23 July 2007


The work of Keetra reminds me of the pet projects of Amelie of Montmartre with their infusion of optimism and rich creative nature. Indeed, the parallels continue with the inspirational imagery provided in the course of this interview as well as her fascinating photobooth imagery.

Her creations demonstrate not only a mature aesthetic sensibility but a unique view of the world that is at once unpredictable yet consistently her own. A number of artists working commercially often find that their commercial work spills into their personal work, but in Keetra's case her personal work is dominant. It is her personal vision that permeates her commercial designs. They fit seamlessly with her independent creations.

With little background information available online, she has provided the following information as a background to her work:

A Character Profile of Keetra Dean Dixon, by Joshua Walton.
Some clarification, by Keetra Dean.

Keetra prefers the trashier version of a grilled cheese sandwich.
She used to live in an Igloo and fight bears on a daily basis for survival.

I was born & raised Alaskan.

She only eats the flesh of other designers.

I fall on the veggie side of things, but that never squelches my competitive nature.

She'll punch you (HARD) in the face if you say she can't live without electricity for a week.


She feels that cars move too slow and days move too quick.


If she ever went to prison she would design the best tats for people.
Oh, and one more thing, she can outshoot me at the gun range every time so keep her on your side for the zombie invasion.

Some standard stats:
Education: MFA, Cranbrook Academy of Art + BFA, Minneapolis College of Art & Design
Owns her own studio, From Keetra, in NYC. Often collaborates with the Time and Place Workshop.

And so with heaps of appreciation, I'm very pleased to present the following interview with Keetra.

SIOUXFIRE: Were you creative as a child? Were there any key moments while growing up that shape your work? And at what point did you decide that ‘art’ was your calling?
Both of my parents have had careers focusing on practical fabrication - seamstress & metal smith. So I grew up in a hands on environment, but I don't think I was any more or less creative than other children. I did make my first cash in high school doing portraits of friends & people in the community. It went from there.

SIOUXFIRE: Are there similarities between how you approach a personal and commercial project? And what are the differences?
KEETRA DEAN: I approach commercial work like I approach gift giving. "What would ____________(insert client name) REALLY want for their Birthday?" Where as un-commissioned work is a present all for me! It's problem solving VS a more indulgent exploration. Either way I am looking to make someone smile.

SIOUXFIRE: What do you hope a person will get from finding one of your public works like little public plaques or Rising Stars? And where do you draw your inspiration for this kind of work?
KEETRA DEAN: Most of my personal work can be labeled Implements of Wonder + Attentive Stimuli. Ideally my work will insight Wonder & Cultivate Critical Attention using: • Surprise • Delight • Discovery • a sense of Play • Vulnerability • Novelty • Confrontation of the unexpected • The combat of pessimism & passivity • Non-traditional forms of interaction

SIOUXFIRE: To me, your work has a consitently positive message even if it’s shrouded in dark humour like your blood puddle pillows. Is that important to you?
KEETRA DEAN: Absolutely. I find myself tripping into a cynical loop at times. I try to inject moments into the daily routine that may break those cynical patterns for myself or a larger community.

SIOUXFIRE: Would you tell us about the different tools and mediums you use and what makes each special to your work? And what are your feelings about digital vs. traditional media?
KEETRA DEAN: In general I try to inserting the unexpected into accepted forms, whatever the medium is. I rarely think about digital & traditional mediums as oppositional or mutually exclusive. In general I try to find the best final form for a project & the most effective way to produce it.

SIOUXFIRE: A Tricky Photobooth is a fascinating project. How did that come about and did things develop? Were you surprised by the results? Is the photobooth still around?
KEETRA DEAN: The Tricky Photobooth was my MFA thesis piece at Cranbrook Academy of Art. I was looking for a light hearted, experiential based tradition with a standardized ritual tied to an individuals public persona. Ideally the booth is displayed in a semi public areas - malls, boardwalks, carnivals etc.

The booth holds no denotation of it's unique qualities. Users enter the booth, pose for 2 shots & exit as usual. During the developing process, the photos are "analyzed" & customized with forecasts consisting of patterns, symbols & messages - the resulting portrait presents an unexpected interference over a traditional photobooth image.

