AC Interview: Corson Androski & Sarah Hummel Jones
We sat down with 2019 Artist Support Grant recipients Sarah Hummel Jones and Corson Androski to find out more about the content that drives their work, their respective creative practices, and how they situate those practices within the greater economy. Listen to our conversation below, or on Amplify’s Anchor page, and join the conversation by leaving your thoughts and comments.
Interviewer: Peter Fankhauser, Program Director at Amplify Arts
Interviewee 1: Sarah Hummel Jones
Interviewee 2: Corson Androski
Date of Interview: June 17, 2019
List of Acronyms: PF = Peter Fankhauser, SHJ = Sarah Hummel Jones, CA = Corson Androski
[PF] You're listening to Amplify Arts Alternate Currents interview series. Alternate Currents opens space for conversation, discussion, and action around national and international issues
in the arts that have a profound impact at the local level. This interview series is just one part of the Alternate Currents blog, a dedicated online resource linking readers to topical articles, interviews, and critical writing that shine a spotlight on artist-led policy platforms, cross-sector partnerships, and artist-driven community change. Visit often and join the conversation at www.amplifyarts.org/alternate-currents. So today we're talking to 2019 Artist Support Grant recipients Sarah Hummel Jones and Corson Androski. We're going to find out more about the content that drives their work, their respective creative practices, and how they situate those practices within the greater economy.
[SHJ] I'm Sarah Hummel Jones. I'm originally from Fort Wayne, Indiana but I've been living in Omaha for the past four years. I work at the Union for Contemporary Art. I'm the Co-op Studio
Manager and Ceramics Technician. I usually make most of my work at my place of work and then I'll take it home to my studio and look at it there collectively.
[PF] What brought you to Omaha?
[SHJ] Love. My partner works for Jun Kaneko and his contract was extended. After his first three years it was extended for another five, and when I lived in New York I wasn't really going out and about. I'm pretty introverted. I mean I'm definitely an outgoing person, but I don't really like to go out a whole lot... so I was like ‘I'll move to Omaha!’ because I was just really sitting inside in New York so... here I am!
[PF] And you came from Brooklyn to Omaha?
[SHJ] Oh yeah.
[PF] And you've been here for 4 years?
[PF] What about you Corson?
[CA] Yeah so I'm Corson Androski. I grew up in Hutchinson, Kansas then went to school in Iowa and I've been in Omaha now for a couple of years? So this is the largest city I've ever been in. Mostly I've been growing up in pretty rural areas of the Midwest. Right now I guess my practice mostly looks like film and photography. I'm especially interested in conservation and what reciprocal care could look like in both an artistic and ecological practice.
[PF] Is there... how would you define that studio practice? Are you working in more traditional ways, less traditional ways, or Corson, in particular when you talk about reciprocal care in photo and video… How does that manifest? How does that idea manifest in your studio practice?
[CA] Right now with my studio practice I don't have, maybe, a traditional studio space and most of the work that I... most of my time spent working is actually spent working outside. I think for a lot of artists who work in nature that usually looks like traveling around to a lot of different places, sometimes over pretty far distances. But for me I am very interested in local engagement with the damaged ecosystems that we can find near us. And so I've started to think about an abandoned corner of a nearby park within walking distance of me as a sort of studio space. Sometimes that relates directly to the production of material. Sometimes instead of bringing a camera or a microphone I'll bring trash bags or I'll bring tools for gathering and gather food to eat or share with friends. At this point as I'm still kind of settling into this practice. I think there's maybe even a bigger focus on that than the production of work. A lot of material coming out of this practice looks a lot like documentary photography. I'm starting to think of that as building up an archive of images, documenting the space over time and building up that collection or reworking it and seeing what's compelling there, and grouping up images or essays about them, cutting video together. It kind of feels like the second step after collecting and building that archive.
[PF] Sarah, what about you? I feel like your practice also involves accumulating or amassing a bunch of objects.
