Visual Processes: Julia Schrecengost

interviewed by Bridget Conway | Visual Processes | Spring 2018

Julia Schrecengost, untitled

Bridget Conway: Do you have an artist’s statement for your senior studio or just your approach to your work in general? 

Julia Schrecengost: This year I’ve really been exploring sculpture and printmaking and the intersections between the two in my half-time show, which was an installation. There were no prints, but for my final show I’m going to incorporate a lot of monotypes using the same found materials I use in my sculpture work. [The show includes] some monotypes that have nets coming out of them and are physically embedded into the paper to reference the nets that I have been hand tying and casting in plaster that are also going be shown in the space hanging from the ceiling. I’ve just been experimenting with repetitive processes that I am instinctively drawn to, like tying knots over and over again, [and] wrapping wire around stuff. That also ties into printmaking, which is itself a very repetitive and laborious process. The themes that I’m exploring right now are all kind of related to chronic pain stemming from a lot of childhood leg injuries I had playing basketball, and processing how that’s affecting my body as I age. It’s getting more and more tangible. The pain—it’s more of a daily thing now. And so the repetitive and laborious processes for me are sometimes an act of physical endurance, especially with printmaking. It sort of feels like I’m channeling the same energy I put into sports into art making, but it has a very different product. 

BC: One thing I’ve noticed about your work is that it often does come out at the viewer. Even with some monotypes, you’ve used the materials to emboss the paper. Is there something that you’re trying to get across with having such three-dimensional and natural works?

JS: Yeah, I’m trying to communicate a sense of tension in my pieces. In the way that they’re hung, there’s a lot of empty space. I’m trying to reference the things that are going on inside of our bodies that we’re not really aware of and these random pains that seem to have no source. I’m referencing things like ligaments, tissues, veins, and bones in a very abstracted way. I’m also referencing neuro pathways of pain and how they extend beyond the body, by casting shadows on the wall or onto prints from my sculptures as a way to tie the concepts together. 

What else am I trying to do? I also work with a lot of found objects, things that when I’m at home or when I’m traveling, I find and think would be interesting to manipulate. I also just don’t really like spending money on expensive art supplies, so finding things in the trash or on the side of the road is a great way to navigate that. And also you can’t really plan on finding something like that. It’s a moment that I want to replicate, like how I’m feeling when I find it. I like to go for walks in the woods and just think a lot and collect plants or anything that catches my eye. And then when I’m making a piece I’m processing the same things as I am when I’m walking, since walking can be painful physically, and you know, if you’re going through something painful mentally too, it’s helpful to process those things by walking, and by then collecting and using those collected items to make art. 

BC: When you’re looking, whether in the woods or in the trash or something, what kinds of things are you drawn towards? And then on the basis of that, how much of your work is planned? And how much of it is improvised based on what is available to you? 

JS: When I’m looking at plants, I like to take things that are dead but used to be alive, so I’m not like ripping [them] away from the earth. I like to only take what’s offered to me. I’ll take something like a flower that was once soft but has become hard or something that is now soft but was once hard. It’s like going through this evolution that I’m continuing on in my work. When I’m on vacation with my family at the beach, I like to wander the shoreline and I’ve found a bunch of bleached, washed up nets and driftwood and sea glass. I like taking objects from places that I spend a lot of time in a way that feels significant to me, so then I can take a piece of those experiences with me. 

Talking about how much of my work is planned, pretty much none of it is. I have a lot of materials, and I think about which ones want to work together and then I sort of limit myself to those materials. And then I decide what processes to use to manipulate them. As I’m going, I don’t have any real sense of what it’s going to look like in the end. I just try for it to feel whole and harmonious, and have interesting composition and a lot of movement. 

BC: How much do you feel that you’re in conversation with your own work? What’s the balance between you and your work? If you’re making things spontaneously and responding to the process, do you see a separation between you and your work? 

JS: When I started making a lot of nets, I started by just doing the process of tying up the string and making knot after knot. It really depends on what the material wants to do in terms of how it turns out, but it’s definitely a reflection of myself because a lot of it comes from the subconscious and my own instincts. Thinking about how that relates to the sports I used to play, I did my best when I wasn’t thinking about injury and was just very fluid in movement and relying on instinct. And then when I got injured, I was always aware of the limitations of my body and was more scared to do things. Now that I’m making art, I’m trying to make art about the limitations of the body while still remaining instinctual in my making. 

BC: That makes a lot of sense. I think because, especially with the sculptures you make with nets or found wood, it feels very immersive and bodily. This net you have on the wall of your studio, for instance, feels very big and immersive. 

JS: Yeah! And that will all look very different when I’m done with it. For instance, I found this medical grade plaster bandage that I’ve been wrapping [around] the driftwood and it feels really satisfying to wrap it up, like it’s like a limb or something. Then, when it’s all white, it kind of looks like bones. And I’m going to attach those to the net via plaster. A lot of my processes recall surgery or other semi-violent actions towards the body. I have a few pieces in which I’ve threaded copper through a hole in a piece of metal or stitched into latex. I kind of view art making like the process of sustained recovery. It often makes me physically feel worse, but it makes me feel more whole and at peace with my body, emotionally and mentally. 

BC: How has your art practice changed or grown at your time at Oberlin? Is there anything that you thought that you would never appreciate that you’ve learned to appreciate or things that you thought you would always stick with that you have realized that you’ve moved on from? 

JS: At Oberlin, my practice was changed completely. Before I got to college, I was mostly making realistic paintings and I was getting really frustrated because they were taking a long time and it wasn’t fun anymore. My first semester here, I didn’t take any art classes and I was feeling really lost. And then I took a class with Nannette and Julie Christiansen, the last Materials and Methods class. It was on installation and performance, and that’s when I started getting really interested in installation and the idea that art is a lot more than just something on a canvas. And then my sophomore year, I took a screen printing class with Kristina and that just totally changed my whole perception of art making. I really wanted to master the technical aspects of it. My designs got a lot more abstract, and it opened me up to experimentation. […] 

I think that it is really important for me to be a part of an arts community and feel inspired by my peers and help them out as a way to help myself to grow. I really changed a lot since coming here, and I’m pretty happy with where I’m at right now.

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