This portrait becomes a custom souvenir of the unexpected. I was completely surprised by how well the booth ended up working. I am always a bit apprehensive about putting my work out there & inadvertently hurting someone in some way, or generally pissing people off. But, in the case of the booth, people respond very positively & seem to be invigorated by the interaction. It is the most I can hope for. The booth is currently being redesigned - the next version will be industrial strength! The original is now retired, it lived a good life.

SIOUXFIRE: Would you choose an image (by anyone aside from yourself) that you think is “great” and explain what makes it special for you? (photo, drawing, etc. – anything you like)

This image is GREAT because it makes me SMILE - ENDLESSLY SMILE!

SIOUXFIRE: What would you say have been the most important things you’ve learned in regard to your work/self in the past few years? And what advice would you give other creatives?
KEETRA DEAN: BE BRAVE! (or maybe just start with baby steps and try to be a little more brave each day. Everything is more fun with baby steps!)

SIOUXFIRE: Would you choose a colour (it doesn’t have to be a favourite) and explain the ideas and feelings it generates for you? This doesn’t need to be a straight answer – express yourself in any way you feel is suitable from an explanation to a haiku or image
KEETRA DEAN: Here is a poem I wrote when I was 10.
"An ode to teal. Teal is the color of the deep blue sea & the thousands of fish that swim beneath. As the daughter of blue when wed to green, teal reminds me of people when lonely. The End."

Currently teal makes me think of "BUM EQUIPMENT" sweatshirts from my youth.

SIOUXFIRE: What are your thoughts on the categorization of arts between “high brow”, “low brow”, “fine art”, and “outsider art”? Do you feel these labels serve any purpose?
KEETRA DEAN: For the sake of productive discussion and a more realistic external perspective categorization can be very beneficial. Segregation of work based on those categories is more difficult to reconcile. I rack it all up to an occasional sticky frustration. I rarely find myself in uncomfortable circumstances due to art labels.

SIOUXFIRE: Are there any other arts that you practice outside your usual work? (music, poetry/writing, filmmaking, sculpture, etc.) And are there any arts/skills that you’re keen to learn?
KEETRA DEAN: I dabble in what ever the work calls for. Right now I am learning a bit more about electricity!!

SIOUXFIRE: What or who inspires you? (musicians, designers, filmmakers, painters, etc.) And why?

The biggest drain hole in the WORLD!!!

This guy is grasping the moment, you can see it in his eyes!

SIOUXFIRE: What are you working on now? And what are your aspirations for the future? What will Keetra ideally be doing in 10 years?
KEETRA DEAN: I am trying to hone my wonder skills - it's a tough gig. In ten years I hope to be doing the same, maybe in a bigger pad.

Thank you, Keetra.

From Keetra
From K to J
Future Farmers
Keetra profile - Cranbrook Art

17 July 2007


The work of Elijah Gowin spans the documentary tone of his Lonnie Holley series to the whimsical narratives of "Hymnal of Dreams" to the ethereal and timeless imagery of his "Of Falling & Floating" series.

Despite the diverse nature of his collections, Gowin manages to keep his mark. Themes transcend his work: isolation, fragility, and the integration of new and old media.
With a willingness to broaden his work and intriguing new projects on the horizon, I was very grateful to Elijah for sparing the time to provide some insight into his work.

Elijah Gowin is now an Assistant Professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City where he directs photographic studies.

Would you say your work has progressed and/or changed since your work on projects like the Lonnie Holley or Hymnal of Dreams series?
Certainly much has changed in my methods of making a photograph from those earlier series made mostly in the 1990s. The new millennium brought many changes personally and globally and I saw it as an opportunity to reinvent how I made my art.

"I am much less internal as an artist these days..."
I think as I have aged (I have a family now and moved to Kansas City for a teaching position five years ago) I have been able to step back and deal with issues outside of the region that fueled my early work-namely the landscape and mythology of the Southeastern United States. I am much less internal as an artist these days and am able to empathize better with others around the world. I am looking more to picture a wider world psychology rather than my own.

But hopefully people see a few links from the older to newer series. I continue to push the alternatives to straight photography and am still interested in ritual and the landscape.

A good deal of photography is negative space and in terms of your work, there is a good deal of negative space in terms of narrative with a lot of questions arising from what happened before or what will happen next. Would you say the unseen portion of the narrative has a greater or equal part to play in the meaning of your images?
Narrative drove the Hymnal series and I often found myself interested in what was in the background, hovering slightly out of focus. The setting—the spaces around objects and people—was an opportunity to charge a still image with many possible storylines. In the images where people are left out, there is still a heavy human presence like some character has just stepped out of the frame. And although I did like images that spoke about what might have happened before or after the moment portrayed in the picture, I was also leery of illustrating a story with a beginning, middle and end. I thought that left too little room for a viewer’s imagination and participation.