[SHJ] Definitely. I guess now that I'm thinking about it, my practice is probably more traditional. It
wasn't always that way but I often will come up with ideas for objects through pop culture images or TV shows or movies or music videos that I see, and for whatever reason an idea for a specific object or shape will pop into my head and I can't stop thinking about that until I get it out in the physical world. Oftentimes I'll draw pieces that I want to make before I make them and then I also will draw them afterwards. And then when I get into the studio I usually make a pretty structured to-do list of each item I want to make and how many of them I want to make. It's kind of funny in my head, I think about it in terms of a tryout for a sports team. It's like, these objects are on the varsity team, these objects are JV, and these just didn't make the cut. And a lot of my favorites won't make the cut so it's kind of funny to see starting with the list, cranking out the work, having it finished in front of me, and being like, I made hundreds of pieces and only a quarter of the work is actually going up.
[PF] Yeah it's interesting I feel like the type of work you're both making is very, very different but your approach and your strategy when it comes to making that work, it seems like there's some overlaps there, especially when we're talking about production and how much you make, and in the process of revisiting afterwards and editing stuff out and putting together groupings that make sense together. I think that another similarity that you both share in your approach to art-making is this idea of working with food, or images of food. Corson you were describing a more participatory relationship to food where you bring people in and share stuff when it's foraged. Can you both talk a little bit about that? Why food is significant? Why representations of food and working with food makes up a significant part of your studio practices?
[SHJ] So I guess... I mean it started with the donut and in grad school I initially picked the donut because, for whatever reason, I was thinking about items, objects, patterns, and imagery that could in some way relate to… I guess different classes.
[PF] Do you mean like economic classes?
[SHJ] Yeah so like the donut, and I really can't explain why this popped into my head. I was thinking you know, anyone can go to the gas station and buy 12 donuts for two dollars, then you know for example here in Omaha you could go to Bob's Donuts. This isn't sponsored but it could be…[Laughter] anyone can go to Bob's Donuts and buy one donut for four dollars. So in my mind I was thinking about donuts and their relation to accessibility. In terms of money and class. After that the donut really became a character. And then over time the donut just started evolving into other things. I think I went from the donut to a whole pizza? And I was really interested in the shapes of things, like geometric shapes.
[PF] I like how you talk about the donut specifically, almost like a signifier of gentrification?
[SHJ] It's a real thing.
[PF] There's a lot embedded in the way you talk about donuts that could deal with displaced economic groups.
[SHJ] Yeah, well and I think initially when I started thinking about that I didn't really know what I was thinking or trying to say within that, but now talking about it, it's making a bit more sense. At least in terms of the objects that I'm making now because, while I would love to sell work for thousands of dollars, and hopefully that'll happen one day… A lot of times I'll pick and make specific pieces on a specific scale, so that anybody could come in and buy a piece, or you know a few, to 50 pieces being accessible to anyone and everyone.
[PF] Corson, what about you?
[CA] I guess this question kind of catches me off guard because I usually don't think about this as a food practice or it's not maybe the most central approach to the kind of work I'm doing right now, but since you bring it up, I do actually think that there is a reason why I am especially interested in foraging my work right now. I guess I think that trying to find and explore the ways that human and non-human ecosystems care for each other… food is the most intuitive and accessible and maybe one of the most emotionally rich places where that happens. It's a little harder to understand the way the natural world provides for us in terms of soil health or air quality, especially in places like Omaha where that's not a huge issue. But just the practice of finding something out in the woods that you can eat is a really powerful experience. And I think that the process of looking for and gathering and preparing that stuff, that food generates a lot of really interesting imagery. I am really interested in the overlap between documentary and potent emotional, gestural kind of things that appear in documentary imagery... you know you put a hand in for scale or hands doing work, harvesting and preparing food... I think I would like to find ways to make my practice more communal. Right now it's pretty new to me to have people along with me foraging. Part of it is just that I'm kind of new to this community, meeting people, and sometimes it can be a hard sell to get people to wander around in the woods with you and eat trash off the ground. [Laughter]
[SHJ] I'll do it, or I'll help and you can eat it.
[PF] Sarah's all for it.
[CA] But I... I really do want to figure out ways to involve more people in that process both in my practice and also in the production of the material that I ultimately end up displaying. I think
when I was growing up I had really high hopes of living alone in the woods, just me alone in the natural world, and I think as appealing as that still is to me, I realize how unsustainable a fantasy that is. Even if you are in a cabin in the woods in the middle of nowhere you are inescapably tangled up with our greater global ecosystem, especially in an era of climate catastrophe. There's no way to not be implicated in the kind of mutual interactions between people and our ecosystem, and it's I think kind of disingenuous and dangerous to pretend that you can isolate yourself from that. So yeah, I am very interested in bringing more community into this practice. Last time we talked, Sarah and I expressed an interest in trying to figure out ways to harvest clay locally.
