Samantha Persons was the third artist this year to expand in to Franconia’s newly acquired forest. By her second day in residence, she had already broken a trail out to her work site. This installation she created as an Open Studio Fellowship Artist at Franconia Sculpture Park is a living installation – part treehouse, part ranger station and part fiction. It is a part of a larger project called “Outpost” which is based on an extensive queer fiction. The interior space is ever changing as time passes and different people inhabit the space.
Samantha is a multimedia installation artist. She received her MFA in Sculpture/New Media from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a BFA in Sculpture and Art History in Feminist Art and Contemporary Art Practices at the Kansas City Art Institute. She has studied internationally as well at the International Ceramic Studio in Kescskemet, Hungary. Her work is heavily engaged in issues of personal autonomy and social agency, individualism, gendered space, queer theory, and materiality. She makes immersive installations that incorporate built shelters, complex written narratives, props, sound and video. Her work is dependent upon viewer interaction, and this is a source of constant investigation—how does one create immersive environments within the confines of a traditional art gallery or institutional display that subverts the usual reticence of viewers to interact? To further complicate this question, her works often address questions of agency via the guise of fictional narratives that are sometimes discovered only through the close examination of components and props within the installations.
While Samantha was in residence she sat down with our Program Assistant, Claire Barber, to share some insight into her work. Here’s what she had to say:
What is your creative process like when you’re making sculpture?
My process is ¾ planning, ¼ intuition, depending on the project. A lot of the time it spawns from a previous project or idea. This sculpture is part of an ongoing archive for queer fiction, so it became more about how to make a space that encompasses the story line. It spawned from previous works and was inspired by the habitats the queer characters inhabit. Also, since Franconia is in the north it had to do with nature preserves and ranger stations. It has also become like a fantasy; it looks like a hobbit home. It’s a lot different from what I originally planned. It looks like the home from a fairy tale. In my research I found that ranger stations around here are made out of wood. Usually the builders don’t want to clear a lot of trees so they put the station in a tree, and they’ll use already felled trees around it. It serves as a rest spot for hikers. It’s a place for rangers to go when they want to observe.
Tell me about your project at Franconia. How does it relate to your past work?
There is an aspect of adolescent play to it, which a lot of my other work also has. A lot of the play structures and spaces I build have to do with how adolescents deal with spaces and reenact power dynamics. Kids will create houses or forts so they can better understand the rules of the outside world. It helps them digest it. They’re brought up being subjugated, so they create these spaces where they can inhabit the roles of adults and figure out where they belong outside of their play world.
Why did you propose your project to Franconia? What did the experience of working here offer?
I proposed it to Franconia because it’s a huge interactive sculpture park. The idea of making something kids and adults could interact with was appealing, especially because adults can remove their sense of reservation and regain their childlike sense of exploration. There work here is enormous in scale and ferocious. I wanted to be a part of it. I like a lot of the work here. I had been checking it out and seeing if I could fit in here. Working here, there is the pressure of the deadline, so there is a higher level of intensity than I usually have. The experience here, working with everyone, the food, it’s all good.
Where did you study and whom did you study with? How have those experiences influenced your own work?
I have studied in a lot of different places. I have worked with a handful of different artists. When I was in high school, I worked with Patrick Dougherty. My class helped out with his big wood sculptures. We were just helpers but we were able to build really large scale wooden sculptures. Some of the structures were tower-like. Then after the military I went to the Kansas City Art Institute, double majored in art history and sculpture. Then I worked with Russel Ferguson who does immaculate work where everything’s connected. It changed the way I viewed work, and the way I looked at the world. He just knew everything was connected. I worked with Brian Collier for a year. He gave me all these readings, he pushed me to a place where I was making the viewer become physically engaged with the installation. In graduate school at the University of Illinois in Urbana Champagne I pursued a masters in sculpture and new media. I had Melissa Pokorny; she’s all about references and backgrounds. Her work is very intuitive but she’s really interested in object and their backgrounds. And then I had Stephen Cartright. He simply does and figures it out along the way. I also had Laurie Hogan who was intensely, ridiculously well read; it’s beguiling. She’d talk about references from when she was a kid and relate it to a book that she just read that was published yesterday. She finds a lot of time to read. She really put into perspective the amount of information that is out there. And like Russel, she helped me think about the connections between things.
How did your time at Franconia compare to other residencies you’ve completed?
All residencies are different. Some are more academic; Franconia is more about community, especially since there’s a meal we all share together each day. You, as an artist, aren’t just here to make stuff; you’re here to nurture your peers with food, etc. Franconia does a good job at community building. You’re forced into a means of communication that usually, when you have a studio practice, doesn’t exist because you’re just in your own world. There is a large demographic of artistic experience here; some of the interns are still in undergrad, so they’re just starting out; some are more experienced artists that are in the teaching realm. And then there’s people like myself: I’m in the middle ground. It’s good to have all these demographics around so that I can talk to them and figure out how they make it work. There’s a teasing, jovial, juvenile play that goes on amongst everybody. What we are doing is serious, but at the same time, everybody jokes about things. It relieves some of the stress of making work. And you guys have a garden! I love food, I love growing food.
So there you have it. Samantha worked hard, remained flexible, and made an amazing sculpture installed along the trail into the woods. Be sure to come take a look next time you visit Franconia Sculpture Park!