Artist of the Week: Emily Hermant

Emily Hermant received her BFA in Studio Arts from Concordia University, Montréal, Québec, Canada, in 2004 and her MFA as a Trustee Merit Scholar in Fiber and Material Studies from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2010. Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally, including solo exhibitions at CIRCA Art Actuel in Montréal (2014); the Evanston Art Center (2013); Sonnenschein and Albright Galleries, Lake Forest College, IL (2012); Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts (2012); and group exhibitions at Virginia Commonwealth University (2011); Hyde Park Art Center (2010); Triennale di Milano Museum in Italy (2009); and the Museum of Arts & Design in New York (2007-8). Her work has been featured in ArtSlant, Espace Sculpture, The Washington Post, and TimeOut Chicago. She has been awarded grants from the Canada Council for the Arts, the Conseil des Arts et Lettres du Québec, and the Fonds Québecois de Recherche sur la société et la culture, and residencies at ACRE, Ox-Bow, The Millay Colony, Ragdale, and the Vermont Studio Center. Hermant has taught at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Virginia Commonwealth University, and Concordia University in Montréal. She currently divides her time between Chicago and Montréal.

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Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do. I’m an interdisciplinary artist who makes sculptures, drawings, and installations. I’m Canadian. I moved to Chicago in 2008 to attend grad school at SAIC, and have been in and out of Chicago since receiving my MFA in 2010. Most recently, I spent two years teaching at Concordia University in Montréal, and before that, I taught at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. I’m in Chicago now, and have my studio here, though still dividing part of my time between here and Montréal. I have a materials-intensive practice, and I tend to work at a large scale. Much of my work explores themes of communication, gendered labor, the body, and the body’s experience of space. I think of my practice as an installation or drawing practice, in which I draw in space with unexpected materials, and in doing so, immerse the viewer in the work.

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What are some recent, upcoming or current projects you are working on? I had a recent show of Spatial Drawings at CIRCA Art Actuel in Montréal, in their big main exhibition space that could accommodate large-scale work. This was really exciting because it meant that I was able, for the first time, to show all of these works together in one space. Seeing all the lines together moving through the space created a different language. It allowed for a real awareness of one’s body and the surrounding space in relation to the work.

More recently, I’ve been developing some big sculptural works that, among other things, aim to address the tension between the proliferation of digital, virtual technologies and our desire for the intimacy and richness of tactile, slow experiences. As part of this work, I’ve been making drawings and prints, which I think of as studies; these smaller drawings explore relationships among color, line, movement, and perception vis-à-vis the speed and movement of digital information. I’m excited that a few of these drawings will be turned into limited edition prints by Stinger Editions, the Fine Art Press at Concordia University in Montréal, available in early 2015.

Throughout this next year, I’ll be attending several residencies that I’m hoping will generate new ideas related to slowing down and representing the rapid movement of digital information in contemporary communication. I did a residency at ACRE this summer, which was a great experience, and I’m looking forward to the possibility of showing some of that work sometime this next year in Chicago.

Artwork by Emily Hermant.  Photo by David Ettinger.

How did your interest in art begin? There are many creative and musical people in my family—tinkerers, artists, self-taught makers—including both of my older sisters who are also practicing artists, so I was surrounded by those kinds of activities from very early on. I’m sure I can attribute my own building style and approaches to making from being around DIY builders like my father growing up.

I also distinctly remember going to a Keith Haring exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario with my mom when I was in my teens that completely rocked my world. I was already interested in art by then (I was really into alternative comics, graphic novels, and self-publishing), but I had never seen anything like this. I guess it was my first experience of an immersive, drawn environment. In hindsight, this was perhaps less radical than discovering the work in its original context—public space—but somehow it helped solidify my own creative interests and sparked a desire in me to work big.