[SHJ] Yeah I was going to say, I think that would be cool if we found a spot in the woods somewhere where there's... I think if you found a creek you could probably dig and find something, but then I was also thinking if we aren't successful in that we should go foraging and I can just bring clay and then we make stuff there. I think that would be fun.
[CA] And thinking about photography like this central theoretical image... I'm thinking about how photography relates to reality. I always think of an imprint in clay when I'm thinking about how photography mechanically reproduces. I think that's one of the classic examples in teaching indexicality, and so it's always, that medium has always felt kind of connected for me in some ways... I guess it's not super common in a sculptural practice to seek out that kind of imprinting. I would love to bring some clay into the woods and think about it as an alternative to photography, as another kind of way to mechanically reproduce things through imprinting them into the clay.
[SHJ] Yeah, I never thought about that in relation to photo, but that reminds me of, I'll look it up and share it with you, but there were two women in Chicago who did this community-based project where... I mean essentially they were doing it, but then they would share with other people... They would walk around with this cart and in the cart there was clay and minimal tools but then they would take small chunks and imprint sidewalks or parts of building that they would see along like their trip or adventure in the city, and just in daily life, and then they would like fire them and have these keepsakes from moments. I think more recently I've been thinking about how my practice has become too systematic, or too much of an equation. So I think it would be interesting and fun maybe even freeing in a sense, to just go out and make stuff and try to challenge myself in the sense of not making what I would normally make.
[CA] When's the last time in your practice you felt like you were suddenly doing something radically different? What's the most recent big change you've seen in your practice or the work coming out of it?
[SHJ] More and more I'm thinking about making... So you know, normally I make a few to several items but then within those items I'll make 30 to 50 of them and then as I'm glazing and finishing the work they might all be glazed the same, or they might have different variations... and recently in the last maybe three months I've been making one-off, individual sculptures where it's the only one that exists. And I've been trying to think of, you know, still making the same piece over and over again in a production sense, but then also pairing that with a one-off sculpture. For example, I made a stack of pancakes, and then there's a foot that sits on top of it, and the piece of butter is on top of the foot. I’m trying to incorporate that more into my practice so it's not so structured. I'm definitely a structured person and that makes me feel more comfortable day-to-day but I think it might be productive and fun to stray from that, at least every once in a while.
[PF] Do those production formulas that you have set out for yourself help you confront the idea of sale-ability or commodification, or how these objects exist when there's a transaction involved?
[SHJ] I think it helps? But then at the same time it's like only some people buy stuff and then I'm left with all this other stuff so I'm like... Am I making the wrong things? Is there something wrong with them?
[PF] The only reason I ask is because it seems, again, there's some overlap in both of your practices when it comes to commodifying your work in the sense that you're both working with these alternative systems. They're alternative economies almost. Because I feel like Corson, you are rebuffing the trappings of capitalism and Sarah you're really like leaning into them and trying to push them to the point at which they break down.
[CA] Oh yeah.
[PF] Because you're making so much and investing so much in your production and then offering it and it's very accessible...
[SHJ] You know all I want to say is I want to make money. I want to open up a, in all seriousness, a ceramic line to support my lifestyle, but then also, every once in a while, teaching workshops to share. But yeah, when I'm making I'm thinking a lot about… I feel like there's a lot of talk about art versus design and I am really interested in bridging that gap. I think that the gap has definitely decreased over the last few years, but making stuff that's more design-oriented, but then also still making objects that can be paired with that in a large installation. Yeah I love the idea of making a bunch of work and then having a bunch of people buy it.
[PF] Yeah it's sort of like...Sarah it almost seems like you're pushing the system to its breaking point, and Corson and you're thinking about existing almost outside of that system entirely and both of those things propose alternatives to how the art market economy has traditionally been structured
[PF] Which is I think a really interesting point, again, of overlap in both of your practices, in kind of a funny way. You talked a little bit about having other jobs, day jobs, other ways of making income, generating money to support yourselves. Do those other avenues, those other revenue streams, feed into your studio practices? Do you find that the two have a porous relationship or do you try and compartmentalize, keep things as separate as you possibly can?
