Frame 61

Aimee Beaubien

Frame 61
Aimee Beaubien

"Visual oscillations between form and image reflect on the sensory shifts between photographic depiction and physical encounter."


Could you tell us a bit about yourself. How long have you been a practising artist and where did you study?

I live and work in Chicago, IL.  This city is brimming with talent driven to create improvised opportunities to share work. I received my BFA (1989), and MFA (1993) at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where I am an Assistant Professor in the Department of Photography. While I began exhibiting my work during grad school, I believe I really learned how to work every day in an art studio when I was a teenager.

My family was highly mobile and continued to move throughout my childhood. Moves mid-school year were the worst. Finally, I landed in a boarding school with a focus on the arts for my last two years of high school and my first two consecutive years in one location. Our campus was on a lake in the woods with no distractions. We worked in our studios after mornings spent in academic classes. We returned after dinner to continue making until bedtime. I was so preoccupied with learning through making that it never even occurred to me to do anything else.

Hothouse, 2015

Hothouse, 2015

These vibrant paper sculptures are very delicate, detailed and bizarre. Could you talk about your work and what your process is?

Delicate, detailed and bizarre sounds great to me! I have been cutting up photographs since the mid-1980s. My earliest impulses came of a desire to draw attention to how pictures are constructed. I actively investigated different collage strategies to experiment with visibly assembling photographic information in order to build picture relationships that might simultaneously blend, overlap, and intersect. Whenever I documented my intricate collages the results were disappointing; important seams disappeared, visible layers were flattened and erased through reproduction. I began raising my cutouts into reliefs that hovered just off the surface of the wall, emphasizing layers of revision and rebuilding.

Concentrated material experimentation guide the development of my practice, which has shifted from wall pieces to sculpture, and then to large-scale installations. I began to create woven works after becoming fascinated by intricate handmade baskets I saw in a gallery. I reassembled ribbons of cut photographs into tapestries and flexible interlocking structures. I continue to use each exhibition as an opportunity to creatively push the boundaries of my practice.

I spent a year photographing in Roger Brown Study Collection, the archive and historic home of the celebrated Chicago Imagist painter. I used the camera to capture my own impressions of the objects surrounding Brown during his lifetime, as I reflected on the connections between an artist’s work, their life and the things they collect. I continue to think about many different types of collections: the historically significant objects curated and presented by museums, as well as the idiosyncratic ways individuals collect and arrange personal items in their homes.

This research took form as Collecting Within: a multi-level installation of suspended ceramic jugs, woven photographic material, party lights, and large vessel-shaped photographs suspended with brightly hued cords. The work focuses on Roger Brown’s collection, while incorporating selected vernacular and photo-historical images. The piece nods to one of Henry Fox Talbot’s images in particular, Articles of China (c.1844). A pioneer of the medium, Talbot left behind an unusual record of his domestic life and collections. Many of his pictures show fine china, dishes, and other careful arrangements from his home and daily life. Conceived for the 40th anniversary exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago, the installation reflects on our dynamic and tangled attachments for the things we collect, individually and institutionally.

Hothouse, 2015

Collecting Within, 2016

Where has your work been headed more recently?

I have been focused on the garden as an ephemeral collection. In gardens, interconnected systems grow and reproduce. Hybrids flourish. Seasons reign, briefly. Gardens are marked by time. Various cycles of life move at different speeds. Interdependent systems multiply, bloom, grow, intertwine, and die. Qualities of the garden run parallel to the nature of photography: spaces defined by interactions of the scientific, the accidental, and the temporal.

My great-grandmother photographed her garden through the seasons and throughout her lifetime. I have been photographing in my tiny backyard garden, in my mother’s amazing garden in Florida, and botanical gardens near each of our homes.

In my recent work, botanical life is drawn in the illusory space of photographic representation, or drawn with scissors. Cut forms interweave, encircle, and hang; trail in ribbon-like shreds; and become wild ornamental outgrowths. Bold leaf shapes and twisting spirals of color entwine, dangle, cluster and creep in makeshift gardens. Hothouse grow lights create plays of intensely colored light and shadow while a household oscillating fan keeps these botanical entanglements actively swaying with life.

Photographic paper has become the sculptural material through which I continue exploring physical and perceptual relationships. Visual oscillations between form and image reflect on the sensory shifts between photographic depiction and physical encounter. My work is driven by the transformative potential between image and material, and by generative and cumulative strategies of making.

Tell us a bit about how you spend your day/studio routine? What is your studio like?

My studio is a first floor apartment and I live on the second floor with my husband and our two cats. My husband makes ceramic whiskey jugs on the weekends and they line the staircase that connects my studio and my home. Since I began working in this space, I have noticed my domestic environment influences my work in unexpected ways.

