Week 5 Artist Interview : Brianna Allen

Art 110

Having a fairly decent background in metal work (if you can call a few years of high school classes decent), I was incredibly excited to see the metalwork show, Work Hardened, in the Gatov gallery last Thursday. Even just walking through the exhibit I was excited, trying to figure out which techniques and tools the artists used to create their work. So, I was very happy to find Brianna Allen walking toward her spot at the table outside so I could actually find some answers.

After a brief introduction and the dreaded question, “which pieces are yours?”, she happily pointed out her astounding nine works residing in the left corner of the gallery. From giant white sporks to miniature glowing televisions, her work seemed slightly random at first glance. But, from talking to her I realized the issues she covered were truly affecting us all and through her art, she addressed the need for change.

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With nine pieces displayed, there was a lot of variation in the subjects and forms (she helpfully showed us which pieces were hers). One of her works even featured giant versions of the fork, the spoon, and their offspring, the spork. Her friend Andre Ritter, who joined our group toward the end of our discussion, also helped us find his work (and a cabinet of other work through the hall) and get to know a little more about the process of making it.

One piece that stood out to me personally was the small glazed mountain surrounded by a blanket of clear plastic, called “Vortex”. The inspiration, she said, came from a surprisingly real vortex of plastic in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. With our consumer culture, we tend to rapidly buy and discard products without much care for where it came from, or much less, where it goes to. This giant swirling plastic island, like many true issues in the world, goes unnoticed because, as Allen said, we are comfortable here and free of the actual effects of our actions. She furthered the idea to a global standpoint, addressing melting glaciers leaving countless people overseas home-, and even city-, less.

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The Vortex was quite impressive both close up and from far away

She said with another set of her works, “The Network” (water tower) and “Channel 2” (miniature television and viewers), she attempted to create a dialogue. The water tower represents a necessary source, as communities need the water as sustenence to survive. She compares this to the television because, while media does not sustain us, we as a community watch it and it does have a significant impact on our views. She herself tries to “not live life in front of a screen” and he encourages us to notice what we are putting into our minds and bodies and what we truly receive from these things. In such a digital, media-obsessed era, I find such advice to be incredibly inspiring, as living our lives merely through a digital imprint allows for much of (real) life to swiftly pass us by.

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The metal ‘sculptures’ of both the water tower and television set were incredibly detailed, especially for pieces so small. The television glowed different colors and was actually quite mesmerizing, perhaps sadly showing that even when broadcasting truly pointless things (from blank screens changing color to random shows about celebrities we will never actually know), media and television truly do have power over our lives. 

Another set of work was about mating rituals; a notable piece was the chess board (with horses in the middle mounting each other). She said she played off the phrase “check mate” and really just loves chess. Another chess based work she created was a political piece using currency as the paper for origami pieces so men looking like Saddam went head to head with US presidents. This sounded incredibly impactful, even for being such a basic work. Beyond the faces of the “fighters”, the fact that the actual “war” is being fought through money seems to raise certain awareness that most would not even dream of creating through a simple play on chess.

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Allen’s chess set was actually quite amusing – it’s not every day you see chess pieces getting frisky

With such broad range in subjects and underlying social commentary, I was curious about Allen’s beginnings in art. She said she really was always interested in art; it allowed her to make something beneficial not only to herself, but also, through sharing, meaningful and impactful for others as well. After exploring many mediums through classes at Pasadena city college, she found her way to Cal State Long Beach because of its blacksmithing program. Allen joked that she originally wanted to work with metal because she was a “recovering perfectionist”; she liked that metal did exactly what she wanted it to and was predictable, whereas ceramics, wood, and other mediums tend to be much more uncertain, moveable, and highly breakable. She also figured she could earn a real living making and selling jewelry. But, as time went on she decided she wanted to do something more impactful and different. So, she began playing with ceramics and wood, as well as doing more sculptures, and soon had a multitude of pieces. She talked briefly about a show she did a few years ago with acrylics, and even mentioned making a calendar out of bread tag expiration dates. She said much of this work ends up spread out in many places : homes of collectors and friends, storage units, even trash bins, and obviously (at least for some periods of time) in galleries.

While she was quite proud of the work she was currently showing, she admitted it was from quite a few years ago and she had changed quite a lot since creating them. So, she was excited to be planning her own, entirely new solo show that will be in the gallery in the next few weeks. While she remained secretive about its content, she did say she did mentioned it was more “time-based” than her currently displayed works. So, with that hint of mystery, we (or at least I) will anxiously await the unveiling of her new show and the opportunity to talk to such an interesting and inspiring artist once more.

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