[SHJ] I think my job and my practice influence each other just maybe in this sense that, you know, I'm a ceramics tech and I'm working in clay. Or even like when I'm doing administrative
responsibilities at work sometimes I catch myself doodling a couple sculptures, like I'm doing right now [Laughter], doodling sculptures that maybe I want to make in clay. So at night three days a week at work I'm the ceramics tech so I'm there for co-op members to ask questions of. You know recently it's been pretty slow in the studio so I'll just take that opportunity to make my own work, and while I'm doing that I'm still available to people. So I guess in that sense it overlaps but I think at the same time, as much as it can be, they're also really separate. And I think that's more just for my own peace of mind. As I'm getting older I'm definitely trying to establish more boundaries, and I think that that helps, just because I think if they were too connected it would be really hard to be at work because I'd feel like I was there all the time. And then I think it would also be really hard to make work because I'd feel like I was doing that or in relation to work too much.
[PF] The sort of content that you're focusing on doesn't come from like your administrative role.
[PF] Your role as a ceramics technician. You're not making representational imagery...
[PF] ...that deals with those aspects of your job.
[SHJ] Yeah definitely not.
[PF] But the fact that you're a ceramics tech...that's a very strong connection to the more process-oriented aspects...
[PF] ...of you're making practice.
[SHJ] Yeah, that's right.
[CA] I think that for some of the jobs I'm doing right now there's like some really significant productive exchange between work and my artistic practice, but there are also jobs that I just have strictly to... I don't wanna say strictly to pay the bills... this is work that I think is good for me, but it doesn't feel meaningfully related to my artistic practice at all, and I do kind of try and compartmentalize it a little bit. I guess right now that looks like software development. I don't know, I would be very interested in having interactive coding stuff be a part of my process someday, but that's a very long way off. And in the meantime that just feels totally separate. My other jobs though, I guess the main one would be working as an academic research assistant for an old professor, focusing on archival research. That has really, really heavily informed both how I actually make my work, how I think about it, how I think about my subject matter. So what my work in this job looks like is usually you know going out to the archives once a year or so, or having my professor do that, and then we just work as fast as we can, we just amass as much material as possible, save it to hard drives. We read just as much as it takes to figure out what's relevant or not, and then we spend the rest of the time, however much we can get funding for, sort of reviewing that material. Not just organizing it, but actually generating the end product of academic writing, contributions to this field we're working in. And I think about production of my own work in a very similar way and thinking about the production of an archive, and then creation of the finished work as being a separate step from that of reviewing, organizing material and I guess that also informs how I think about my subject matter. I started to think about the landscape as an archive and think about what sort of theories and methodologies from archival research could be applied to it. My research work is mostly in the humanities, in women's studies, where there is some really fantastic work in theorizing being done about reading the absences in archives, paying attention to what's missing there, what its boundaries are. And also there's some really interesting methodologies involving focusing on your affect just as much as the material itself. You know, thinking about what it feels like to be in an archive of letters of these forgotten activists and writers. What it feels like to encounter them, to read their letters. Begging for rent money, talking about not being able to eat, about their love letters, and thinking about how we feel about that encounter today. What does that tell us about a present moment as well as the past. And I'm very interested in approaching my subject matter the same way, thinking about what does it feel like today to start up this practice outdoors. Which looked and felt very differently in different places and different times. What does it feel like now, what does that tell us about a present moment? What does it feel like to touch plants? Something that was normal for most of our history, whereas now it feels like a really, really special thing. Even having made a focus of doing it daily for a couple years now. Boy that's a very long-winded answer. I love that archiving job very, very much.
[PF] I think I just wanted to ask one more question and get your thoughts, both of your thoughts, especially because you both have lived in other places right, so I'm interested to hear what you
think, I'm interested to hear what your impressions of this place are. What do you think about living in Omaha? What resources are available to you here, and what resources you would like to see put into place?
[CA] Boy, I think this is one of the first things that we talked about when we hung out for the first time?
[CA] We talked about this, and talked about our signs. Talked about pets. We're both...
