Sophie Durbin by Altered Esthetics

Sophie Durbin is an multidisciplinary artist. In this interview, learn about Sophie’s installation work, thoughts on self-promotion, and upcoming events at her South Minneapolis art space: Pancake House.

Corrty Pye Municipal Office #4 , Modus Locus, Minneapolis, 2017

Corrty Pye Municipal Office #4, Modus Locus, Minneapolis, 2017

Tell me about your body of work. What are you currently working on?

In the past few years, I have focused on installation. This kicked off with a tiny paper silhouette version of the Witches’ Hat Water Tower at the Smallest Museum in St. Paul in 2015. I also created a food and beverage licensing office set in 1972 in the fictional town of Corrty Pye, Michigan. That was the most complex work I’ve done to date because every component was interactive. I returned to Corrty Pye for a performance/talk at the Mid-America College Art Association conference in Lincoln, Nebraska this fall. I like to be imaginative on the most banal, minute levels like creating fake government paperwork or conducting fake science about tidal energy. There have also been two small installations in New York - I really like showing work in other places and have been hoping to do more of it, but it’s so much easier to collaborate with people that are right down the road from you. I have another installation coming up over that will be a bit of a Stations of the Cross but with haptic poetry (coincidentally it will fall on Easter weekend). Otherwise, I’ve done some written work and contributed to POND presented by Tagvverk.

While I am still dedicated to my personal artistic practice, I find myself shifting toward a DIY curatorial path now. I’m currently working out of Pancake House, a multipurpose art space located in South Minneapolis. In 2018, we experimented with events like a science fair and video game lecture night. We’re about to present our first cohesive season called the Early Spring Haptics Lab. Haptics is any interaction involving touch and it’s been a fascination of mine forever - I wanted to be a massage therapist for awhile and still consider massage/ bodywork a minor hobby. I’m interested in touch and the nervous system. My goal for Pancake House is to, over time, produce thematic series of events that situate art in different fields of scientific inquiry.

Witches’ Hat Water Tower Installation,  The Smallest Museum in St. Paul, 2015

Witches’ Hat Water Tower Installation, The Smallest Museum in St. Paul, 2015

How did you decide to become an artist?

I have been creative in one way or another my entire life and I have never committed to one medium, though I’ve been more attracted to installation in recent years because it’s a way to activate the same part of my brain that allowed me to play house or make believe as a kid. I am often overcome with inspiration and have nowhere else to go except to create something.

What do you enjoy most about being an artist? What is most challenging?

The best part is coming up with ideas. I am a daydreamer. If I could coast along with my unfinished idea list, call it art, and forget about the execution, that would be the life. I do enjoy the more obsessive and detail-oriented aspects of creating work, and I also thrive on the research phase if I’m delving deep into something I’m unfamiliar with.

Marketing and self-promotion are painful for me. I often wish art, even something like a performance or a participatory installation, wasn’t measured by how many human individuals were there to see it. It’s a tree falling in the woods phenomenon. How many people have shied away from creating art because they knew they’d have to somehow find a venue for it and attract people to an opening? I have so much respect for individuals who are good at marketing and self-promotion because it is a thankless task. We have so many tools that are supposed to make it easier. These tools worked for a bit (think of Facebook events, Instagram posts, etc) and now just get swallowed in the algorithmic sea. I think it’s always been difficult to get people to care about art, but nowadays we have clearer (and more depressing) metrics for it, so when you experience a “failure” - though I prefer not to think of an under-attended exhibition or event as a failure if it was well-thought out - it is more visible.

Hard Science/Soft Opening,  Pancake House, Minneapolis, 2018

Hard Science/Soft Opening, Pancake House, Minneapolis, 2018

What was the best advice given to you as an artist? Any examples of bad advice and how you moved past it?

I had a grade school art teacher who told us to “always do art in odd numbers” and I follow that rule very strictly. I also had a dance instructor who had a list of rules on her studio door that strongly discouraged the use of symmetry, which I think is roughly the same concept. I doubt either teacher meant for me to take this advice so literally, but I do think creating things asymmetrically has made my work more compelling.

Bad advice: I’ve been lucky not to spend much time following advice I sense to be bad, but I resent when anyone gives me advice based on vague concepts like “following my inner self” or “following my heart.” If someone is going to take the time to give me advice, I need specificity.

How do you hope audiences experience your work?

I hope people find it interesting and that it makes them want to linger.

Is there any direction or medium you’ve always wanted to try but haven’t yet?

I don’t think I have the work ethic for it, but I have a deep love for cinema and still fantasize about making movies sometimes.

Letters to Catherines , Babycastles, New York, 2017

Letters to Catherines, Babycastles, New York, 2017

Many artists struggle to find ways to sell their art.  How do you sell your work? How do you market yourself?

