Q & A with Emily Peacock
Interview by Hayley McSwain
The Function of Attention, a three person exhibition curated by Emily Peacock is currently on view at Art League Houston, and features three emerging Texas-based artists whose work playfully explores the creative purpose of boredom as a form of attention.
Emily Peacock is an artist on the rise. Not only is she a very talented curator but also a brilliant photographer, who is pushing the boundaries of contemporary photography in Houston. She has exhibited at venues including the Galveston Art Center, Houston Center For Photography, Lawndale Art Center, and her work can be seen in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. She is currently an artist-in-residence at Lawndale Art Center.
Art League Houston's Intern Hayley McSwain was lucky enough to grab a few moments with her to answer some questions about The Function of Attention exhibition, her perspective as a curator vs. an artist, and other exciting projects she is working on.
Q. When Art League approached you to curate an exhibition, did you already have an idea in mind to showcase young, up and coming photographers, all of whom are still in school or just graduated?
A. I did not have a specific idea in mind but Britt Ragsdale and I had been planningThe Lens Capsule exhibitions, so I had been thinking about young photographers/artists that are making interesting work. I have also taught at HCC, Lonestar, and the University of Houston and I know a lot of young artists, but I also just try to stay up to date on what others are making in my medium.
Q. How did you assemble this group of artists for the show? What is your relationship with them?
A. Well I only had four days to put together the show so I instantly started to contact a few artists to see if it was even possible for them to get some work ready. Once a few responded, I started to think about how each person’s work related. Out of about five artists, I saw that Matt, Shawn and Daniela were all making work about the everyday. Matt McEver goes to Sam Houston State University, my alma mater. We actually met there years ago and he often emails me his latest work.
Shawn Mayer is a CentralTrak resident. I met Shawn about a month ago while visiting the residency to collaborate with another resident, Jeff Gibbons. I ended up visiting all the resident’s studios and I thought Shawn Mayer’s towels were really humorous.
Daniela Galindo and I met through a mutual friend at an art opening last summer. She had just moved back to Houston and we had lunch and talked about the Houston art scene. Then I saw her work at Lawndale’s Big Show at the end of the summer. I am always interested and curious about what other artists are up to so I try to meet and look at other artist’s work when I can.
Q. The exhibition’s title, The Function of Attention refers to a Susan Sontag quote about boredom. Each of the artist’s work relates to the fascination with the everyday, the ordinary rather than the extraordinary. What attracted you to each artist’s photography?
A. I must say that I am interested in the banal aspects of life and tend to gravitate towards that type of work. With Matt’s anthills, the repetition of the circles and the aerial view of the hills caught my attention and reminded me of looking outside of a plane and seeing crops, dirt farms, and rural areas. I also enjoyed the muted color palette. The images are calming to look at and I liked that.
I instantly fell for Shawn’s towels. I just thought they were strange and funny. (Strange in the best way.) Each towel personified a different emotion and they were unique. Daniela’s intimate images of her life around her have a sense of urgency to them that I relate to as an artist. She has a unique perspective and creates intriguing compositions with the world around her.
Q. What makes banality an interesting subject to photograph, even though it typically has a negative connotation? How does the theme of boredom relate to contemporary photography today?
A. I don’t necessarily agree that banality as a subject has a negative connotation. With cellphones and Instagram, we see a lot of it, so we easily brush it off as trite or redundant. What makes the everyday interesting to photograph is that the photographer is editing out the entire world except that one thing they are photographing. I guess that is what all photographs do, but by taking that “something”, be it small or ordinary, and making it extraordinary through the process of photography is quite amazing to me. If you can change or expand the way someone sees the world then the photograph has succeeded.
Boredom has always been a theme in photography and will continue to be. Since its birth, photographers have always photographed what is around them; whether that be a view from one’s window (Niépce) or a towel on a rack. For me there is a natural urge to photograph the world around me and I believe it starts in places like your bedroom or the walk you take to school every day.