Wild fast growing vines creep about the garage out back, slink through the yard and climb all around our house. Last summer I began pulling out thickly twining morning glories, plucking the heart shaped leaves and rolling them up into large tumbleweeds to dry out before bringing them into the studio. My grandmother’s dining room table is my primary work table and I am surrounded by huge tangles of cut and woven photographic pieces in various states of progress that dangle down from the ceiling.

I allow everyday objects from my home studio to become integrated into the structure of my sculptures. Surrounded by suspended, propped, and perched objects, I consider perceptions of weight: the weight of things, the weight of images, the weight of representations, and the emotional ties interlaced throughout.

Hothouse, 2015

Hothouse, 2015

What artwork have you seen recently that has resonated with you?

Lately I have been making repeat visits to Provoke: Photography between Protest and Performance, 1960 - 1975 at the Art Institute of Chicago. I am particularly drawn to Jiro Takamatsu’s Photograph of Photograph, a series of fifty black and white images. Takamatsu arranged family photos around his home and hired a photographer to take pictures of the photos in situ from angles that would capture light bouncing off the surface. And I keep thinking about this line from the wall label: ‘Personal memory, like external reality, looks difficult to grasp with precision.’ I inherited thousands of my great-grandmother’s photographs and I have felt encouraged to view them at odd angles to explore their many possibilities.

William Henry Fox Talbot’s ‘Honeysuckle’, c. 1844 is always in my nearby thoughts. Geoffrey Batchen wrote: “Talbot crowds his camera into this bush of flowering honeysuckle, resulting in a remarkably three-dimensional picture. Looking at this image, we feel as though we too are peering into these branches, our field of vision totally filled by its light-dappled petals and stems. The photograph is at once realist and abstract, and thus points to the paradoxical aspect of photographic vision that many future practitioners would also learn to exploit.” It is the greatest excuse to use my camera to see things, to become sensitive to the act of looking.

During an artist residency at the German porcelain factory Meissen Manufactory, Arlene Shechet made plaster reproductions of original factory molds. She then produced a variety of cast, hand-painted porcelain forms and her molds of molds took form for such exhibitions as ‘Meissen Recast’ and ‘All in One’. I learned about Arlene Shechet’s process and 20 months of research at the Meissen factory during an artist lecture she gave at SAIC and then I visited one iteration of this project at the Frick Collection for her installation ‘Porcelain, No Simple Matter: Arlene Shechet and the Arnhold Collection’. Her engagement with the mutability of material, history, and the vernacular captivates my imagination.

I keep dipping back into Kirsty Bell’s The Artist’s House: from Workplace to Artwork. In it Katharina Grosse describes the moment she decided to spray her bedroom in Dusseldorf with paint. ‘I sprayed it as I had left it, and left everything as it was.’ Grosse often speaks of the event as a turning point in her work, though there is only photo documentation of this watershed moment. I’ve heard Katharina Grosse speak in lectures about how she discovered narrative through this action. In Kirsty Bell’s interview Katharina says, “This is the most private place where you find different connections to things. You lie, you are in a kind of image space, imagination is like another realm. Thinking and pictorial space are very close to one another, whereas this materialization of our life is far away from thought.”

Hothouse, 2015

Collecting Within, 2016

How do you go about naming your work?

As I work, I jot down fragmentary, evolving impressions of what I am making. From these sketches titles are altered much like a collage, in a way similar to William S. Burroughs cut-up techniques. The names also mirror the iterative ways material is used in my installations.  My Hothouse works, for example, are installations that have material overlap as well as related names, but are radically re-imagined for each exhibition context.

Is there anything new and exciting in the pipeline you would like to tell us about?

I’m working on an artist book that is a reimagined version of my installation Collecting Within. The publication is designed to act like a collection itself, comprised of 150 accordion books of varying lengths, stacked within an origami-like cube. Each copy varies slightly in the collection it contains. Included in the book are creative text pieces by Lisa Stone, Curator of the Roger Brown Study Collection and Eve Kalugin, Shapiro Graduate Fellow. The work also features a pamphlet-bound essay by Alison Grant, Assistant Curator of the Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago.

The photographs in the book depict observations of Roger Brown’s things, photo historical images, the collections that ornament the shelves and stairs of my own home, and installation views of related works I have made. In Collecting Within, the iterations of my process are placed together in a non-hierarchical way and in a manner offering a new series of picture relationships with each encounter. This artist book pays homage to his lifelong accumulation, and to the many wandering pathways through it. My own travels through the Roger Brown Study Collection allowed me to experience the collection itself as a wild assemblage: it is a collage that is activated as the viewer’s body passes through it.

All images courtesy of the artist
Published date: 5/4/17