I tend to use my own possessions as materials and I’m a hoarder, so that pretty much rules out sales. However, I do struggle in a way many artists can relate to in that I am constantly funding projects out of my own pocket. This limits me constantly. I always have my eyes open for outside funding opportunities. The applicant pool for grants and other funding is so much deeper than the amount of money there is to go around. It’s sad. As for marketing, I mentioned above that I hate it - but it’s a necessary evil. I make it easier on myself by hand-drawing flyers, which I find less taxing than using a screen. I use social media. I promote events on MN Artists, which I check all the time and think is a good local resource. I also believe word of mouth is the best marketing tool and am always trying to make connections with people who would be interested in what I’m up to.

Who are some other Twin Cities artists you enjoy?

Nailah Taman (https://nailahtaman.wordpress.com/) Her work scratches deep, visceral itches.

Mickey Doe (@mamaleh_lemonrind on Instagram is the best place to find her wares) makes jewelry that is often abstract but always precise and purposeful.

Miriam Karraker (https://miriamkarraker.com/) is an excellent example of a successfully multidisciplinary artist. And she is my studio mate!

Cori Lin (https://corilin.co/) Cori and I moved here over the same summer nearly 5 years ago and within that time-span her work has become essential to the Minneapolis art landscape.

Letters 2 Lara Croft & Animal Crossing,  Pancake House, Minneapolis, 2018

Letters 2 Lara Croft & Animal Crossing, Pancake House, Minneapolis, 2018

Do you have any exhibits/ events to promote in the near future?

Early Spring Haptics Lab will be presented this Spring at Pancake House. Here are the event dates:

  • Touch Screens: A very tactile video night

    Saturday, February 23, 7 - 10 pm

  • Hands-On: A Collective Haptic Perspective

    Friday, March 22, 7 - 10 pm

    Saturday/ Sunday, March 23 - 24, 1 - 5 pm

  • The Quisp and the Body: A multi-station installation

    Saturday/Sunday, April 20 - 21, 1 - 5 pm

Image of the artist

Image of the artist

For more of Sophie’s work, check out www.sophiedurbin.com.

Follow Sophie on Instagram at @auntie_pancake and Pancake House at @pancakehousempls.

Pancake House is located at 4553 S. 34th Ave in Minneapolis. Follow on Facebook for event information at https://www.facebook.com/unoriginal.pancakehouse/.

All images courtesy of the artist.

Interview written and edited by Sarah Kass.

Carly Swenson by Altered Esthetics

Carly Swenson is an intuitive painter originally from northern Montana. She spent more than a decade as a mixed media artist before shifting to acrylics. Swenson received her BFA in Visual Art with a Minor in Art History from Bemidji State University (Bemidji, MN). Her exposure to other cultures through traveling and living abroad as well asher love of art history is evident in her early work which plays off themes of feminine ideals, gender roles, and beauty expectations. As she developed an intuitive practice, Swenson’s work gained a new unique presence. Her work results from embracing uncertainty and trusting the intrinsic creative process which gives her art vibrancy and dreamlike qualities.

Swenson’s work has been shown in solo and group exhibitions throughout the US and internationally. Her work is also included in the permanent art collections of the Angra do Heroismo Museum (Terceira, Azores) and Bemidji State University. In addition to her paintings, Swenson’s freelance writing and mixed media journals have been published in nationally distributed art magazines. When she’s not working on her own projects, Swenson facilitates art workshops for various age groups. Currently, she lives in St. Paul, MN with a smart little dog and a weird little cat. They’re nice!

Love her Wild,  36” x 36”, Mixed Media Intuitive Painting, 2018

Love her Wild, 36” x 36”, Mixed Media Intuitive Painting, 2018

Tell me about your work? What are you currently working on?

I’m always working with intuitive painting, it feels the most natural to me. Something about silencing my mind and getting lost in the act of creating has become very cathartic.

I’m also working on another, more unusual body of work, Bloodstream of Consciousness. Our current cultural and political climate has caused a lot of frustration and anger that I needed to channel in a safe, healthy, and more productive way.

These simple works contain a strong, often relatable, feminist narrative based on self-reflection pertaining to my own gender socialization, personal experiences, and our culturally-ingrained misogyny. My goal is at least fifty 12” x 16” hand-lettered statements made with India Ink and menstrual blood on watercolor paper. Currently, I’ve made just over twenty, as well as a couple larger works.

Done Apologizing , 12” x 16”, Menstrual Blood and India Ink, 2018

Done Apologizing, 12” x 16”, Menstrual Blood and India Ink, 2018

How did you decide to become an artist?

