By JAMES SALOMON July, 2022
Siblings most often have a competitive streak in them. Who's more talented?
We don’t really have a competitive vibe with each other. It doesn’t really drive us. We both have our very specific abilities and we run with them. For example, William has a mind and the discipline for production. And I have a mind for dreaming and planning and archiving. Both of us do a bit of everything; but we both know who is responsible for what, and that ties directly into our strengths.
Tell me about your idea process.... and the backstory of your current LongHouse installation.
We have been wanting to do an outdoor sculpture for as long as we can remember. We grew up in St. Louis and would often visit Laumeier Sculpture Park with our friends. So, from early on we had an exposure to abstract artworks in a park-like setting. And we associated that with friendship and family and creativity. But our work was never quite capable of being exposed to the elements. A lot of that changed when we bought 19 acres in upstate New York and learned to build structures on that land. Building shelter and learning roofing and exploring materials that will withstand years of being outside really inspired us and taught us a ton.
We cleared the land ourselves by cutting down cedar trees to make way for the buildings. By doing that ourselves there was a lot of respect for those trees that came down and they were gorgeous. The color was beautiful and the smell of cedar really took us back to olfactory experiences of being in our grandmother’s home where she had a cedar chest that she kept her precious textiles in.
We are always on the lookout for new materials, especially materials being repurposed and available in abundance without exhausting a lot of resources. There were plenty of trees that we had cut down and stored, so we started to cut the trees into disks, which we discovered were called “cookies,” and dried them on racks. And so, we knew that these cookies could be the perfect material for an outdoor sculpture. An immediate connection was made with the main threads of our art practice and we began to “weave” them into textiles, envisioning them as beads. These textiles become the walls and the ceiling of an all-encompassing space, while a pathway through the work encourages engagement and an elevated shift in perspective. We are beyond thrilled to transform trees from our beloved upstate retreat into an artwork that people can interact with.
You’ve done a lot of work on Rikers Island through the years. How did this come about?
Yes, we’ve been engaging with those in the NYC Department of Corrections since 2012 through our Scrollathon program. We have a friend that works on Rikers and she wondered if we might come and engage in a jail that housed the teenage boys. That first day on Rikers was completely heartbreaking. Our experience with them was incredible though and the next day we got an email from our friend saying that the guys keep talking about us and the experience and said that we treated them with such respect. She went on to let us know how important that kind of experience is for these guys who are almost always stigmatized.
Scrollathon was born out of believing in the extraordinary capacities of every human being and the awesome power of community. In 2006 we merged fine art, design, and craft with our passion to collaborate with people. During a Scrollathon each Community Artist makes and names a take-home artwork that they associate with a personal experience which they share with the group, demonstrating how art can facilitate personal storytelling. Then they make components for the Collaborative Masterwork and are photographed for a permanent record.
I heard that you worked with those in custody during the pandemic.
We did. Visitors were prohibited from entering the jail system, so we had to find a way to engage with those in custody without being in direct contact. Usually in our workshops, each participant makes a colorful scroll to keep, and another as part of a collaborative piece. When we learned they had access to colored pencils, we sent out packets that included a drawing of blank scrolls for them to color, so they could still create and keep their own work of art. We explained in the packet how we use art to tell stories and encouraged them to think of their own story that inspired the coloring and left space for them to write it out and for them to sign and date their work.
We also asked them to send back anonymous responses to the prompt: “What one word describes incarceration for you?” We added responses from the outside community too, bringing inside and outside together. Walk inside, and you’ll be surrounded by them. We built an exhibition called The Other Side, 2020, made of installations and artwork inspired by our experiences working with those in custody. And one of those was a life sized jail cell. We lined the Jail Cell, 2020, with the responses to the prompt including 125 people from five jails and hundreds more from the outside community.
Tell me about the piece in the Berkshires.
Yes! It’s at the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Beth Rudin DeWoody curated an exhibition and invited us to contribute a small work for the indoor galleries. This piece is from 2012 when we were exploring all of our high school memories in our art. Its title is Goose Creek, which is a small lake in Missouri where our friend had a little cabin where we would party at. Relationships are some of the most important things in our lives, and we often draw inspiration from objects connected to those relationships.
Next up is a major museum solo at The Sarasota Art Museum opening in September and a group show at The Invisible Dog Art Center in Brooklyn.
What is your Why?
The values that guide our lives and our artistic practice are:
Spend your life doing what you love.
Be focused and disciplined.
LongHouse Reserve, 133 Hands Creek Road, East Hampton, NY, 11937. www.longhouse.org
Berkshire Botanical Garden, 5 West Stockbridge Road, Stockbridge, Massachusetts, 01262. www.berkshirebotanical.org