Christina West, Stage Left

2017 was a phenomenal year for Ceramics faculty, Christina West. Following her inclusion of the Atlanta Biennial, she enjoyed coverage from a collection of national publications, including High Fructose, Artist-a-Day, and Atlanta Magazine, which named her one of three artists “moving Atlanta’s art scene forward.” West spent the year traveling to other campuses as an invited guest lecturer, before finishing the year at Miami Beach, showcased by the Hathaway Gallery booth at PULSE Miami.img_5958

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It is now 2018 and West has garnered a great deal of attention this year already. She was named by Art Zealous as one of 11 artists to follow on Instagram; an interview of her was published in Create Magazine (the issue was in such high demand it sold out); and she has an upcoming solo show at UT–Knoxville. “Stage Left” opens January 24 with a reception February 1.  In this immersive installation,  West, placed her figurative sculptures into a space she has created within the gallery that mimics a home space, alludes to narratives of the domestic life, and sets the stage for ambiguity, inviting––per her signature––voyeurism borne of very human curiosity.

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The following is an excerpt from a feature in The Rib about “Stage Left:”

In this immersive installation, Christina A. West integrates figurative sculptures into a space that is suggestive of a house, playfully alluding to the idea of the home as a stage set. “Stage left” is a term used in theatre to direct actors as they move around the stage.  Though a term traditionally used to orient, it is used here as a foil to highlight the viewer’s disorientation within the fabricated space, while reinforcing theatrical associations with the installation. As people move through the gallery, spaces recede and reflect, sometimes offering a glimpse into another room, sometimes reflecting back the space one is in, and occasionally reflecting a reflection.

Additionally, exposed studs on one side of each wall create a sense of front and back (or stage and backstage) that shifts throughout the gallery. Objects such as sheets, blinds, and picture frames conjure the context of the home, charging this “stage” with a sense of a private space. As viewers bend, squat, and peek around corners to view tableaus, their own reflections appear throughout the space highlighting their participation in the scenes.
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We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to visit West’s studio when much of the “Stage Left” work was still in production. We got to see figures still in their casts, forms staged around her studio floor, and sketches for the UT–Knoxville installation. Here is an except from the studio visit conversation.

 

Jac Kuntz: Are the figures in your Knoxville show fashioned from a real person or photograph?

Christina West: Yes,  but I don’t think of the figures of portraits like the busts are.  The busts are portraits of people that not many people know. They are my family and friends. Most people at a show may not recognize them, but they are based on real people. But for these, I have models and I take photos.  When I work, I have the reference imagery laid out around me, but I am not so concerned about making it look like the model. I think of the figures as similar to characters in a work of fiction. You may relate  to a character or it reminds you of someone you know but the character was totally created by the author.

JK: And that seems to be emphasized by the fact that these aren’t life sized. They are just slightly less so, but their features are proportional. That just adds to the fact that they are created by someone, but also meant to be a personality.

JK: And your color choice and placement, I know some is geometric and some of it mimics clothing, how do you chose placement and type of color?

CW: Sometimes I use color as a cohesive element. The color is always an intuitive thing, but for the Knoxville show, it is going to be all white. I am seeing if they need the bright color that I typically use. I am getting rid of the color and thinking about the white as a kind of blankness. So that it is more about the spaces and interactions.

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JK: Your figures are usually placed in relationship to one another and in a kind of awkward or obscure narrative, but how long have you been using other objects like that blind or door—like you did in the Atlanta Biennial and like you will be doing for “Stage Left?”

CW: The Atlanta biennial was the first time I did that and I will be pushing that more in the Knoxville show. I will be using objects that relate to the home like blinds and mirrors and frames… maybe a chair­—general, common objects, used in a playful way. I will build a room within it with doors and trim and such.

I am thinking more about creating a slightly disorienting space for the viewer with the multiple compartments you are peering into. While you are looking in, you are being watched as you look at the sculptures. You are looking and being seen. This upcoming show is related to a previous installation I did titled “Misfits” in 2013; I built a room for the figures and had circles cut into the wall where people could peer into the circles. On the other side of the wall, there was imagery, like flat carnival cutouts, so that when viewers looked in, they were participating in the imagery. The Knoxville show won’t have that particular gimmick, but it is tied into the concept of looking and voyeurism and being watched and the connection to space—public versus private.

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The artist talk for Stage Left will be held at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, February 1. View West’s full artist statement here.