In Conversation: Angie Seykora & Ella Weber
By Angie Seykora & Ella Weber | November 15th, 2018
Angie Seykora currently lives and works in Omaha, Nebraska. Seykora received an MFA in Sculpture from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. In 2018 Seykora was the recipient of an Unrestricted Artist Grant from the Omaha Creative Institute and in 2016, was recognized as a Distinguished Artist by the the Nebraska Arts Council through the award of an Individual Artist Fellowship. In 2013, she was presented with the Outstanding Student Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture award from the International Sculpture Center, from which she was selected for the fully funded Art-St-Urban Sculpture Residency in St. Urban, Switzerland on numerous occasions. Angie Seykora is an instructor of sculpture at Creighton University. Her work is exhibited and collected on a national and international level.
Ella Weber intentionally maintains minimum wage jobs as a means to fuel her art, both financially and conceptually. In doing so she utilizes various means to investigate the tension between consumer and viewer, performer an employee, artist and gallery. She earned a BFA from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, and an MFA with distinction in printmaking from the University of Kansas. Weber has attended residencies at Oxbow School of Art, The Wassaic Project, Anderson Ranch, The Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts, Signal Culture and Munson-Williams-Proctor-Arts-Institute Artists in Residence Program in Utica, New York. The artist has exhibited widely in selected venues such as The Haw Contemporary (Kansas City, MO) The International Print Center of New York (New York, NY), Art at Wharepuke (New Zealand) Project Project (Omaha, NE), Lamaar Dodd School of Art (Athens, GA), Forum Gallery at Cranbrook Academy of Art (Southfield, MI) and most recently The Union for Contemporary Art (Omaha, NE). She has taught at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, PrattMWP College of Art and Design and is a mentor in Joslyn Art Musuems Kent Bellows Mentorship program. Weber currently resides in her parents suburban basement while slicing meat in a deli.
Contrary to the usual early morning Instagram DM and text exchanges between artists and friends Angie Seykora and Ella Weber, the following conversation took place IRL over free wifi and pie at the 24 hour Village Inn.
ANGIE: The majority of our friendship has been in the form of direct messaging, emojis and excessive “hahahaha’s”. But this online mode of communication makes sense considering you spent the past year 1178 miles away living in Utica, NY as a resident at PrattMWP.
ELLA: Sometimes I joke that all my friends live inside my phone. Thanks to distance, our shared nocturnal patterns, and Instagram addiction, your number has quickly become my go to toll free hotline for all things art and life. Though, I’m definitely not a sculptor.
ANGIE: We do have drastically different approaches to making. I think it's interesting that we were paired together to discuss our work in a formal context. It brings me back to how I first discovered your work: via Instagram. Scrolling through your feed of selfies, featuring a processed Oven Roasted chicken, named “OR” left me confused but intrigued. There were so many pictures of you two together it seemed as though this chicken head was your BFF. Never had I heard of an adult having an imaginary friend in the form of meat?!
ELLA: Rest in peace, OR! The thing is, OR became real to me. My relationship with a piece of meat developed organically over the course of 6.5 months. During a deli shift from hell, this oven roasted chicken slipped off the slicer, landing on the grocery store floor completely intact. I like to think this was a desperate attempt to save himself from being just another neglected slice of meat in some kid’s school lunch. Instinctively, I poked a smile into the whole of the slippery processed chicken. After removing my fingers, I thought out loud, this has the potential to be the start of something special. I asked my boss if I could keep him. He mumbled “sure”. That’s a 65-dollar friendship value right there, for free. We then proceeded to take 37 selfies together, marking the beginning of OR and I, the origin of us.
ANGIE: I suppose through the devoted artifice he became real?
ELLA: Upon returning home, I introduced OR to my parents and asked them to kindly refrain from eating my new friend, our new roomie. I whispered goodnight, placing OR in the family fridge drawer. Phone in hand, I set out to show OR the good life before he was no mORe. For in reality, OR was a rotting piece of meat, a time sensitive art project, a dying friend. Together we played outside, ate fast food, shopped at PetCo, watched the Food Network, worked out to Drake, questioned our identities, gave each other facials, showered and slept together as things progressed. Our date to Target, marked the highlight of OR’s life, the epitome of the American suburban mom, the consumer dream.
