Christina Pitsch received her MFA from The New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University and a BA from Sarah Lawrence College. She has shown extensively throughout the United States including exhibitions at Purdue University, Manhattanville College (NY), The Clay Art Center (NY), Mark Miller Gallery (NYC), Florida State University Museum of Fine Arts, The Print Center (Philadelphia), Palm Springs Art Museum, and the Governors Island Art Fair (NYC). Internationally, she has participated in residencies and exhibitions in the Netherlands, Switzerland, China and Taiwan. Last year, Artscope magazine featured Pitsch as one of the “13 for 2013” to watch. Pitsch recently finished her stay as the first Artist in Residence at the New Art Center in Newton, MA, and she currently resides in Manchester, NH.
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I first came across Christina’s work in the “Pedigree” exhibition at the New Art Center and was instantly attracted to its delicate and slightly unsettling qualities. On a following visit to the NAC, Kirk and I discovered that Christina was the current Artist in Residence in the Holzwasser Gallery. Excited to learn more about her work and process, we immediately scheduled a studio visit. In our conversation in her studio and in our following interview, we talked with Christina about the development of her ideas, her attention to material and craft, her residency at the NAC, and other details related to her art practice.
Andrea Evans: Thank you for having us by your studio in the New Art Center’s Holzwasser Gallery, where you just completed your time as the Artist in Residence. After seeing your work in the “Pedigree” show curated by Elizabeth Devlin at the New Art Center in 2013, it was such a pleasure to see your working process and talk with you in depth about your artwork.
Across your work, you show an interest in different gender stereotypes explored through American cultural icons and activities, specifically, the sport of hunting and trophy collection. It seems that many of these interests began with a piece you made in grad school, where you transformed your Ford F-150 truck into a “pink powerhouse” named Sugar. How did that project set the stage for your continued art practice, and how have these ideas evolved through the work you have made since that time?
Christina Pitsch: Sugar was most certainly a pivotal work for me. It really defined the major questions I continue to address in my work, and it also was my first real departure from formal object making. Sugar was about the appropriation of gender and the convergence of the masculine and the feminine. I was interested in how things get classified and coded, as well as how people associate with inanimate objects. These interests of mine very much relate to how I move through the world and think about relationships, both personal and general.
This project was the first time I focused on a much more personal narrative. I also began to think in very different ways about who my viewer was and how they interfaced with the work (in both expected and unexpected ways). Sugar felt like a big risk at the time, and taught me a great deal about taking chances and following my desires in creating work.
AE: Your work frequently incorporates the image or form of the deer, both present (in taxidermy form) and absent, whole and in fragments. The deer is probably the most iconic trophy of hunting in American culture, but are there other aspects that have drawn you to this form in your work?
CP: The deer has become an important player in my vocabulary of personal iconography. It began as the iconic trophy of hunting (as you stated in your question) and has shifted over the years as I continued to reference it. I have always seen it as something that is quintessentially masculine: the trophy, the reference to hunting culture, the readability of the antler rack as a masculine symbol/indicator while at the same time feeling very feminine. The delicacy of the deer form suggests femaleness, strong yet delicate, swift and graceful. Once again, this draws into question the assignment of gender to various objects.
I love the play on language that partners with the imagery (rack, buck, stag, trophy). With trophies there is also an intimated reference to class and culture. When I first started using this imagery it was considered really campy (as opposed to the current popularity). Additionally, years ago I started fostering retired racing greyhounds. I had some larger fawn colored ones that absolutely reminded me of deer, with spindle-like legs and tapered snout. In many ways, I felt like every day I was living with and caring for a cervine form. This personal and intimate relationship with greyhounds reinforced the use of deer imagery in my work.
AE: I’m curious about the sense of absence that exists in much of your work. We can see this very directly in the “Mapping Absence” series of life size deer and trophy heads made of clear vinyl and cast acrylic, but I think it is also implied in the porcelain deer hooves, in the way they point to a body that is no longer whole or present. Can you elaborate on the role of absence in your work?