I’ve wanted to be an artist as far back as I can remember - except for a brief stint around age 5 when I wanted to be a cheerleader. When I had to pick a major in college, I couldn’t really imagine passionately pursuing a career other than art, so I went for it.

What was the best advice given to you as an artist?

It wasn’t specifically about art, but some of the most lasting advice I’ve received was: One thing that sets successful people apart, is that they’re willing to put in the time and effort that others aren’t.

That really resonated with me because there’s often this misconception that artists make art - and Ta Da! That’s the thing! Now wait to be discovered and loved forever! But we have so much behind-the-scenes work. It’s less fun, less noticeable, and less rewarding but crucial to pursuing a career in the arts. That advice reminds me that I have to keep putting in the effort.

Is there any medium you’ve always wanted to try but haven’t yet?

I’d love to try encaustic painting. It’s always seemed like such a fascinating process and I love the layered style and texture it creates. I’m planning to take an entry level encaustic painting class sometime this year

Pisces by Birth , 24” x 24”, Acrylic Intuitive Painting, 2018

Pisces by Birth, 24” x 24”, Acrylic Intuitive Painting, 2018

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Many artists struggle to find ways to sell their art. How do you sell your work?  How do you market yourself?

I have this struggle too. I really wish I had the answer. Currently, I’m just trying what I can and hoping something works. That is, by no means, a plan I necessarily recommend but I’m still learning the business aspect of being an artist.

I have an online shop hosted by Square. I haven’t sold much from there yet, but it’s only been up for a few months. I sell smaller works in a Facebook group I created in an effort to make original art affordable for all budgets. Available pieces are often priced between $25-$80. Thais strategy has been intermittently successful.

I’ve also reached out to local coffee shops, cafes, etc. and have sold more works there than I expected. This also has the perk of getting the art out instead of just sitting around in your apartment where no one can see it. I’m also planning to take part in more art festivals this year.

Commissioned work, both of intuitive paintings and pet portraits make up about a third of my art-related income. I love animals, and just accidentally stumbled into pet portraiture. Word-of-mouth has been my biggest asset for building clientele.

To market myself, I schedule two weekly blog posts on my website (Mondays & Wednesdays) and maintain a social media presence on Facebook. I’ve also recently reorganized my work into three different Instagram accounts (@nakedcarlyart, @nakedcarlyart_pets, and @mindfully.unapologetic) creating a more cohesive viewer experience for potential audience. I post almost daily on each account.

What Haunts Me , 20” x 20”, Acrylic Intuitive Painting, 2018

What Haunts Me, 20” x 20”, Acrylic Intuitive Painting, 2018

Who are some of the Twin Cities artists you enjoy?

To be honest, I’ve only been in the cities about two and half years. The majority of that time was spent just doing the basic things like finding a safe, affordable place to live and sustainable employment so I wasn’t able to get out to openings and see or meet many Twin Cities artists. I have come across a few interesting artists with my limited exposure, including Amy Ballinger, who does delightfully surreal photography, Nicholas Harper, who creates really interesting and dark portrait paintings, and Sara Syverhus, who creates dreamlike paintings with animals and nature.

If I were to follow you around to see art in the Twin Cities, which places would we go? What would we see?

The Walker Sculpture Garden is maybe cliche, but I like wandering around there when the weather is nice and I can also bring my dog. The open monthly studio evenings at Northrop King Building are always fun because it’s such a wide variety of styles and mediums, so that’s always inspiring. I also just love discovering the murals that are all around the cities.

Image of the artist

Image of the artist

Do you have any exhibits to promote in the near future?

I have a larger work in the SweetArt Salon group exhibition at the Northrop King Building that will be on display until Feb 7.

I also have a couple works that are part of the 2019 LoLa (League of Longfellow artist) Fine Art Exhibition opening on Feb 16, 5 - 7pm, at Squirrel Haus Arts. This exhibition is open the following days: Feb 16, 17, 23, and 24 from Noon - 5pm.

During the month of February, my work will be at both Fireroast Coffee & Wine Bar (3800 37th Ave S) and Urban Forage Winery & Cider House (3016 E Lake St).

For more of Carly’s work, check out www.nakedcarlyart.wordpress.com.

Follow Carly on Facebook at Naked Carly Art and on Instagram at @nakedcarlyart.

All images courtesy of the artist.

Video by Molly Parker Stuart. Interview written by Molly Parker Stuart, edited by Sarah Kass.

Brenna Mosser by Altered Esthetics

Brenna Mosser is a local emerging dance artist. She trained and earned degrees at the Perpich Center for Arts Education, the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in London, UK, and at le Centre National de la Danse Contemporaine in Angers, France. After completing her education, Brenna spent two years in the Conservation Corps, an Americorps program focused on environmental restoration projects in Southeast Minnesota. As well as creating her own dance works, Brenna currently dances for ARENA Dances, Alternative Motion Project, Threads Dance Project, Bernadette Knaeble and Jennifer Glaws. She teaches Jazz and Modern at the Minnesota Conservatory for the Arts in Winona, MN. In her free time Brenna enjoys reading, rock climbing, and going to Rochester to restore a prairie on her parents' property.