In the newer digital work, I think I use space and narrative in a different way. Overall, I am less concerned with narrative. I often like to use the background and setting as a way to develop a psychological space based on scale. By putting a small figure in a large sky or body of water, I think we feel more exposed and alone.

In your statement for the Watering series, you’ve stated that although “the digital revolution has empowered individuals by connecting them to the larger world, technology has at the same time made the individual more replaceable, replicatable and anxious about the future.” Are you speaking in terms of work and creation, or something more fundamental? And in what way do you feel anxious about the future?
I am thinking more fundamentally about how technology comes with a price. First, it has made us question our human value. We all hear about the outsourcing of jobs, downsizing due to automation and the global market, cloning and stem cell research. These events seem to question our uniqueness and foster instability and flux. Also, as technology has made the world smaller, the psychological weight of the world has become heavier.

Secondly, the promise that technology will allow us to control our lives and geography has not delivered. As I began to work on the Watering series, the tragedies that happened with flooding in New Orleans and with the tsunami in East Asia were reminders of our human frailty.

In regards to the Of Falling and Floating series, how did this project develop and what was the driving force behind the unusual process you used to create these images?
By 2001 or 2002 I was ready to totally reinvent the tools, process and materials for making my art. Conceptually, I was interested in developing a process for making photographs that embraced technology and the internet. But at the same time, I wanted to juxtapose this with more human marks and historical materials. I think it was the end of the millennium (which coincided with the end of my youth) that perhaps put me in the mood to question what values and sensibilities we take with us from one era to the next. And that’s where I came up with working with the scanner and paper negatives.
"It took awhile, however, to understand how the scanner could be used in a very personal, controlled way, much like an enlarger."
And how did this process develop? For example, what led you to using found photographs and paper negatives?
Many artists in the 1990’s were using historical processes like Cyanotype prints and using pinhole cameras to make paper negatives. I also had friends that were using paper negatives and using the enlarger to make larger, distorted images. So it had been on my mind for a long time.

As an art instructor, I had also seen the blurry, papery effect that occurs when students scan a picture using the wrong setting on the flatbed scanner. It took awhile, however, to understand how the scanner could be used in a very personal, controlled way, much like an enlarger. Even though I started using found, amateur snapshots for convenience, I found it to be an important gesture as it allowed me to tap into something awkwardly honest and human.

In the early seventies, there were a number of artists who put themselves in harms way creating photograph works featuring themselves or others falling such as Bas Jan Ader. Were you inspired by these works? And how would you differentiate your work from Of Falling and Floating from these?
I can’t say this artist or time period played a part in this series. But there are similarities to those works in having the body being the center of the tragic event. Also the thought that life is somehow beyond our control. My work is more lyrical and uses photography very differently.

Are you still in contact with Lonnie Holley? And would you ever consider revisiting him in your work?
Holley is a self-taught artist in Alabama and unfortunately I have been out of touch with him for awhile. I think about him every once in awhile and it would be great to have a show with him or do some collaborative project very different from my usual work. I think it would stretch me as an artist. At one point years ago, he suggested putting images on strings and hanging them on trees. I wasn’t ready for that at that point but now I think I can afford to do disparate projects if I want.

You’ve described your initial writing as “bad” and have referenced “good artwork” in your statements. What would you say are the qualities of “good artwork”? And would you say these qualities are unique to you or are they more universal?
I think the bad and good refer mostly to things I like or dislike, so it’s my own subjective taste. Interesting art is something that keeps my attention, questions what I know. But of course I sometimes like art that is comfort food for the eyes and not to be thought about too deeply.

What do you think about the way in which labels are applied in art such as “high brow”, “low brow”, “street art”, “fine art”, and “outsider art”? Do you feel labels serve any useful purpose? Or likewise, can they be detrimental?
I think the word “label” already suggests that categories like these are kinds of baby words and not very sophisticated. Perhaps just lazy. On one level this is true. But these terms certainly reveal the subtle differences in why art is made and then defined by an outside source. Each word suggests a different economic and social context. But such terms could best be used as a starting point for a discussion. In the end, however, a good discussion will show how useless the term really is as a surrogate for the complex modes of creativity and consumption of art.