We did it all, but more importantly made sure everybody could see. OR became contingent on social media through excessive public posts in order to validate to others our relationship. Is OR chicken or ham? A pet or art? A friend or a lover? Does OR have a choice in any of this or is his life completely fabricated by another? No one predicted OR would live more than 5-7 days past his expiration date, but on June 3, 2017, due to maggots and extreme stench, we held a memORial service in his honOR. Love is sad, at least at the end. Like OR, your work is also ephemeral, processed and organic in your various approaches to manipulating materials. Would you agree?
ANGIE: Yes. I have a process-based studio practice rooted in play and experimentation with materials such as discarded plastics and industrial byproducts. The time-sensitive nature of my work is present through a labor intensive way of making. Repetitive acts give formal distinction to the sculptural volumes or patterned surfaces that emerge from such iterations. These actions include folding, weaving, bending, stacking, layering, knotting, cutting, wrapping, etc. Often times I’m using discarded or inexpensive materials manufactured in multiple units such as rubbers bands. Other times I make my own individual units such as cutting thousands of pieces from a roll of tape.
On another level, the resolved works become time-sensitive because I don’t know the longevity of the original properties. After my hands no longer have a role in making and altering the forms, the works become gestural statements in their own right. I must surrender control to time, which will inevitably dictate the evolution of my work.
ELLA: Your use of repetitive actions remind me of the following physical activities required to be a delicatessen clerk: climbing, balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, reaching, standing, walking, pushing, pulling, lifting, fingering, grasping, feeling, talking, hearing, and repetitive motions. On my first day in the deli, I asked my boss for a utensil to package the ham salad slop. She smiled and said, “God gave you two hands for a reason”. I suppose it’s nice to know that my hands have a divine purpose.
ANGIE: My hands actually are the most important tool in making my work. I can only manipulate and control the forms so much, until the work starts to define its own characteristics. It’s through this process that I’m trying to find new formal qualities, rid of any visual reference or predetermined conceptual narrative. It purely becomes a conversation about making, the time that goes into making and then at some point surrendering to that and allowing the materials to do what they will.
ELLA: This idea of control or lack thereof, brings to my mind your installation, Cope, which I saw during your solo exhibition Part to Part at the Union for Contemporary Art. Despite the surface pattern of the vinyl, there seems to be an element of chance left to gravity within the suspension of the piece. I’m curious how ideas of control and chance intersect in your work?
ANGIE: This piece explores the conceptual and formal linguistic content of its title Cope meaning to struggle or deal with problems or responsibilities (reflected in process, materials and display), but also as nouns including a cloak, canopy, or the sky (a way to describe or make sense of the physical presence of the work itself and the viewers relationship to the form). The installation appears as though it’s a mass manufactured material suspended in space, but only upon closer investigation the inconsistencies in the surface are revealed. The pattern was meticulously created by adhering hand-cut organza to transparent vinyl with electrical tape that was cut to specific lengths and widths. Even though it may seem like there’s a concise method to making this work, the beginning phases always consist of experimentation and play. This then leads me to specific parameters I assign to the materials formal relationships with one another. I trust in this process of play and embrace the possibility of discovery through the process of making. How do you incorporate play within the monotony of a typical deli shift?
ELLA: I actually feel as if I’m still child, most likely because I’m a 31 year old living in my parents basement, making minimum wage in a suburban deli. The cyclical cold cuts of suburbia might sound boring, but my practice is liberated in such confinements of monotonous routine.
ANGIE: As artists it feels like we always have to justify our time because we live in a culture, obsessed with working, especially in quantifiable terms.
ELLA: I’ve recently come to the realization if I truly believe art and life are intimately connected, I no longer have the capability of wasting time. This mode of thinking has given me freedom in the trajectory of the 8-hour workday to play. A seemingly unrelated conversation with a coworker while watching the slicer spin on endless loop is no longer a meaningless endeavor but rather potential material. The slow repetitive motions of slicing on auto, heightens my awareness to change in the present environment, simultaneously letting my mind transcend the meat. My work feeds off the potential for disruption and experimentation within the comfortable norm of midwest suburbia.
Is this your first time? You seem nice. You look nice. I think about licking the salt off your skin. Then I think about the low sodium turkey that’s dry. Then I think about licking the slicer on auto, to just slice a thin layer off my tongue. Are you comfortable? No? Are you female? No? Are you feminine? No? Ok good. God. good. It is what it is. Meat is meat. Sit, sext, sigh.
