Earth Works

Miles Phillips by Altered Esthetics

Miles Phillips is a featured artist in Altered Esthetic’s exhibition, Earth Works, on view at the Southern Theater from June 9, 2017 - July 2, 2017. In this exhibit, sixteen artists explore the implicit presence of land and earth in our everyday lives. All are invited to the Public Reception on June 23 (RSVP on Facebook).

Miles Phillips is a photographer based in Minneapolis. He is currently pursuing a BFA in Photography from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and will graduate in 2019.

Miles Phillips,  Anthropocene 7 , Inkjet print, 24" x 36"

Miles Phillips, Anthropocene 7, Inkjet print, 24" x 36"

Miles, thanks for exhibiting with Ae! Your work featured in the show, Anthropocene 7, is part of a series documenting the contrast between man-made and natural features of the Earth. Can you tell us more about what inspired this series and how it was made?

Over the course of the past five years, my interests as a photographer have gone from capturing skateboarding and architecture, to capturing nature and the passage of time, as well as capturing geometric abstractions within the frame of the lens. After experimenting with all of these forms of subject matter, I've found that by capturing the contrast between manmade and natural features is the best way for me to include all of my interests into one image. I've made considerations of changing my main areas of study to environmental studies/cultural studies/music before, but I've found that working these subjects into my artwork satisfies my need for conceptual depth.

I’d love to learn more about your approach to photography. Can you tell us about the equipment you use, your editing process, and how you choose to display your photos?

Each project is a little bit different, though they each have some sort of blend between old and new technology. I find the aesthetic appearance of film to be much more pleasing than digital photographs even though I understand the benefits and advantages of using digital technology. I use medium or large format negatives usually, because I can scan them at a very high resolution into a digital file that can be printed at billboard size if I want. I edit these files like normal digital files, altering warmth, contrast, white balance and things like that to make it have as few mistakes as possible. I like my final products to be prints, as they are best viewed that way in my opinion.

Image from  Cross Pollination  project, 2017

Image from Cross Pollination project, 2017

I’ve noticed your photography has a strong sense of place. How do you go about capturing a specific location in an image? What do you hope viewers take away from these works?

I think location is vital when judging the importance of all images and art in general. I try to capture locations that hint at certain themes conceptually, without being instantly recognizable as a specific location that everyone knows. Many photographers like to make work at places that have already been made famous by those before them, and that's never really been an interest of mine. There's something really satisfying about finding a spot nobody else has been to on your own. It makes me feel like I'm moving the art of exploration and photography forward.

You are currently studying at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD). How has your time there impacted your work?

I think MCAD has really influenced me positively on the technical side of making work. I've gotten into this rhythm of practicing technical skills during the school year and putting them to the test when I travel on breaks. I can see steady improvement in the physical quality of images I'm making as I venture to new places each year. Being a student at a place with so many other forms of talented artists really is a blessing too. I've found new influences through friendships that I see lasting for a lifetime.

Photo from Miles' recent trip to Nepal

Photo from Miles' recent trip to Nepal

You recently traveled to Nepal. Why did you choose to travel there and what has been your experience photographing abroad?

I was looking for internships and jobs that involve travel and one of the opportunities that came up was a volunteer project to help with earthquake relief in Nepal with an organization called All Hands Volunteers. I saw this as an opportunity to do some good in the world as well as make a new series of images. I spent a few weeks with them and spent the rest of my month there traveling to the mountains and rain forests, learning the native language, and making friends. Living there is definitely a challenge but I really grew to love the people and land that they live in. Nepali culture is very genuine and accepting. In fact, I wish I could stay longer than I did. I plan to go back for a longer Southeast Asia trip in the future, and now I have friends to visit and  a pretty good sense of how to live a sustainable lifestyle in that type of environment.

Do you have any upcoming projects or exhibitions we should know about?

My next project, “Nepal” will be displayed in a gallery setting in MCAD and possibly other locations in the Twin Cities/US/Nepal. Since I've just returned from my trip, it's hard to say exactly what it's going to look like and when it will be open for public view. However, I can promise that it will be my best work to date once I've finished sorting everything. I've never had a more life changing and mind opening experience than this.

Where can we find and follow you online?

Instagram: @milesphillipsphoto



All images courtesy of the artist.

Interview written and edited by Sarah Kass.

Katie Hargrave by Altered Esthetics

Katie Hargrave is featured artist in Altered Esthetic’s exhibition, Earth Works, on view at The Southern Theater from June 9, 2017 - July 2, 2017. In this exhibit, sixteen artists explore the implicit presence of land and earth in our everyday lives. Earth Works will be on view during Northern Spark 2017 (June 10), the Public Reception will be held on June 23 (RSVP on Facebook).

Katie Hargrave is a multi-disciplinary artist based in Chattanooga, TN. She received her MFA in Intermedia Art from the University of Iowa, MA from Brandeis University, and BFA from the University of Illinois. In addition to working with the collaborative groups, “The Think Tank that has yet to be named” and “Like Riding a Bicycle,” she also teaches at the University of Tennessee Chattanooga.

