Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The Look Here! Project: An Interview with Melissa Wagner-Lawler

This is the second installment in our interview series with artists participating in the Look Here! project. Melissa Wagner-Lawler is an interdisciplinary artist and Associate Lecturer in the Print & Narrative Forms department and the First Year Program at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's Peck School of the Arts.

Why were you interested in participating in this Look Here! pilot project? 

I was introduced to the project by Max Yela and was curious about creating an artist book project that relied heavily on research from existing digitized collections. After I applied to be a part of the project, I realized that I didn't have a strong connection to the collection that I chose. Through conversations with Max and discussing my prior work, he brought out several books in Special Collections to help get me back on track. The current text that I'm using was introduced to me through this conversation.

What collections are using or did you begin to use for your project?

For my project, I am using a work held in UWM's Special Collections entitled The Grammar of Ornament by Owen Jones published in 1856 and the AGSL Digital Map collections. By researching map images of the land boundaries of the areas and ornamentation covered in The Grammar of Ornament, I will be constructing new visual landscapes using the decorative ornaments from the book. The artist book will take a small sampling of ornaments from each of the 20 sections of the text and place them into a landscape created out of the reinterpreted boundaries of each country or region. This artist book will then be letterpress printed, hand-bound and editioned.

How did what you found in the collections influence your work?

My more recent work has been investigating abstract landscapes using found imagery so finding a historical work that I can manipulate and that serves as a starting point for investigation is always of interest to me. Also, the ornaments that are presented in the text are unlike anything I have used in my work before, so this will be a welcomed challenge to integrate it into the visual landscapes that I've already been exploring.

How does having so much content available digitally affect the work you're creating? Or does it?

The accessibility of the content is great, but also overwhelming. There are so many great collections to use! This is part of the reason it took me so long to decide and finalize my work for this project. Once I decide on the main text, I limited myself to plate page per section to give myself parameters to keep me focused.

At this stage, I'm still planning and designing the book pages. Although the pages are digitized, I still need to manipulate them heavily in design programs to get the images and designs 'press-ready'. Once the page designs are completed, I will be having plates of some of the pages made and hand carving others. The pages are scheduled to be printed in the next few months to allow enough time to bind the books before the exhibition.

What more can you tell us about your experience in this project?

The experience has been rewarding! Hearing everyone's different approaches to the project and seeing how those ideas evolve has been quite interesting. I'm really looking forward to seeing how the final works turn out and also relating them back to their original digital collections.

More about Melissa Wagner-Lawler's work can be found at her site, http://redthreadletterpress.com/home.html

1 comment:

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