ANGIE: I’m very aware that our work is byproduct of a studio practice based out of the midwest. This often surprises artists I meet from LA or NYC because it’s unconventional for most artists to begin their career here.
ELLA: I agree. Whenever I go to residencies, I often get asked, “Where is Nebraska?”, “What is Nebraska?” or “Hey what’s the state abbreviation for Omaha?”
Channeling my inner “Nebraska niceness” I smile while attempting to explain that I don’t actually sleep in a field of corn.
ANGIE: It’s like the question I’ve actually heard someone ask: “Nebraska, is that next to Alaska?!”
ELLA: Hahah. I wish. #wedontcoast. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the stereotypes placed upon the “flyover” states. Looking at it from a coastal or cultural perspective, why would one care to explore a faraway flat state infested with corn, devoid of salt water? Sure, I have roots in the midwest, but I continually find myself returning not because of family first, live laugh love, but because ultimately, this environment best sustains and informs my work. I’m curious though, since you’re not an artist who is originally from here, what is the appeal of living and working in Omaha for you?
ANGIE: I made a conscious decision to move to Omaha after finishing my MFA degree. After graduate school--and still to this day--I wanted to make sure I was living and working in a place where I would have the time, resources and support to organically make my work and allow my ideas to naturally develop. The arts community in Omaha is tight-knit and expanding. For a sculptor, materials are readily accessible and affordable. Opportunities for artists to exhibit are constantly increasing. Additionally, it’s an affordable place to live and work without external pressures from the commercial art world. These things make it possible to travel for research and leave for residencies, knowing there will be time, space and support once I return back home.
ELLA: I think for both us, our travel and external experiences have helped construct our current internal views on living in Nebraska. For me though, being here has not always been a positive experience. As a 31 year old, I’m not exactly living my childhood dream sleeping in my parents basement and slicing ham in a deli.
ANGIE: Ah but the American Dream!
ELLA: Well they do say Omaha is a good place to raise a family! That is if you had a family. Honestly, everyone my age who lives in my parents starter kit suburban neighborhood is married with 2 kids mowing the grass of their first home. I feel like I might be....a bit behind in comparison to my neighborhood contemporaries. But hey! It keeps me young.
ANGIE: Knowing you though, It seems like you have a really optimistic outlook on your situation. I’m curious, what changed your perspective on living here?
ELLA: Well, I do work at a grocery store deli in which the motto is, “a helpful smile in every aisle.” I have no choice but to be positive. Corporate displays our smile scores weekly. Anything less than 100% is unacceptable. But you’re right, it hasn’t been all smiles. Unfortunately, I received a record low secret shopper score, primarily for not smile.
You should smile more. I should smile more.
Since the incident, I practice smiling during lunch breaks with bathroom selfies from above. Sometimes, I bring ham into the bathroom and cover my face with a slice of ham. Although not proven, I believe that a thinly sliced ham pressed on the face diminishes the aging process, masking fine lines and wrinkles. When break is over, I peel the ham off my skin, swallow and spread my smile in the mirror. Returning to the slicer on loop, agreeability reigns.
In my most recent video installation, Choose to Smile, I smile back and forth for the duration of 30 minutes, a typical lunch break. It is a performance piece that smiles, while contemplating the idea of endurance, happiness, and choice. If I am forced to smile, does it ever become real through the process, the ritual?
Is the autonomous customer only an illusion? How much choice do we really have? For, I am my smile. It is what it is, meat is meat.
ANGIE: I think it’s interesting how a lot of your work critiques the illusion of happiness promised by our consumer society. You willingly participate, but through the observational lens of a self-aware consumer. Your role as a deli clerk allows you to consume and absorb your work environment as a source, or product that feeds your studio practice.
ELLA: I mean what even is a studio? My windowless basement bedroom? The deli counter? Since graduate school I’ve been living a semi nomadic life, hopping from one residency to the next, only to return to the depths of suburbia and part-time employment. Through this process, I have developed a specific model of a sustainable studio practice, ultimately found working across the counter as a delicatessen clerk. My time spent perpetually slicing on auto is no longer a mere one arm workout, but rather an extension of my studio practice, another residency. This shift in thought has altered my process, and therefore my smile.