Katie Hargrave,  Don't Tread on Me: Flags for Plants , Tyvek printed flag, 24" x 36"

Katie Hargrave, Don't Tread on Me: Flags for Plants, Tyvek printed flag, 24" x 36"

Katie, thanks for exhibiting with Ae!  Your work, Don't Tread on Me: Flags for Plants, gives voice to endangered plants. Can you tell us more about this project and why you chose to speak from the plants’ point of view?

My art practice deals with how American history can impact our current reality or how American history can be deployed in a critical way. Conservatives in this country are really good at this, and I hope to become more tactical for myself as a progressive/liberal artist. I like to think about symbols (flags in this instance) and how their official nature can be manipulated. In these pieces, I began thinking about the phase of the Gadsden flag (the original “Don’t tread on me” flag with the snake) and thinking about other things that phrase could mean. These flags are for endangered plants that are impacted by trampling (usually by the expansion of human development or by grazing animals like cows). What if the plants could speak for themselves? What if they had the agency that humans had to make and deploy official symbols like flags?

How does your work respond to its surroundings including natural and manmade environments?

I am very interested in the idea of what “natural” is. The United States is known for its wild spaces, and these spaces are a part of American identity (as the colonizer, as the cowboy, as the transcendentalist, and so on). What’s fascinating to me is that these ideas of what “natural” means are constructions. All of this land was impacted by human development long before this land was colonized by euro-Americans. This preface is important to me because we all (everyone living in the US) have to deal with the spaces we (euro-Americans) occupy, while what it means to “deal” might change in different contexts. I try to do that conceptually within my work, but I also think about this when I work within a gallery setting. Most of my work is responsive to the location of the gallery in which it will be shown, for instance this piece features plants that are from the Great Lakes region.

Using wall space to plan out a project

Using wall space to plan out a project

Your work is rooted in research and history. You also say you like to take things apart and put them back together. What does your creative process look like?

My work often starts with a narrative (something I read in the newspaper or a book) and then I start to delve in deeper. I love archives and history books, and I try to get a grasp on the historical antecedents for whatever current event I am interested in. Sometimes the work pulls from collage, taking two disconnected ideas and putting them into context. Other times the work is participatory and I use historical and current information as a framework for participants to work within. My studio is always a mess; I work on many projects at the same time (partially because I collaborate with lots of different groups).

I am also interested in metaphorically taking apart systems. For instance, right now, I am unpacking the history of public land in the United States, looking at the history of the Department of the Interior, the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, and reading novels about range wars, reading about barbed wire, looking at the creation of native reservations, manifest destiny, and the history of the design manuals for US government offices. Once I know that history, I can mix it together and put things into context in stranger ways. Those stories are becoming installations, books, and embroidered patches right now.

Many of your projects include collaborators or audience participants. Why are these connections important to your work?

So many reasons! I consider myself to be a socially engaged artist, which means working with people throughout the process is important to me. Not every project is participatory, but it is an important tool in my toolbox. Working with participants, I hope to move the audience from a viewer that analyzes the work to an engaged co-creator in the work. I hope to do this throughout my process (sometimes in the research phase and sometimes in the final works) in order to open up space and allow the audience to see their own power. I am an educator, and I am not interested in hierarchies within my work, so I seek to dismantle the idea that the artist is the genius through making work that relies on other people.

Collaboration allows me to work on different bodies of work at the same time. I can work on projects about cycling, skill shares, and neighborhood engagement as a part of “Like Riding a Bicycle” and I can make work that unpacks mental health systems, support structures, and gentrification as a member of “the Think Tank that has yet to be named.” The people I work with are super smart and have different areas of interest than me, and we enrich each others’ practices by working together. Within my own work, I don’t have to worry about being a total history nerd; I can just go there.

A sewing project in-process

A sewing project in-process

Do you consider your art to be political? What do you hope viewers take away from your work?

My work is absolutely political, but I engage in a quiet politics. While I am protesting or working with local community organizers outside of my art practice, I hope to think about a quiet or a slow activism within my work. How can small changes to our sense of self alter the way we move through the world? We all know how important the symbolic is, but if we are able to point to the absurdity of the way those symbols are created, can we make new, more meaningful symbols? I think being in the world is a political act; there is no way not to be political. Making something lovely, being thoughtful, moving through the world with your eyes open, these are all important. Perhaps it is easier to see how my work is political, which deals with the construction of the identity of a nation state, than the work of artists that are perceptual painters, for instance, but I would argue both are about paying attention. That’s political.

I hope viewers begin to see themselves and their own power. I hope they identify with or against a story I am telling. I hope they share their own story. I hope they’re present and excited enough to become engaged, if only for a moment.

Do you have any upcoming projects or exhibitions we should know about?

My work is in a show called Needlework: Rethinking Vulnerability and Resistance that opens June 9 at Prøve Gallery in Duluth. I am also getting ready for a couple of exhibitions this fall. I’ll be in solo shows at Michigan Technical University in Houghton, Michigan and Jacksonville University in Jacksonville, Florida this September. I’m also excited to be included in a group show, Imagination Unbound, at Berry College in Rome, Georgia. That show explores how preparatory sketches for artworks can be shown alongside finished work. It’ll be a busy season.

Where can we find and follow you online?

@katie_hargrave_ on Twitter and Instagram


All images courtesy of the artist.

Interview written and edited by Sarah Kass.