"I had met Claire at one or two work events and enjoyed her enthusiasm but I was not expecting to be so amazed after the first look at the home page on her website. I think I found a kindred dinosaur and unicorn loving spirit!” says Nina as she was preparing for the interview.
Nina: In your artist statement, both the informal and formal versions, you talk about art and life being one and the same. How would you say you incorporate that into your everyday activities? If you were able to create a utopia, how would you envision the general population integrating art and life?
Claire: I see art not as any specific object but as a way of seeing and doing. It's acting with a certain mindset or thought pattern and really paying attention. I think everyone has at least one thing they do as Art and it may not be something that is culturally recognized as art in our society. You can speak, or listen, or move your body, or read, or mediate, or meditate, or really do anything as art. That isn't to lessen the import of art but actually to expand it. If someone realizes what they are doing is art, they may begin to value what those around them are doing as art. For me personally, other than what people recognize as art, I mak food, garden, move, walk in the woods, and lay in the sun in ways that I consider them to be art. I'm definitely not an artist of computers or responding to phone calls. A utopia for me would simply be people doing no harm and accepting themselves and everyone around them. I would say, in one form or another, that is what art is attempting to do. Sometimes it's recognizing beauty and other times it is digging out the painful things that need healing. It's pointing at human nature and recognizing it and what we want it to be. The way of integrating art into one's life is to ask questions. All the questions. Especially why and even more especially when you start to get squirmy. Eventually, over a period of time way longer than anyone would like, that will lead to a utopia.
Nina: I think it's easy for a lot of folks to see how book arts and printmaking go hand-in-hand but installation and performance art might be considered a different ball game. How do juggle these different aspects of your creative vision? When you are creating, do you see them as separate entities, or modes of creation? (Admittedly, this question is somewhat personal as I've often dreamt of turning a book project into a full blown installation.)
Claire: I actually think they are the same. A book is the creation of a small enclosed world over a short period of time. The limits of this world are the covers and the time passing is the turning of pages. Installation is just an expansion of that world and performance is expansion and a shift in the control of time.
I like to use books as parts of my interactive work because you get to take a little piece of that world away with you and visit it in your own home and in your mind. Books have always held magic for me in that way.
Nina: Teaching is one of my favorite ways to communicate my love of book arts, I often feel that I learn as much from my students and sharing my knowledge as when I am a student myself. Do you feel the same? How do you think teaching affects your artwork? And how do you generate the great enthusiasm you have for art making in your students?
Claire: Yes. Absolutely. I am very excitable and am completely amazed by my students. I think it surprises some of them at times because I really do think they are that astounding and they so very (and sadly) often can't see it themselves. As for the enthusiasm, it's contagious. Where it comes from in me is a bit of a mystery... I do think I get more sleep than most people? Alternatively, possibly other folks don't spend all their energy in one go? After teaching I almost always have to take a nap.
Nina: In your website "About" section and "Artist Statement", you talk about exploring healing in your work, aside from your MFA Thesis project, how you think your other work heals or investigates the healing process?
Claire: Interactivity and spurring thought are the two main ways my work investigates healing and coping and dealing and all that mental health jazz. I think giving people agency in and about art cannot be underestimated. It is vital. will make small prints about mental or sexual health. My most recent mental health print was: You Are a Goddamn Rockstar for Making it Out of Bed. The most recent sexual health one is: Give Butts a Chance. I think knowing ourselves and exploring what is oneself versus what is cultural or societal is huge. When you are shocked by something and you ask why you begin to know yourself better. We think we know ourselves because we are ourselves so that is logical, but getting to know oneself is actually very challenging. I like to help folks get into a playful space, sometimes with a bit of dark humor, and it makes that introspection a little easier somehow.
Nina: Your art has this amazing equilibrium of professional quality and fully-developed concepts as well as the completely childlike. I find it really impressive and wish more people, artists or otherwise, were able to maintain their childlike enthusiasm as they mature. How do you this and maintain it? Are your concepts and more childlike subjects from your imagination? Where do you find your inspiration?
Claire: Unfortunately, it's very, very, very challenging. My natural way is very playful. By myself in my truck I will literally crack myself up making faces or weird noises. I also like to do things well and be proud of them. I don't see these as mutually exclusive but I think a lot of people sadly do. I have thought a lot about what it means to be a child and what it means to be an adult. For me, being an adult means taking care of yourself and deciding what adulthood means. As a kid you don't have to take full care of yourself but you also don't get to define things and have that agency. The downside of adulthood is things like taxes, but the freedom of adulthood is allowing yourself to do your taxes in a unicorn onesie with a gallon of ice cream. I'm actually a little uncertain why more people don't choose the freedom parts. I've met a lot of older folks who start taking that freedom and it's a wonderful thing to behold. Being responsible for yourself to me means doing the hard work of dealing with your baggage. That has nothing to do with jumping on trampolines or in mud puddles or rolling down a hill.
That said, it's great fun but also not an easy road. There are lots of haters and people who can't handle authenticity and people who are secretly jealous and people who are confused. This confusion and discomfort can sometimes lead to lashing out or dampening. I maintain it in a lot of ways. The first way is to spend as little time as possible with those people. Sometimes you need to surround yourself with more people who know how to play. This is a funny one but sometimes I think about high school. When you meet an awesome high school kid they are often miserable and confused because they are awesome and high school is terrible. People will say to them things like: "It's not you. You're awesome.
It's the place and people and it doesn't have to be that way. It'll get better." I think that can equally be applied to our society. As for my imagination, everyone should watch Adventure Time. That's pretty much how my imagination works. It goes: purple, inertia, monkey, socks, intersectionality, deer skull, poppy.
I get inspired all over the place by everything all the time. The only things I don't find inspiring are Terrible Things and even those eventually make it into my work eventually. I suppose if I had to list it would be people, nature, conversations, plants, food, memories, thoughts, moments, dances of light, smells, sounds, ideas pop up because I'm deeply happy about my weirdness. I think inspiration comes from a sort of openness that is created by being okay or just knowing yourself. There needs to be a type of listening that can't happen if there are too many other voices, especially shaming voices. I can give a specific answer that is one among millions for me. There is this amazing poem that was printed by a colleague in grad school, Suzanne Sawyer, that I find deeply inspiring called On Joy and Sorrow by Kahlil Gibran (http://www.katsandogz.com/onjoy.html). Also, the spoken word artist Shane Koyczan did a piece called "The Crickets Have Arthritis" (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6VrZE8MCnIA). Murakami and Tom Robbins and Henry James and Jeanette Winterson and Nabokov and Dave Brubeck and Fiona Staples and Caravaggio and... I could go on for days. I hope someday I can even find a glimmer of the divine that is held the work created by those people. However, my glimmer will probably be covered in glitter and bouncy balls and make some people cross.
This blog post was written by Nina Eve Zeininger.