ANGIE: So often as artists we are conditioned to believe that the “studio” must be a physical, space that exists as an environment where we can retreat to, or a safe space to escape from the invariable monotony of everyday life. Residencies function in a similar way for many artists but also include the resource of time. A suburban grocery store deli is the antithesis of a traditional residency, because you are going directly into the “everyday norm” rather than escaping from it. The deli isn’t solely a financial means to an end for you and because of this I’m quite curious how you frame your line of thought understanding the deli as a residency?
ELLA: Maintaining minimum wage employment has informed my practice for years. However the deli was the first job where I saw it as an extension of my studio. The very act of clocking in, slicing meat, and transactionally performing over the counter has become the work, the art. This idea originated during a studio visit while a resident at Anderson Ranch in Colorado. After observing my collection of meat inspired art, I was accused of being more inspired by the rosettes of the black forest ham than by the picturesque Bob Ross-esque landscape out my window. It was this A-Ha moment, when I thought, “Why not do what I’m doing at this “actual” artist residency in the deli? Why can’t the deli as residency be a line on my CV?”
ANGIE: Was it hard to get accepted into the Suburban Grocery Store Deli? Was the application and interview process rigorous?
ELLA: Unfortunately the online application process does not use Slideroom at this time, but it is free to apply. Let’s be honest though, the deli is desperate. Apart from art, It’s a dirty, smelly job. 99 percent of the time I feel like I’m walking barefoot on meat, not sand.
ANGIE: It’s a totally anti-capitalist understanding of the way our society places emphasis on the necessity of a typical “work-day” and the value or lack thereof within the way we spend so much of our time. while ironically working in a consumerist environment. How can we reorient the way we determine value in the mass-manufactured, synthetic world we exist within?
Consumption does not come without disposal. Especially within positions of privilege, one can afford to dispose of things. Objects become disposable. Information is as easily accessible as it is disposable. Other people become disposable and to some degree we even dispose of ourselves. As products of a consumer culture, its a gratuitous response to dispose of whatever it is we consume. There is value in what is disposed of. It’s through my process and choice of repurposed materials that I am able to contemplate the value in the time and things we would most often disregard.
ELLA: Jean Baudrillard once said, “There is more and more information, and less and less and meaning.”
ANGIE: Yes, exactly. We are mostly consuming without thinking. So many options are readily available to us and I think this is what may cause our value judgements to become skewed. In the work, Gilded Panel, I attached thousands of pieces of disposable party tinsel onto a discarded mirrored closet door with scotch tape. At first glance, the work appears to be a woven structure of highly reflective golden metal threads. The highly reflective materials engender an initial attraction to the surface, an emblem of allure and consumption. Upon closer investigation, after taking time to really engage with the work, the materials then reveal themselves. The initial appearance of the delicately woven form quickly dismantles upon the realization that Gilded Panel is a mass assemblage of common, cheap and conventional disposable materials.
ELLA: Likewise, there is nothing special about lunchmeat. We’re more interested in what’s for dinner?
ANGIE: This brings to mind what sculptor Tony Feher brillianty expressed, “I think it’s unfair to pass judgement on beings or things because they are perceived to be on the low end of someone else’s scale. The idea that they don’t have value is simply ridiculous. A single pebble on a beach is as extraordinary as a mountaintop."
ELLA: In my piece, Do You Think I’m Special?, 120 slices of black forest ham are photographed and arranged in a vertical grid, reflecting the dimensions of a full body mirror. Each slice of ham, though almost identical, is uniquely posed in various folds and forms. In relation to one another, the slices read as a language. If not arranged in an ordered or logical pattern, the consumer becomes disoriented, losing his or her sense of self in an overtly materialized landscape. This organized homogeneity, references the vinyl siding of sameness within the suburban landscape. We want to blend into the beige, while simultaneously desiring to feel special, to discover happiness, and to ultimately find ourselves. I look in the mirror and ask myself, am I special? Do you think I’m special? Who ham I? What ham I? Where ham I?
ANGIE: I feel like this is something we are both thinking about: How does one observe subtleties in this world? How do such observations reveal new levels of awareness? And then how do our individual observations translate into our own unique visual language to communicate and share such realizations with a larger audience?
ELLA: During a residency a Brooklyn-based artist once asked me, “If your friends aren’t artists, WHAT do you even talk about?” Part of my practice, especially in choosing to work in non-art related environments, is trying to reduce the gap between artists and the so called non-creatives.
ANGIE: “If your friends are only artists, WHAT do you even talk about?” Both of our work seeks to address this, but it begs the overarching question: Can one truly separate art from life?