CP: Conceptually my work often hinges on dichotomies as a starting point – we have spoken a bit about masculine versus feminine already. Another less obvious dichotomy is the idea of absence and presence, which shows up in different ways. A fragment could be an object taken out of context, or an allusion to the remaining whole. For me this also acts as a way of speaking to a memory, a loss, or something more elusive. It also shows up in my use of negative space, whether that is the amount of space I use when installing work or the vacant spaces present in my drawings and prints. It is always amazing to me how uncomfortable people become when confronted with the sense of emptiness.
In many ways the absence in my work is also the more reflective somber space of the work. It references the ephemeral nature of life; sometimes through absence, presence is more strongly felt. Some people respond in a very visceral way to that. Much of the work I make has as much to do with what is said, as with what is unsaid.
AE: During our visit, you discussed how the idea of the lucky rabbit foot was one of the major influences for your current work with the porcelain deer hooves. The rabbit’s foot is this wonderfully soft, furry object that you can caress and carry with you for good luck, and yet at its most basic level, it is simply a severed limb of a small animal. This object is at once both attractive and grotesque, and this comes across in the deer hooves as well, but in a different way. They are incredibly delicate and lovely, and ever so strange in their repetition and clustering. How did you arrive at the particular object of the deer hoof and its form in cast porcelain? Has it taken on any new meaning for you through the multiple pieces you have created through the repetition of this object?
CP: When I originally began to produce the cast porcelain deer hooves it was for the hanging cluster Lucky. Two hundred cast hooves hanging in a cluster reference the rabbit’s foot and are influenced by paintings like William Harnett ‘s After the Hunt and 17th century Dutch luxury still lifes. I wanted to make my version of a fetish object or a lucky charm, but exaggerated to an extreme. I began producing the porcelain hooves and fell in love with this strange new fragment. Compared to the antlers, deer feet are less valued, hoping at best to become a gun rack or lamp base. I liked the idea of fetishizing this more unexpected fragment. My hope was that by transformation (through material and context) I could explore a different way of thinking about the delicacy and nobility of this detritus.
You have actually done a wonderful job of describing exactly the things that draw me to this form – the combination of attractive and grotesque, sought after and cast away. What I would add is that new meaning comes to me through not only the repetition, but also the material and fabrication. As well as the idea of the rabbit’s foot, they bring with them the language of porcelain: the tea set, the figurine… precious collectibles. When Lucky went on display, it was interesting how people went about reading the form. Some recognized them as deer hooves, some thought of them as the feet of other animals, some saw them as a high heel, while others imagined female anatomy. It was a bit unexpected because I think of these objects as being sculpted in a representational manner, but they appeared much more abstract to some people when interpreted as a single massive collection of supposedly precious items.
AE: In addition to the slip cast porcelain deer hooves, you utilize a wide range of materials across different bodies of work: from altered and decorated taxidermy trophies to clear vinyl and cast acrylic life size deer sculptures. How do you go about choosing the materials you use for each project? Across this range, are there specific materials or processes that you find yourself returning to repeatedly?
CP: I typically start with an idea/conceptual framework for a project, and choosing materials/media is a big part of that process. I am really interested in how different materials have their own language and history, which becomes part of how the work is read. The one constant is typically casting, as a technique. I love the process of making molds and working with repeated forms. This is a natural preference, given the use of multiples in my work, and is my own way of interacting with form and creating my own collective to build with.
Another repetitive process I utilize is pattern drafting and sewing. Creating patterns and sewing multiple seams (as in the vinyl deer) provides an intimacy with and knowledge of the form. I love this process. Even though I gravitate toward standard processes like casting and sewing, I often find myself integrating new materials and developing nuanced modifications to my process with each new series.
AE: In the “Pedigree” exhibition, you had a selection of pieces hung together in their own space, against the backdrop of the iconic stained glass windows of the New Art Center. There was an interesting relationship that developed between the domestic feel of the pieces (particularly in the chandelier and the collapsed trophy mount) and the decorative quality of the stained glass. This makes me think about the potential for your work to be installed in a domestic setting outside of the white cube of the gallery or museum. In many ways, it would seem quite natural to have your work hung in a stately home where we might find these objects in their original form. Have you had the opportunity to install your pieces outside of the standard gallery or museum space?
CP: Your reaction is very interesting. Last September at the same time that Pedigree was up at the NAC, I was also exhibiting at Governor’s Island Art Fair, NYC. One hundred artists are selected and given a space to install their work. All of the spaces are on a former military base, with the organizers doing a really great job of partnering artist and spaces in interesting ways.
