Detroit-based artist Cynthia Greig exhibits in Seattle’s Wall Space Gallery from September 2 to October 4, 2008. Scroll to the bottom of this post for questions and answers with the artist.
Cynthia Greig and her husband Richard
Questions and Answers
Q. Cynthia, tell me something about your background?
A. I was born and raised in Detroit. I’ve always drawn and carried a sketchbook with me, and at an early age I decided to go to art school. I studied printmaking, art history and filmmaking at universities in the Midwest, and after grad school at the University of Iowa, I worked on a number of independent films doing production work. I’ve also worked in restaurants, the auto industry and several art museums. It was actually reading about the history of photography — the early heated debates about whether photography was art or science, the images from the Civil War that raised serious questions about documentary photography, the debates over the “true” aesthetics of the photograph — that compelled me to both make images and study at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where I received my MFA in 1995. I met my husband Richard while we were working with the Ann Arbor Film Festival and he's an important collaborator in my earlier New Eden work and our Black Box video.
Q. Your work in the Seattle exhibition at Wall Space Gallery combined photography and drawing. Can you describe the path leading to this body of work?
A. Rather than observing and documenting what happens in front of me, my method for creating images involves photographing staged situations that I’ve constructed for the camera. I’m a big photo history geek and one day I was re-reading Henry Fox Talbot’s The Pencil of Nature in which he describes using the prism mechanism of the camera lucida to trace a landscape view into his sketchbook. Around the same time I was working on my Life-Size series. Inspired by how the camera lucida transposes the scene in front of you onto the drawing surface beneath, I took a miniature table that I’d painted white and drew on its edges with charcoal. Looking through my camera, I observed how the charcoal lines emphasized the one point perspective of table’s edges receding into space while retaining its photographic detail. I’d been thinking about how we learn to see, to recognize and identify objects around us, and how our perceptual experience is grounded in a system of symbols and repetition. By drawing directly onto the object, I’m fusing a symbol of the object with the actual object. I’m making a photograph that doesn’t look like a photograph, raising essential questions about our expectations and assumptions about how photographs function and are experienced in contemporary culture. When we’re so inundated with images from advertising, news and political ads on TV, the web, mobile phones, etc., how much do we really see or to what degree are we being manipulated to direct our attention to what advertisers and the power brokers would like us to see or think about?
Q. What other bodies of work have you created and/or are you thinking about?
A. I’ve worked on a number of photo-based projects over the years, all in some way investigating the mechanisms and conventions through which we perceive and understand the world around us, and derive our individual and collective experience of what we consider reality. One of my earlier projects “New Eden: The Life and Work of Isabelle Raymond” involved me performing both in front of and behind the camera as a fictional 19th-century cross-dressing woman who photographed her male model and assistant in poses traditionally reserved for women. Appearing to be authentic, faded and worn images based on myths from the past, the photographs re-examine traditional gender roles passed down through the generations, and challenge our assumptions and biases about gender and race. It was this project that inspired the book that I co-authored with Catherine Smith, Women in Pants: Manly Maidens, Cowgirls and Other Renegades published by Harry N. Abrams in 2003.
I’m currently exploring the sculptural and video possibilities of my Representations series as well as a new body of work that explores the deceptive nature of political rhetoric.
Q. Is there anything you want to say about Seattle or how you happened to have this exhibition?
A. I connected with Wall Space Gallery’s Crista Dix when three of my photographs were accepted into her annual group exhibit at Wall Space that was curated by New York City gallerist Michael Foley. I was only in Seattle for a few days after my opening on September 4, but had the opportunity to get a good feel for the city’s strong support of the arts and culture. From the exhibit of Napoleon's Egyptian Campaign at the Frye Museum and Matthew Buckingham at the Henry Art Gallery to the diverse range of commercial and non-profit gallery exhibits in the Pioneer Square District, the city seems to have a very vibrant art scene. I was happy that my opening was so well attended by the general public as well as so many local artists. Even though I’m not from the area, it shows me there's a healthy curiosity about art being made outside the region, and I enjoyed having the opportunity to connect with this community.