A Skype interview with Cindy Baker, who will be showing work at Text Crutch, curated by Robert Harpin. The show will run from October 25- November 1, 2013 at The Works Gallery at Jackson Power (9744 60 Ave).
“I don’t make art that incorporates language. I make art about language—that explores language. Language is the first thing that comes to me before the aesthetic, before the visual. I’m working with words and I want to explore those words. So, they’re not a crutch; they’re my medium of choice”
1) Who is Cindy Baker?
I’m a contemporary interdisciplinary and performance artist, based in Lethbridge, Alberta, which is a long and wordy way of saying that I’m an artist that makes things and does stuff. Basically, I’m not tied to any specific media in my work. I make whatever I need to make and I do whatever I need to do to get across the ideas or explore the ideas that I’m interested in exploring.
2) What will you being showing at Text Crutch?
It’s a series of rugs, called, “Welcome to Reality.” It’s called “Welcome to Reality” because they’re welcome mats and all the text on them are taken from reality T.V. The idea for welcome mats came from the concept of wanting to make work that people understood immediately as an object from the get go, but to turn it on its head from the very beginning and say, “wait a minute, these don’t say what I expect them to say.” And therefore make people think about them as much as they can without having to broach the fact that they’re artworks.
I started making objects that didn’t look like art because I was a bit disillusioned with the art world—and this was many years ago, shortly after I was finished my undergrad at the University of Alberta. And I just thought, man, you know, people look at art and they recognize it right away and say, “Oh, it’s art; I don’t have to think about that.” Because we don’t think about art! And they parcel it away in their brain and they never think about it again. So I wanted to start making objects so that people would say, “Oh, my grandmother could make that. Or, I’ve seen those in craft sales, but there’s something weird about it.” Sort of hook them into thinking about it before they even realize that it was something they didn’t want to think about.
People in our culture, I think, are more visually literate than they give themselves credit for, and that’s where the problem is. It’s not that they don’t know how to look at things, it’s that they think they don’t know how to look at things. And, so they say, “Oh, I can’t understand that; I can’t look at that; I don’t get it.” And, yet, they’ll watch T.V. and they’ll understand things that happen in the story not because they are told them literally but because there are visual clues. In all sorts of visual media, people understand things and learn things that they’re not even realizing they’re understanding and learning because they think that they don’t get that kind of thing.
So, using words in my art is a way to say, “I need you to understand right away that you get this, and once you understand that you get it, then I can throw in visual clues and do things visually.” This gets them to think, “Yeah, I’m on side already and I get it and now I understand what’s going on visually.” Sort of lull them into complacency and then, ha! they’re looking at art and they like it!
3) Why did you choose latch hook rugs as your medium?
Craft is really important to me because of what it says about gender and the role of women’s work in the world—the value of women’s work in the world as well as the value of women’s work i.e. craft in the art world, specifically. It’s been so devalued, not just in our culture, but really, specifically in the art world. Things that women do that take a lot of skill, a lot of effort, a lot of learning, and a lot of time—it’s definitely not seen as having as much value … So there’s that on top of the fact there’s a lot of dichotomies in my work. I really like to explore things that are not necessarily two-sided—things that are not necessarily black and white—but if you present them that way then there’s all this weird grey area in the middle that people say, “Wait a minute, you forgot all this grey area.” And then again, we’re like, okay, now we’re talking: You figured that out on your own, now let’s talk about it. So, welcome mats, which are mass produced: if you make a welcome mat but it takes you hundreds of hours to make it, then what is that saying? What is it saying if you’re putting all this love and energy and time into something that is meant for people to y’know wipe their dirty boots on? And things like that come up again and again in my work.
Latch hooked rugs are also not just a form of craft, but a form of low craft. There is high craft – like ceramics and things you find at the local craft council gallery, for example. And those things are valued as far as craft goes and then there’s low craft, or abandoned craft, or forgotten craft—the types of things you would’ve done as a kid that you don’t see in shops as finished objects and you don’t even see in stores anymore as things you can buy as craft activities because they’ve fallen out of favour, or fallen by the wayside. Latch hook is something that kids today they don’t even know what it is because it mostly was invented in the 70s and then disappeared as quickly as it appeared because it is so labour intensive as a craft … And it’s also tacky, visually. Usually, it’s polyester. It can be wool as well, but it has a really, really specific look that fell out of favour as a certain visual aesthetic of its time—y’know like bell bottoms, and mushrooms and daisies and that kind of thing.
4) “Welcome to Reality” transcribes the spoken word. What do you think happens in the act of transcription?
It’s really fascinating to me that the way each person talks is completely different from the way each person writes. We all speak differently from one another—we all have our own ways of communicating. But also, when I write something down and then try to speak the same ideas out loud, I don’t use the same words at all. I wouldn’t emphasize the same things, not even necessarily the same ideas. So, I’m totally interested in the gap between those two things. What is it that goes missing when we formulate an idea on paper and make it as strong as we can and get that idea just perfect as opposed to when we say it out loud and we manage to capture something that is precise or exact but is somehow completely different. It’s easy enough for us to write something down and then figure out how to say it out loud, but it rarely happens the opposite: that we say something out loud and then write it down as is.
When things get transcribed that’s when you can see how awkward the major differences are in the way we talk and the way we write things. Because when you transcribe something, you’re like, “Oh, this is really weird; this is going to need to be edited in order for it to make sense because this is not how this idea should look on paper.” But there is something there, there’s something I want to explore that I don’t want to edit out. In fact, I want to take those differences and I want to highlight them. I want to think about them. And it’s the same thing, for me, with handwriting. The way that people write things, the way that people’s hands shake with anger while scribbling something down, or the way they choose to write extremely neatly because it needs to be preserved in a very exacting way. Those things, to me, are, sort of, the body language of writing that I love exploring.
“Whatever BITCH whatever,” Cindy Baker
Check out her website here: http://www.populust.ca/cinde/wp/
This interview is brought to you by TickTalk at The Works.