Belly , 2015. Photo by Alain Papillon.

Belly, 2015. Photo by Alain Papillon.

Tell me about your work? What are you currently working on?

I have two branches of my work: that as a dancer and that as a choreographer. I am a very physical dancer. I am inspired by sports - spontaneity and strength as well as fluidity of motion to complete a task. I like to move fast and I love to find creative ways to fall. I am also very interested in circus arts, so you will often find me working on my handstands to warm up. I get to share my wild energy with numerous choreographers in town from ARENA Dances to independent choreographers such as Bernadette Knaeble and Jennifer Glaws.

As a choreographer, I draw inspiration from the environment and from science fiction. I spent two years in the Conservation Corps, which allowed me to practice a different kind of physicality (chainsawing, moving logs, hiking bluffs etc.) as well as learn about the ecology and geology of Southeast Minnesota. My current work, Regeneration, deals with the manipulation and destruction of our landscape. At the same time, it explores possibilities of how humans can exist harmoniously within their environment.

On the Rocks , 2016. Photo by Kim Haroldson.

On the Rocks, 2016. Photo by Kim Haroldson.

How did you decide to become a dancer?

I have been dancing ever since I was a little baby bouncing to country music on the radio. I tried not dancing for a time and did not enjoy how expressionless and meaningless I felt. It has been permanently a part of my life ever since.

Describe your choreographic process.

My choreographic process usually begins with a vision of an image that I want to produce. From there I build a story to that image, which may or may not be obvious in the final piece. For example, in my current work, Regeneration, the original image was that of a woman buried waist-deep in the ground high on a mountain and reaching as far as she could into a valley. The story I put with this image was of a creature millions of years in the future that had evolved from humans on a different planet. It had been stranded there after an early space exploration mission had crash-landed on this unknown world. The piece as it currently stands does not in any way tell this story, but rather the abstraction of the work allows the viewer to interpret it on their own.

After playing with the image and story line, I like to create a movement vocabulary suitable for the work. I consider the range of movement qualities, use of space, and energy patterns to define a recurring move or spatial design. For Regeneration, I was working with a huge dress made out of burlap. The movement quality became very heavy, because of the weight of the burlap, and aggressive, because of the amount of material that the dancer had to deal with. The dance became about finding those moments of stillness and serenity to have relief from the heavy and aggressive movement quality.

Regeneration , 2018. Photo by Kim Haroldson.

Regeneration, 2018. Photo by Kim Haroldson.

What was the best advice given to you as an artist?

Art is not a finished product, it is a process. I find this especially true for dance in the Twin Cities when I see choreographers revisit work they have created and allow the piece to change and develop. This has given me faith and validity in my own work to present it as it stands - to allow it to be imperfect so that I can continue to investigate it in the future.

Is there any medium you’ve always wanted to try but haven’t yet?

I have always wanted to create a work based on the lighting. It is very difficult to be able to rehearse in a space with lighting capability due to finances or lack of resources, so oftentimes lighting gets added during technical rehearsals the day before or the day of presenting a work. If I ever get the chance it would be a dream come true!

The artist dancing in  Threshold , 2010, by Mathew Janczewski, ARENA Dances.  Performance on 11/10/2018 at the Fitzgerald Theater. Photo by Dan Norman.

The artist dancing in Threshold, 2010, by Mathew Janczewski, ARENA Dances.

Performance on 11/10/2018 at the Fitzgerald Theater. Photo by Dan Norman.

Who are some of the Twin Cities artists you enjoy?

I am a huge fan of the people I dance for! Beyond that I love the work done by Black Label Movement (https://www.blacklabelmovement.com) and Shapiro and Smith Dance Company (https://www.shapiroandsmithdance.org) because of their raw physicality.

What can we expect to see from you in the future?

In the near future, you can expect to see me at the Lab theater the first weekend of March, the week after in Kalamazoo, MI with Jennifer Glaws at the Midwest Alternative Dance Festival, and in April with Threads Dance Project. I will also be producing a new work that will be shown at ARENA Dances' CandyBox Festival early May 2019!

Image of artist by Armour Photography, 2018

Image of artist by Armour Photography, 2018

For more of Brenna’s work, check out www.brennamosser.wordpress.com.

Follow Brenna on Facebook at Brenna Mosser Dance Works.


All images courtesy of the artist.

Interview written by Sophie Buchmueller, edited by Sarah Kass.