[SHJ] Yeah we're both Pisces.
[CA] And we're both twins!
[CA] Boy this question seems to come up whenever I meet anyone, this is a big question for people in the city.
[CA] I guess I don't have much frame of reference other than the rural places that I've lived. It is so different socially just how meeting people and working and dating works in a city versus a tiny community where you meet people organically without having to make special efforts to leave the house.
[CA] I have been... I feel like Omaha doesn't have much of a reputation even in like its immediate orbit in the Midwest, like I lived on all sides of it all my life and never knew anything about it except the zoo. But since coming here I've been blown away by the local arts community, the local urban farming and gardening community. Those are my two favorite things about the city, and those were really my entry points into getting into the city and building up a support system in a community for myself.
[SHJ] There's definitely resources here that I think are pretty accessible to the majority of people. I feel like there are definitely organizations and small groups of people starting to make things more accessible to those who don't have access or money to use resources that someone might be able to have when they're at a university. I think the thing, and this is just my personal opinion, that I think that Omaha is missing is for people outside of institutions and schooling and universities to have more critical dialogue with other artists. Whether that’s structured or not. And I mean like true criticism not like fluffy criticism. Then along those lines people who would be then committed to doing that, participating and facilitating.
[CA] Oh yeah. I think one of the things I mentioned early on as I was going to all these small shows and all the adjacent shows... I asked Peter if there was anyone really talking or writing about these shows in a public facing way, as far as like reviewing criticism, and it doesn't really seem like there's much out there right now. So I'd be really, really interested in something like that too. You know there's...
[SHJ] I've always wanted to be an art critic.
[CA] Yeah? You should start!
[SHJ] I don't know...
[CA] There's that alternate MFA program? I really just want to see what that looks like. What it looks like over time. What that kind of community feedback and criticism... is it bringing in visiting people? Whether there are other ways that we can structure that outside of the class, or you know, whether just like by osmosis... as we do that more in private it might find its way out too.
[PF] I think that's really exciting. I think there are a lot of educational opportunities and opportunities for criticism outside of institutional systems. It's just a matter of building that participation.
[SHJ] Yeah. I think that's the biggest current struggle is… you know you might find four people who are like 'Yeah we'll do this' in an unstructured manner, but then it happens once and then it never happens again.
[CA] It usually just reaches four people.
[PF] Building engagement outside of institutions I think is probably the most like fertile territory for criticism in this town. In Omaha specifically. Then again that's just my personal take.
[CA] Do you have any thoughts or plans as to how that could work? What that could look like?
[PF] Sure do! 2020.
[CA] Ok, so there could be a fun announcement coming up?
[CA] That's exciting.
[PF] But we're working on it and I think that organizationally we've acknowledged and kind of realized that that's been something that's missing here for a lot of folks. We hear that anecdotally but we also have heard it after gathering some more formal data through surveys and focus groups. So it's definitely on the list, but thank you both for bringing it up, and thank you also for spending your time with us.
[SHJ] No, thank you for all your great, generous support always.
[PF] Is there, is there anything either of you have coming up that you'd like to put in a little plug for before we sign off?
[CA] So I just finished up a pair of events with Amplify. A public program that we kind of talked about as an outdoor studio tour, where I gave a few people a tour and a talk about the place where my practice is focused right now. And even though those are over, I'm still out there all the time, I'm always giving informal tours and so I also want to invite people to be in touch if they'd like to come along sometime, or hear parts or all of that talk again. So that offer is always on the table. Then on January 4th I'm going to be doing a Generator show, just over at the Generator Space with Amplify. That's everything I have coming up right now.
[SHJ] Yeah I just participated in a group show in Portland at the gallery Carnation Contemporary. I believe it only runs through the end of June, but then the intention is to see if that show will travel to other spaces. But the curator is working on that right now. And then in Omaha I'll have an artist talk at Amplify Arts on August 16th. Should be fun, I think I might switch it up from how I normally do it so, if you're available come on down! And then as of now I only have a two person show scheduled at Amplify's Generator Space November 8th, 2019.
[PF] Well that's great, a lot of stuff coming up for both of you.
[PF] Exciting. Ok cool! Thank you again.
[SHJ] Thank you.
[CA] Absolutely, thank you so much for having us.