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What materials do you use in your work and what is your process like? I utilize and transform a whole range of materials in my work including thread, nails, pins, plastic, and wood, to create works that relate in one way or another to the body and the body’s experience of space. I’m also really interested in how materials, taken out of their ordinary uses and translated sculpturally, express their materiality, and perform in space. The ways in which I choose materials happens in relation to a set of ideas or questions I’m interested in pursuing, and what I think would best express those ideas. Within that framework, I do a ton of experimentation with materials and processes to figure out what would work best technically and conceptually. I spend a lot of time building maquettes at various scales, making technical and material samples, sketches, and collecting images and articles, as ways of thinking through my ideas.

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What artists are you interested in right now? I love Phyllida Barlow, right now and always! I saw her show,  Siege at the New Museum a few years ago and was blown away with the otherworldly environment she created out of largely industrial materials. Liz Larner is another sculptor I’m really fond of—I love the playfulness with which she articulates line and volume, surface and structure. I’m also really interested in Carol Bove—her work with sculptural assemblage and her understanding and arrangement of objects and systems of display are compelling. One of the great things about being back in Chicago for me is that I’m being reacquainted with many artists and galleries whose work I really like. Chicago is full of good artists, so I won’t even attempt to list them all here!

What’s your favorite thing about your city? Well, I’m fortunate to have two cities: Chicago and Montréal. In Chicago, I love the energy that comes from all the artistic activities here—there’s always something happening whether it’s in a commercial gallery, one of the museums, or an apartment gallery. And of course there’s the architecture (so many gems!), the lake, and the Art Institute. At the end of the day, culture, and the people who make culture, are what make a place interesting. In Montréal, there’s a great appreciation of the arts across the board. It’s an easy place to try things, and to make things happen. One of my favorite things is the food—it’s an excellent food town. There’s excellent bread, baked goods, and pastries. Nothing beats a Montréal bagel, hot out of the oven. It’s also home of one my favorite guilty pleasures: poutine. I heard there’s a bacon restaurant set to open in Montréal, and while a part of me knows this is ridiculous, I will still probably try it!

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What was the last exhibition you saw that stuck out to you? This was a while back, but I loved Judy Ledgerwood’s site-specific installation Chromatic Patterns at the Graham Foundation this winter. It was refreshing to be immersed in such a vibrant, warm, and joyful installation during the long, horrible winter we had. It was the perfect remedy for the winter blues. Nora Schultz’s site-specific exhibition Parrottree at The Renaissance Society stands out, as well as an exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Montréal a few months ago called Beat Nation, about the influence of hip-hop and urban culture in aboriginal cultures.

What is your snack/beverage of choice when working in your studio? Coffee. Tea. I snack constantly so I usually have lots of stuff on hand: almonds, dried fruits, granola bars, and instant noodle soups. Once I’m at the studio, I prefer not to leave until I’m done working, especially if I’m in a groove, but things change quickly if I run out of food or snacks!

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What do you do when you’re not working on art? Sometimes, I think that there aren’t really dividing lines between work and non-work because even leisure time can be productive. You never know when a light bulb will turn on, and something that you’d been thinking about will finally make sense at the most unexpected time. So, I like to think that creative connections are made, and work happens, even when you don’t think you’re working. That being said, walking, talking, swimming, culinary adventures, singing, visiting junkyards and antique stores, and impromptu road trips are some things I like to do when not “working.” While I was at ACRE this summer, I was introduced to “cornhole”—that bean bag game—and I have to say, perhaps unfortunately, I’m kinda really into it.

Can you share one of the best or worst reactions you have gotten as a result of your work? Well, here’s one of my favorites. Once, a gallery docent asked me during an exhibition of Spatial Drawings, when I would be taking the clamps and lumber off of the work. I thought this was such a great reaction, and maybe not that surprising, given that there’s a decidedly unfinished quality to the pieces. He wanted a complete, or at least convincing illusion, which is not the goal of the work, and in fact the work resists this illusion by incorporating tools and materials that signify process and also provide physical support.