn't know what he meant at the time but I ended up only applying to SAIC. Now I understand what he meant. It was a good fit for me. I got lucky. I came away with a family. It was a very intense and enlivening experience. I still work with the people I went to grad school with.

OA: Your recently joined the faculty at the University of Houston. How did you end up in Houston, and what do you hope to accomplish there?
NM: Houston is warmer than Chicago, and they have Mega churches, an art car parade, and a house entirely made of beer bottles!!! Currently my research is an interrogation of the implicit racism of US anti-immigration policies and the aesthetics that are used to ratify and uphold Conservative Houston is field research. It's perfect.

OA: What's next for Noelle Mason?
NM: I am currently working on several pieces that deal with the columbine high school shootings. Next year is the 10 year anniversary of columbine and I think it is an appropriate time to reflect on the decade and where we have come since the incident. In 1983 I saw my father on T.V. It was the first time I had ever seen my dad at work. He was a SWAT sniper at the McDonald's massacre in San Ysidro, CA, the most deadly massacre of it's kind at that time. I think these events unsettle us. They make us for a brief moment consider the dysfunctional parts our lives we would prefer to ignore. They reveal the contradictions and inequities of our "way of life."

Bonus Questions:
As a vegetarian, I was glad to see that you are a vegan. How did you first decide to go vegan?
NM: I became an Atheist. When you can see yourself in other creatures, and you believe in your own finitude, it becomes difficult to use animals as means to a totally unnecessary end. Factory farming is wasteful, unnecessary, cruel, and ethically detrimental to societal mental health. That being said. I fully support the subsistence lifestyle...although it is not something that i will likely ever participate in.

OA: What type of music do you listen to, and who are some of your favorites?
NM: These days I listen to a lot of Republican talk radio. I grew up in going to hardcore shows in San Diego in the early 90's, listening to bands like Unbroken, Swing Kids, Drive Like Jehu, and Three Mile Pilot. We idolized Dischord records, Morrissey and Joy Division. Everyone wore rolled up jeans and grease in their hair.

For more information on Noelle Mason please visit her website, and for more information "State of the Union" visit Thomas Robertello Galleries.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

well these artist are so cool. I simply love them.