At this show my setting was one of the formal living rooms of an officers’ house. This was a very different environment than I am used to showing in. It was complete with a fireplace, tray mouldings on the walls, various chandeliers and sconces. My pieces fit more beautifully than I ever imagined in this sort of domestic space and the dialog created between the space and the work began to tell its own story. It was really exciting and quite unexpected for me and gave me the inspiration for the direction of my current work.
I have been reflecting on this since both shows came down last October. The project idea I brought with me to the New Art Center was a direct response to this interpretation/interaction with architecture, decoration, formality and perceptions of opulence. Visitors often commented that some of the pieces would fit in a stately, formal home. I would most certainly agree, and love the idea. It has made me much more interested in exploring alternative exhibition spaces.
AE: Speaking of the New Art Center, I’d also like to talk a little more about your residency there. You were the Artist in Residence from the beginning of January through almost the end of February this year. Not only did this space become your temporary studio on display to the public, but you were also actively working with New Art Center students and the larger community. What were you working on during your time at the New Art Center? Can you give us some insight into your experience while at the New Art Center, and how the space and structure of the residency influenced your daily studio practice?
CP: I came to the New Art Center with a couple of research-based projects I wanted to address, as well as a general idea for some brand new pieces to design and fabricate. I tried to come with a flexible plan so that I could respond to the space and structure. Because this was a pilot program, there were certain unknowns. I was totally up for the challenge of showing up and responding to the situation.
I was provided with an assistant from the ceramic studio and an intern. This was absolutely pivotal for me in getting a variety of research done while I was also working on other projects. One was the development of a black cone 6 casting slip and the second was a 3D scanning/printing project. These are both things that were much easier to do while at the New Art Center. I do not keep a raw material lab for ceramics at my studio, so I am unable to run such materials tests in an efficient way. The proximity to Boston was great in having access to various universities that helped with the 3d scanning and printing. Working with both Tammerah and Charlotte on trouble shooting these things was so helpful and part of the excitement for me being there.
During this time, I was also working on all phases of the chandelier project that was my final show. This went through a number of manifestations and met quite a few challenges along the way. This included lots of research/experiments with LED lighting (at the very beginning I was considering this as a lit piece but ultimately decided against it), making new prototypes and molds, slip-casting new work, deconstructing readymade lighting units, engineering and building the new pieces. I gave a lecture and a mold-making demo half way through and had classes and individuals visiting the studio throughout my entire time there. We kept these visits informal and I would discuss what I was working on at the time, often I had enough around the studio that I could show people multiple steps in my process and they were free to ask questions. Although not required, I kept my door open all the time and was happy to have people coming by – I really enjoyed that part.
From my discussions with the NAC, I knew that they wanted a working artist in the space as part of their educational mission. Part of my objective in this situation was to be as truthful as I could be about my process as an artist rather than ‘staging’ a production during my time there. Because this was a relatively short duration for the kind of work I make, the timeline was very intense. The space went through a number of stages as I used it in different ways at different times. My natural schedule tends to be later so I often had a nice daily balance of being there while lots of people were around, and then late at night when I had complete privacy.
Some of the unexpected results for me were how much I really enjoyed working in the Holzwasser Gallery and how much I was reacting to the space on a subconscious level. The new chandelier pieces were significantly affected by my response to the space. The idea of enveloping the viewer in shadows really came about based on my reaction to the physical geometry of that room.
AE: What are your plans now that you have completed your residency at the New Art Center? Are there new things you’ll be working on, or any upcoming exhibitions?
CP: In April, I will be a Guest Artist in Residence at The Clay Studio in Philadelphia. Until then I will be spending March in my own studio in Nashua, NH and continuing on the projects I started during my time at the New Art Center. I will be making a number of modifications to the newest chandelier pieces and continuing with that project while at my studio. Check my website for new and upcoming work and exhibits.
AE: Thank you for your time and for sharing your work with us!
CP: Thank you so much for visiting! It was a pleasure to spend the afternoon with you and Kirk.
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For more information, images, and upcoming exhibitions of Christina’s work:
…and details on her residency at the New Art Center in Newton, MA: