Abel Guzman interviews Cheryl Pope
Abel: Maybe we can start off with background, Where are you from?
Cheryl: I’m from Palos Heights, which is a suburb from the south side of Chicago. It was very rural when I was there and developed while I was in High school. Where I lived was a forested area and horses across the streets.
A: Great! So where did you go to school?
C: I went to five different undergrads. One of the schools I went too was a Buddhist college in Boulder, Colorado. That’s is where the bow in and bow out comes into play from our class. I then graduated from SAIC. I was only there for 1.5 years. During that was when I meet Nick (Cave) in his shape and theory class, which is the class that started to inform my work. Then when I meet Nick I really didn’t know what an internship was and I knew I needed to spend time with him. So I started to work for him at the age of 20 and worked for him for 12 years. So when I left the position of Studio manager, he was on the cover of Art News.
A: So was this during his time of his sound suit explosions??
C: Yes, yes. I always say my education happened at his studio, walking with an artist through that growth and development and having a duel solo show at Mary Boone and Jack Shainman. He made it to the top. I also worked at the Museum of Contemporary Art for seven years in the education department as an assistant to Wendy Wound. Then transitioned to a teaching artist there, having the opportunity to talk to a variety of people from a 5 year old to then an 80 year old and spending that much time with people.
A: Are you thinking of a specific audience or people when you are making?
C: I do think about people when I make work. It’s both in the subject, the research, and what am I researching to make work about. How am I collecting that research, who am I talking too, what am I reading to inform the work. The actual active research of the work, then in the aesthetics, the availability, and the form of the work; just fundamentally in terms of how and who will connect, so all of it. At the moment focusing on teens.
A: What drives the fluidity of the material or the nature of the work?
C: With the materials, I look at in two ways. I studied art and design during my undergrad. I got my masters in design. I relate to preexisting objects and what they carry. What form, association, and power they already have built into them that I then can take over and shift/maintain; what I want and shift or enhance through dematerialization and the scale I like working inside preexisting forms. So then a lot of those forms carry either a preexisting material. When looking at materials I look at similarly what’s already existing in those materials, what’s the power in this chain, how’s it getting used, what’s the history associations of them. I look at everything as an idea of a body. So even in this spool of thread, how does this relate to a body and then in terms of a body, psychologically or metaphorically; usually psychologically then what are the poetics about this form that I can tease out. So the plates work really well because they get nervous, they get mad, they get anxious, they are fragile, but they are hard, they are decorative, but functional, that’s how I like to look at materials. I think that’s really integrated with the wave of design with emotion, emotional design.
A: Design cares this coldest for me, so to think of design caring an affect seems interesting to me.
C: Another reason why I like working with preexisting forms is because I begin with something shared; because it gives the viewer confidence entering into the work. The entry point of recognition and then they’ll the difference in it and because they start to feel confident they then can feel challenged the difference. The seductive clean look of it is to draw people towards it and that sense of confidence for them to reflect themselves. So they are seduced toward it because in each case it’s difficult subject matter, recently with the deaths of these young people.
A: It’s seem to me that you have two modes of operating, what are they and how to they function?
C: I have two congruent ways my voice happens, one is social and one is private. Both political. So the plates are private or you know the inner circle and then sports is more the public. The Just Yell project is more public dealing with the gun violence and segregation in the city of Chicago. I say the city here but it’s happening throughout the nation.
Last summer was laying down the foundation and framework with which I was looking at through this call for spirit, names, and bodies of young people, the records and presence/absence. This series for the show out in LA this summer is about where does that chain reaction and where does it leave young people today, their current state of mind with this death around them. I could be next.
A: To me this brings up issues of privilege and the recognition of power structures placed socially.
C: Privilege is a big thing. I had a really strong moment this fall to winter break. I was doing a lot of reading, research, talking with people and asking what does it mean to be black today? What does it mean to be confronted, how do you? The privileges of whites and the lack of privileges of blacks. And one point I was sitting over there and started to become overwhelmed and was like whatever. I’ll just take a break for a second and took my sketchbook and closed it and in that process I felt privileged more than ever. I noticed that I had the privilege to look away and they don’t.
A: Where did this all spark from? What made you want to address these issues as content in the work?
C: I don’t know if it’s past lives or whatever if that’s true or if it comes from that. When I was younger my family was very racist and that was always very problematic for me. So when I was in third grade the first contract I had ever wrote and signed was with my father; that If he would stop saying the n word and I would stop laughing. And growing up in an all white community, something from that beginning, that search for equality was part of me; by recognizing the segregation that was happening around me. Here in Chicago there is a primary white and black segregation in history along with brown. I think though that wherever I would live there is something in me that would call forth that call for equality. With equality, I really think it becomes about voice. Who gets to be heard and respect and opportunity?
A: What was the first body of work where you started to address these issues?
C: The hoop dreams project was the beginning. After I graduated from SAIC I worked at the James Jordan Boys and Girls club right by the United Center. It’s a better neighbor now then it was then. But it was kind of shocking to me working there because how many young men there were still telling me that they were going to get out of their situation by making it in the NBA. They were not even on a basketball team. So there was so much allusion that this was their go to. That was my first experience as a minority, the only white person working there. I wanted to react to this. People think that this was so 1980’s but no it’s still so 2015. This is still going on. Those experiences, conversations and interactions that I wanted to surface and reflect the mind state that exists.
A: Why the gold chain?
C:When I worked on the gold chain basketball piece I worked with the scale of chain. Using gold of worth, of value, importance. We assign that to this material and color. What do we want, what do we have, how are we linked, who is writing who, what is that power, what is that relationship between the two. That forever linked and chained to a history, power struggle, a story, to a generation. Speaking with elements of pride.
A: Could you tell me the importance of craftsmanship and its deployment in regards to your work?
C:Craftsmanship is really important to me. It’s a philosophy, something to last overtime, especially with the current work dealing with death. It’s a record, document, and history. It needs to be made with history to withstand the tale of time because if it disappears, it returns back to that silence. In regards to design, my training with Nick made me make sure the work is perfect. Labor becomes part it. You become a messenger. People understand time and labor, investment.