When Meighan first invited me to contribute to My Love for You, I couldn't wait to get started. However weeks passed and I found myself dodging the lovely curator of this blog for I hadn't yet encountered an artist worthy of my first post! Then I came across this artist profile video of Tracey Snelling at a small film screening in San Francisco; and I knew she was the one.
Tracey's work is unlike any other. Lights buzz and flicker while music, voices, and street sounds fill the space between tiny apartment buildings and mini liquor stores. I felt like Gulliver walking through Tracey's current "Bordertown" installation; the warped perception created by floor-to-ceiling projections and little dwarf buildings makes you wobbly in the knees. Tracey caters to the voyeur in all of us with open roofs, teensy interactive rooms, and films playing from baby windows to tell a story about who lives (or lived) inside. Though nothing compares to seeing, feeling and hearing this work in person, tour the world of Tracey Snelling with words and pictures for an enchanting ride.
Are you very observant of details within an environment? What memories stick with you?
I do look at what's around me, but I'm more attracted to the type of places that I go. A new building is fine, it's ok, but I really prefer to look at a horribly ugly apartment building with peeling paint or a store with hand painted signage. Maybe it's not necessarily a place that I would wanna live in, but it's more interesting to go into a house that's not super clean and put together with everything in its place. The oldness and quirkiness of some of the ugly buildings is more attractive.
Did you ever imagine yourself incorporating video into your work?
It made sense that I would do video or something involved in film because I think that way. When I photograph my sculptures in an environment, I think in film stills- it's taking the sculpture and putting in a specific time, meaning and place like you do in a film. When I see one of these places, it's a setting and I think about who lives there and what's their story.
I'm pretty open to whatever happens, I'll always be a visual artist but I'm not stuck in any particular medium. I think it's good to keep my mind open that way, and allow the creativity to go where it wants to go. If I label myself as purely sculptor then at some point I could get stuck or limited. I hope to stay fresh and always exploring and changing and creating my whole life. I don't want to get stuck in a certain style and keep doing the same thing over and over for years- it seems boring to me. Maybe you should just start a factory if you're gonna do that.
With a background in photography, how did you come to incorporate
collage, sculpture, audio and video into your artmaking process?
I don't like to have too much control or thought over what I'm doing. I let my thoughts lead me without having a super drawn out plan- it's more like an experiment or experience to let the art happen unconsciously. Nothing is ever used just once; layers of sculpture, photography and video are always distorting and changing to show that nothing is really one reality, but it's all based on perception.
Which artists do you draw inspiration from?
Artists that I find influence from at the moment are Pipilotti Rist and Missy Elliot. Though Missy Elliot's a musical artist, the way she puts together her songs is really interesting to me. There are so many layers and changes, it's more complicated than other music out today.
How did you learn to work with wood, video, lighting, and audio?
I had done some physical labor work when I was in the California Conservation Corps and the US Forest Service. It wasn't woodwork, but I just learned as I went along. Nothing's really precise in my sculptures- it's not like building a cabinet or table- the measurements are all off. As long as it doesn't fall apart. It's good to learn skills as a lot of them can be applied to doing handy work around my house. I also like learning about electronics and electricity, most of it isn't as complicated as it first seems. There are levels, starting with what you need to get done, and it seems easy. Then you go further and it jumps in complexity.
Sometimes you reveal the wiring behind your video and audio. How does this add to the installation?
I like having the contrast between the finished and the raw. To me it's not just a movie or a theater set, it adds another layer of meaning with the main presentation in the front and the back available. Exposing the process speaks to the idea of sets and facade.
Do you ever work on a larger scale?
It depends. When I lived in China for a residency one and a half years ago, I did a life-size shack like one would find in the village outside where I was staying. I enjoy combining it with the small scale I’ve been doing. It changes your perception, like you're a giant walking through.
Tell me about your non-profit, the San Pablo Arts District Fund.I started San Pablo Arts District Fund with two friends to help revitalize this area of Oakland and help turn it into an arts district. Right now we have a storefront (donated to us by the Whittier family) with a few installations and a literary reading that happens every other month. Eventually we would like to expand and offer partially funded artist work spaces so they don’t have to pay so much. We’d like to get some gallery spaces and start programs with schools and senior citizen housing there so we can help spread the art. We’re also working on getting billboards donated so that international and local artists can do public projects.
What motivates you personally to drive this project?
When I’m not traveling somewhere to install work or do a group exhibition or residency, I’m often here in my studio working by myself or maybe with an assistant. It’s nice to be doing something I love related to the arts out in the community. It’s more about something outside of me and my work- something bigger.
Why did you choose San Pablo Ave. to start this program?
A friend of one of the founders has a building there that’s sat vacant for a long time. They talked about what to do with it and he ended up letting us use the storefront for installations. The discussion got us talking- why not? This part of the street hasn’t been a good place; with drugs, prostitution, and crimes. Emeryville is close by with shopping- why not turn this into a place where people want to stop and look at art? Nobody stops and gets out of cars there. There are lots of empty storefronts. It’s prime for something to happen.
Sounds like a solid plan. What can we do to help?
We need volunteers that want to help with some of the exhibitions coming up- administration and getting things organized. We also need artists to help create stuff. Email Tracey for details.
What’s going on this summer for San Pablo Arts District Fund?
We have a new video installation up in the window soon. Like the current installation, it will come on every night from 8pm-1am. We are also working with a literary group called Lip Service West to do a reading every other month- the next meeting is Friday, August 13th.
Check out more pics of the Bordertown installation on flickr or see it in person on July 30, 2010 in Jack London Square for a one night Oakland Underground Film Festival salon event. You can also find Tracey's work in Baer Ridgeway's "It's My World" group show on July 24th and a solo show at Rena Bransten Gallery on December 9, 2010.
Tracey is also looking for an intern to help with studio work and administration/organizing. If you have a general background in art and sculpture, live close to Oakland, and dig her stuff- get a hold of her at traceysnelling.com!