What have you learned while teaching? And what would you say is the most common mistake you see among the students you see?
I have learned that I love teaching in the University, but I’m not a natural academic.

I think the mistake that I most often see with the students I have now is that they are too careful and afraid to make mistakes. For the most part they have to be pushed further rather than reigned in.

Based on your own development, what advice would you give to parents who are striving to nurture their children’s artistic expression and why?
I would say take it easy. I think it is best when children are allowed to stumble upon their own skills and interests. I don’t think engineering creativity works.

Would you choose a colour (it doesn’t have to be a favourite) and explain the ideas and feelings it generates for you? This doesn’t need to be a straight answer – express yourself in any way you feel is suitable from an explanation to a haiku or image
Pink used to be the color for boys, the watered down red of blood. Now I trip over pink ponies getting to the bathroom at night. The quietness of the house and the rise and fall of breathing are enough to tend to my wounds.

What was the last thing to surprise you and what did you learn from the experience?
Sleeping until 1pm and missing an event at PhotoEspaƱa during a recent trip to Spain really surprised me. It was somewhat jetlag induced but it was good to have the body tell you what it needs and trump our rapid travel technology.

What projects are you currently working on? And are there any other disciplines which you would like to try in future outside photography?
I have a few side projects that I would like to do as a change of pace from recent series. One involves something like teaching kudzu to talk. More theoretically, it is about trying to see if the patterns of growing vines can be translated into language.

As for engaging other disciplines, photography has been so flexible and accommodating, I have been able to engage my interests in many areas and still stay within the still image. I am trying just to keep up with the speed of photographic evolution, but I have always thought that I would suddenly wake up one morning and start drawing or something.

Thank you, Elijah.

Elijah Gowin
Robert Mann gallery
Dolphin gallery
Saatchi Gallery magazine
Lonnie Holley wiki

05 July 2007

Interview: KAKO UEDA

As with artist Nikki McClure, Kako Ueda creates more often with an X-acto knife as opposed to a pen or brush. Her works are elaborate forms with a strong sense of her Japanese roots and nature.

Working at
ARAS and with a strong interest in her medium's history and its association with culture, she has a fascinating body of work. She has recently been the recipient of the 2007 New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) Fellowship.

Would you share your history with paper from your childhood discoveries to your current work?
I learned to make an origami crane and other animals from my friends as well as from my parents. I started drawing and painting early on (3-4 years old) and I distinctively remember that the first time I used canvas to paint oil (I was 11 or 12), I didn't like it. So I went back to painting on paper with watercolor and acrylic. I also remember that I made paper dresses for my dolls (including Barbie!!) when I was a little girl.

I studied photography in college. I initially wanted to get into the painting department but it was very competitive; you had to fight for a studio space so I was kind of fed up, thinking "I could paint on my own and I want to learn something totally new" so I chose photography as my main study. The teachers in the photo department were wonderful and I learned to really look at things in a frame. I also discovered the beauty of black and white photography. I continued to paint & draw (oil sticks) on paper on my own. I was accepted to Pratt Institute graduate program in 1996 based on the organic inspired abstract drawings I did on paper. I started folding paper while at Pratt and my thesis show was a group of wall-reliefs made of dye-cut envelops (which I cut myself). There were black and white ones and very minimal looking but suggestive of the body somehow.

Is there a particular approach you have to colour? Is there a fixed palette that you prefer? And how would you differentiate between your monochromatic silhouettes and full colour works?
Sticking to black, white and grey is very comfortable for me, that is why I sometimes have to use colors to put myself in an uncomfortable place. To me colors could be overly emotional and could give mixed messages. Black and white can be expressive and "colorful" too but always with a certain sense of restraint. When I use colors I tend to go all the way and create "very colorful" work as if I let go of something.
"Purity sounds noble and good but scares me sometimes..."
Following on, how do you feel the process of cutting adds to your work and how would you differentiate between cutting and other mediums?
Cutting creates paper to become a hybrid being. It is both 2-D and 3-D at the same time because it has a look of line drawing at a first glance but casts shadow on the wall to remind us its 3-dimensionality. I've always been attracted to things/people/animal that are mixed or hybrid. Purity sounds noble and good but scares me sometimes because some people do brutal things to others in the sake of keeping something/someone "pure".