Q. Are there any similarities between the work in the exhibition and your own practice?
A. Yes, I would say there are some similarities between my own practice and the exhibition. I often photograph everyday objects such as bologna or a stack of pillows in my grandmother’s room. I also carry a 35mm camera on me and just shoot whatever I find interesting around me. I don’t always show this work but I enjoy making it and I think it is important for me to make it.
Q. How does your perspective as a curator differ from your perspective as an artist?
A. Good question, I am still trying to figure that out. I would not consider myself a curator. I have curated a few shows but I am definitely an artist curating other artists. I guess I try to be a lot more open when it comes to working with artists that I want to show. I listen to their ideas and try to make it all work. Whereas when I am making work, I listen to my intuition in the moment. One thing I have learned is there is a lot more emailing and phone conversations in curating.
Q. What is the significance of how the pieces are presented in the show?
A. Each body of work is hung differently according to each person’s work. Shawn’s towels are hung with the towel rack in each image at the same height; therefore the prints themselves are uneven on the wall. Shawn suggested that the work be hung that way and I agreed that it makes more sense visually to have the racks level across the wall. The towels and how each is draped become more apparent and you compare them more since they are level with one another.
Matt’s work is on the wall and on the floor. I really thought the floor piece worked out quite nicely. As I mentioned earlier, I enjoyed the aerial point of view in Matt’s images so we were discussed possibly showing some of the work on the floor. Jennie Ash from Art League suggested that we could use these bricks that were in the back of the building. They are arranged like a brick sidewalk, which I think is appropriate for the anthill images. Also the grid formation of the images really shows off the different textures and the repetition of the circles. We decided to hang larger images of the anthills on the walls to give the viewer an opportunity to see the details of the work more closely.
Daniela’s work conveys an intimate narrative, so I asked her to make an arrangement of the photographs on the wall. They are different sizes and range from snapshots to more staged images with delicate lighting. The arrangement allows the viewer to make different connections between the different types images and create their own narrative.
Q. This exhibition is part of FotoFest 2014 Biennial, which promotes the exchange of art and ideas through international programs and the presentation of photographic art. How has this festival influenced young photographers in Houston?
A. I think that the festival has greatly influenced young photographers in Houston. It is such a unique opportunity to see so much work by a wide range of artists. It shows young photographers a variety of work being made in the medium of photography and they can decide how their work fits into that.
Q. I love the idea of The Lens Capsule, your artist-run temporary exhibition space. Can you explain your motivations behind this project?
A. Britt Ragsdale and I started The Lens Capsule during the 2012 Fotofest and we wanted to help young artists get exposure. We both know how it is to be making work and not have an opportunity to show it during such an important time. Sure you can show in a coffee shop or your friend’s apartment (all are good ideas) but we wanted more people to see the work. The Lens Capsule allows maximum exposure for the artist by driving up to existing, well-attended art openings and community events. Honestly, we have a good time doing it and have found it to be good experience for the artists we have shown.
Q. Your solo exhibit A Matter of Kinship is currently on view at Aker Imaging Gallery. Can you tell us a little bit about this?
A. Sure. My newest work, A Matter of Kinship is about my sister and I. I had to live on my sister’s couch for a few months and we had not lived together since we were very young. We shared a room for the first 12 years of my life and her one bedroom apartment often felt like our childhood bedroom. We often fought over the same things as adults as we did when we were younger like clothes or bathroom habits, but I believe we are the closest we have ever been now. The both of us were going through a lot and just having one another was so important, even if we just sat in silence. When you are in a moment of not knowing who you are or where you are headed, it is so important to have someone who shared your history and reminds you of who you are.
Emily Peacock is a Houston based artist who received an M.F.A. at the University of Houston, with an emphasis in photograph and digital media. Her interests mainly lie in photographing and making short videos of herself and her family. Peacock's work has been exhibited throughout the United States and in Vienna, Austria.