This past summer, after an almost 10-year hiatus, Mike Calway-Fagen returned to Fanconia. In 2005, he spent the summer at Franconia as an intern artist, creating a piece of work titled Dividing Line. This time around he was a part of our Open Studio Fellowship Program. His pyramid made out of taxidermied deers is unlike any other deer-pyramid we’ve ever seen. Wait, you’ve never seen a deer-pyramid before? Just kidding, neither have we. Lucky for us, we got the chance to chat with Mike and gain a little insight into his creative mind.
What is your creative process like when you’re making sculpture?
I guess its sort of frenetic because I read and I talk and I think a lot, which I guess most people do. The work ends up being an amalgamation of those related but disparate energies. I’m not really a studio artist, I’m not necessarily an object maker, I’m an idea generator and often times things are manifested as physical things, but my work manifests in all different formats. Sculptural objects, video, collage and works that have specifc spatial considerations, socially engaged, relational works. My overarching pursuit is a search-based practice. It’s non-linear, it doesn’t place any more importance on thinking or making, its loose, its play, things sort of hit a critical mass amidst the vibrations of the different energies, and then something materializes.
Tell me about your project at Franconia. How does it relate to your past work?
On a really simple level, I’ve always envisioned the works to be conduits that emphasize a triangular relationship with the viewer. I think it’s really interesting that people and objects exist in this realm, and in order to get someone’s attention it has to operate in a specific realm. People communicate with things and through things. Materials and objects are always communicating with us, whether or not we’re conscious of it. There’s a feedback loop. I want to be someone who creates something to be experienced or witnessed by the viewer that I learn from as well. The object is meant to not represent, but to be a projection of- it’s supposed to have affective qualities. An empathetic talisman. This is a different environment to work in, it’s outdoors, part of the park, open to anyone who would like to visit the park. Dyramid projects some sort of presence beyond being a static, lifeless object, and not just because it’s made of formerly live animals. The collection of deer possesses a liveliness- each one came from hunters’ collections and museums. They are meant to be witnessed and listened to. I think interpretation is sort of a violent act, a mechanism that controls something, that wrests agency from the object itself.
Why did you propose your project to Franconia? What did the experience of working here offer?
I think I have a very specific relationship to this place because I was intern here, so there’s a degree of sentimentality that is unavoidable. I think most of it was a kind of nostalgia. Having been an intern here and both loved and hated my experience, I was interested in coming back to meet the challenge from a new perspective. I’m interested in Minneapolis as a peripheral art city, a 3rd tier art city. I like that Franconia isn’t in such close proximity to an art market. The culture and setting of the park create a different relationship between the work and the viewer- the first thought is not its salability.
Where did you study and whom did you study with? How have those experiences influenced your own work?
The pursuit of love in one way shape or form, and definitely not romantic love, but I think relationship building, not even human relationship building, just connectivity is a big influence of mine. That feels significant. Just being in grad school, there were a few professors that had a lot of impact. University of California San Diego: Heim Steinbach, Anya Gallaccio, Amy Adler, Jennifer Pastor, Colleen Smith. Not even in a critique sense, but in a ‘you-guys-are-really-nice-people-and-you-care-and-you’re-driven’. I think they also understood some of the pursuits I was interested in. Many of these people left graduate school while I was there, so to see them leave stable positions and seek themselves, that in itself was influential. They were people outside the art market who mostly show in museums. There are a large smattering of different people on the MFA graduate staff at UCSD who influenced me.
How did your time at Franconia compare to other residencies you’ve completed?
Every residency is a different animal completely. I don’t know that it benefits anyone to compare. It’s just so different. I think there is a certain pressure here for a kind of performance. And there is a great environment of camaraderie that seems to flourish here. The opportunity for contact with fellowship artists is really valuable.