Lydia Gordon interviews Erin Washington

Lydia Gordon

Erin Washington Interview with Lydia Gordon on February 26, 2015

E: I’m Erin Washington and I’m a Chicago based artist. My work is interested in dialogues of science and phenomenology and  how we understand or misunderstand the space that we live in.

L: Can you talk a little bit about your upbringing and how that relates to your art practice?

E: As a child I was encouraged to have an interest in science. I have a super analytical mind and I’m interested in the world around us, especially these weird questions of “why are we here?” “how do we exist?” Art was always more of the thing  gave me satisfaction and gave back to me so in  a weird way I ended up cramming the two together.

L: What about the cosmos fascinates you?

E: I’m so fascinated when people are able to look out onto some aspect of the cosmos in that “this proves billions of years ago this happened.” I like the idea that we can see something in the present and it tells us something about the past and it also tells us something about the future.

L: How has your work evolved?

E: For a long time I was making very material based work.  I was always interested in making something that separate from me, had its own life. Just like you and me and all of us would have its ebbs and flows where one day it would be purple and the next day it would be grey, and then maybe it would completely disintegrate. I mostly just felt this to pull somebody in with the sort of surface with the marks and the relative engagement of beauty. And then after they’ve been pulled into the work for the sort of visual, then have them think about the sort of philosophic: “what does this mean if this is a semi temporal piece?”, “what does that say about these more temporal pieces maybe next to it”, “what does it say about my position in the world?”

L: What are you working on now?

E: I’ve been focusing on these chalkboard like surfaces for the past couple of years. I like them because they are porous I think of them as polemicists. They contain all of the marks that I’ve put on them even if I decide to erase them. So I’ll create a surface that’s much more painterly and then ill go back to drawing on top of them and it will be a lot of me contending with the edges  of the space and doing all these design things and erasing and writing things and erasing . And I like the idea that they’re their own temporality is immediately apparent.

L: What’s the piece behind you?

E: This piece is called Shapes of an Expanding Universe. These are the different possible curves that the universe could conceivably be expanding on. There is this niche idea that the universe if expanding and then it will collapse again and then expand again. This is constantly a going back and forth and it kind of, in my head, explains that kid’s question of “what happened before the big bang?”, “what was there before there was anything there?” and if we’re on this constant cycle of going back and forth. It’s this beautiful explanation of it but its also kind of comforting too.

L: What do you hope the viewer takes away from your work?

E: I think a lot of the depths of research I do for these pieces, none of that matters to the viewer.  The idea of longing is the one thing  that I hope the viewer gets out of it: “oh I wish I knew what that mark was about” or “I wish that this was something a little bit more stable,” “but oh wait nothing is stable” , like “what does that say about where I am in the world.”

There’s another piece I’m working on that plays with the idea of when scientists try to explain the idea of an expanding universe. A lot of times they will use a balloon. And sometime they will use fabric. And of course both times there is a grid. So I’ve been working on these pieces where I’ll draw a grid on canvas and stretch it out so that the grid gets completely warped and screwed up mostly because I think its such a beautifully tactile way to explain these big and really unwieldy forces.

L: Why do we look out?

E: I really feel like when we look at space we look outward to this unknown void that exists around us- it’s the same as looking inward and trying to figure out how do I interact with someone that I love, or how do I know that these things that I take for granted will always be here with me. So I feel there is a beautiful analogy between looking out into the unknown and trying to look inward.

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