How do you feel the impermanence and fragility of the paper add to your work? And how does its history augment the medium for you?
Traditional Japanese culture found special beauty in fragility and impermanence because people at that time seemed to be more in touch with the natural process of decay and approaching death/end.

The culture we live in (I am talking about contemporary industrialized cultures) tend to see impermanence and fragility as defect or weakness. If one wants to "succeed" in this culture, one has to look youthful (devoid of wrinkles) and stay that way. On one hand I see the attraction in it myself; on the other hand I feel that we are losing something by just stressing that part of life. We all age and die in the end no matter what.
"I picked up the medium of cut paper without any preconceived notion..."
You have never displayed your photographic work. Why is that? Is it something that you would like to get into again? And has it influenced your current work at all?
I simply haven't had a chance. I may when I feel like it. Never say never and keep one's option open. Learning photography made me aware of composition and see the world in black, different shades of grey and white.

What practical advice would you give for anyone wanted to try their hand at paper cuts? And would you recommend some sources of information on the medium and its history?
I picked up the medium of cut paper without any preconceived notion in 2003. I simply started fooling around first with scissors then X-acto knife. To tell you the truth, I was stuck and bored with what I had been doing (folding paper) and needed to change the course.

As I got into cutting, I did some research to see how the medium was presented in different cultures. I looked up Japanese stencil cutting, Chinese, Mexican, German, and so on. I am glad though that I didn't have any set idea of how I should cut or what technique I should use. I had images in my head that wanted to come out somehow and I chose this particular medium to do it.

I never read about or formally learned traditional cutting techniques so I cannot preach to people on technical issues. Some people get so hung up on the "cutting" part but if one doesn't have a compelling image (to himself or herself), cutting wouldn't add anything--I want to stress this fact. On the practical matter, what I can say is to change the blade often. 1-2 in every hour so you always are working with a sharp blade—good for your art and for your hand.

Would you tell us about your work at The Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism in Manhattan, what you have learned at your time there, and its impact on your work?
It is a wonderful place to work. I feel lucky everyday. Our boss is an art-aficionado and five others--three visual artists, a musician, and a Jungian analyst/editor. We are currently working on a book of images (each symbolic entry presented by visuals and a piece of writing).

I was hired initially to do basic research that was sent to the writers. I had to read a lot and copied a lot, and since I love reading anyway I learned a lot about a lot of different things. One of the things which was useful for my pieces was learning about world mythology. And ARAS has tons of books on that subject matter.

What was the last thing to surprise you and what did you learn from the experience?
I got hit by a cab last summer. That was a surprise. I was fortunate that I didn't break anything. It surely made me think that life could end just like that. And yes, I also learned to pay very good attention to cars in New York City even if you have the right way.

Your parents were from an artistic background and you grew up in Japan. Based on your own experiences, what advice would you give parents to nurture their children’s artistic expression?
Just let your child do whatever he/she desires as long as it is not harmful to him/herself or others. And save your child's artwork. He/she will appreciate looking at them when they grow up. And it gives him/her a feeling that what he/she made was worth saving!

Would you choose a colour (it doesn’t have to be a favourite) and explain the ideas and feelings it generates for you? This doesn’t need to be a straight answer – express yourself in any way you feel is suitable.
I wear red/red lipstick when I have lots of energy and wanna get attention.

What are your thoughts on the categorization of arts between “high brow”, “low brow”, “fine art”, “outsider art”, “craft” and so on? Do you feel these labels serve any purpose?
Human beings are masters of "categorization". I guess our brain naturally has that tendency. Having categories helps to function in the society pretty well, at the same time it obstructs one to become" one" with the rest of the environment. We perpetually feel unhappy and unsatisfied because we feel separated from each other at the same time (ironically) we want to hold onto the labels of what we seem to be so we feel special, important or better than "others". Ultimately I say forget the labels.

What are you currently working on? Are there any other mediums which you would like to try in future? And in 10 years time, where would Kako Ueda ideally be?
I have been working on this medium size piece called "Conversation" and I have two installation pieces going at the same time. I am trying to stretch the definition of cut paper art. I don't know where I would be ideally in 10 years. My ideals change constantly but if you say at this moment what I feel about it, I would say, "no aches in my hand".

Thank you, Kako.

Kako Ueda
Smack Mellon gallery
George Adams gallery
Artists Space gallery
Animal-NY Q&A
White Hot magazine interview
Paper Forest (post + related info)