Artist of the Week: Julie Weber

Julie Weber lives and works in Chicago. She holds an MFA from Columbia College Chicago (2014) and a BA from Dominican University (2006).

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do. Chicago is home for me. I have a studio in North Center. For a few years now, I’ve been teaching at the Chicago Photography Center, and I am about to start my second year as adjunct faculty at Waubonsee Community College. I worked in the Photo Archives at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago for 3 years, which has led to a sideline of work documenting exhibitions and archiving artwork for artists. I am currently an artist in residence with HATCH Projects at Chicago Artists Coalition.

In terms of my art practice, photography is my frame of reference. I am fascinated by its ever-developing nature, inextricably wrought from technological and societal advancement. Contemplating and relating to this mutability, I construct visual metaphor from points of intersection between material and meaning. Paring down to fundamental aspects – namely light, time, surface, and liquid – allows me to reconsider and redirect anew the potential for photographic materials, methods, and definitions. It seems the unifying thread, for now at least, is exploring what can and cannot be made visible.

How did your interest in art begin? I cannot pinpoint any specific moment(s) that irreversibly set my course. However, in retrospect, there seems to have been a natural progression through various circles of people, academia, and employment, dotted with intermittent and influential overlaps.

Photography had been a pursued interest of mine since observing my older sisters take darkroom classes in high school but it was a mere inclination back then. While I continued photography as a minor concentration in undergrad, my primary interest was in research methods. I studied qualitative and quantitative systems within psychology and sociology; I had a penchant for weighing hard and soft scientific aspects against perceived rigor and objectivity. I followed this thread into a formative, though now seemingly brief, tenure as a researcher in cognitive testing within drug development. The job uprooted me, seconded to company headquarters in a small village outside London, and kept me traveling solidly for two years. The more lives and locales I became exposed to, the more dedicated to art and making I became. I moved back to Chicago with the intention of steadily transitioning.

At any rate, I consider myself a researcher above all. I think this is why I am so drawn to photography. It is a science of light and image formation with branches extending from physics and chemistry, as much as it is an art, a form of self-expression through visual depiction. Equal parts science and art that instigates an amalgamation of dualities. Light and dark, positive and negative, static and unfixed, representational and abstract, fact and fiction, analogue and digital, studium and punctum (Barthes), windows and mirrors (Szarkowski), wet and dry (Wall) – the list could go on and on. Such oppositional forces yield magnetic tensions. It all strikes a very intoxicating aporia for me. It often seems a fool’s errand to attempt expression of visceral things through a medium renowned for its optical exactitude. I digress…

What are some recent, upcoming or current projects you are working on? As far as exhibiting goes, I recently had work on view at Woman Made Gallery (through August 20th) in Radiance, curated by Karen Azarnia and at The Observatory (through August 25th, closing reception on August 22nd) in Photography Meet Painting, curated by Krissy Kula.

November will bring the culminating exhibition of my residency with HATCH Projects, so I am currently gearing up for that. Side note: as a longtime supporter, friend, and seasonal employee of Filter Photo, I am excited for the 7th annual festival this September.

In terms of making, I am furthering Uncertain Objects, a series of altered and unstable light sensitive sheets of paper, alongside new territory, which is actually a return to a material I’ve been sitting on for the better part of a decade.

If you had to explain your work to a stranger, what would you say? I use photographic materials in non-traditional ways in order to draw attention to their materiality, so that in a sense, the materials themselves and the processes they undergo become the subject matter.

What is your beverage of choice when working in your studio? I keep it simple with water. It is after all, a most basic yet alchemic ingredient in photography. On an indulgent day, a smoothie called Liquid Sunlight from my local juicery, Earth’s Healing Café.

Favorite place to shop? I am no photo equipment fanatic, but a trip to B&H in Midtown Manhattan really sends me. I blame the little glass bowls filled with colorfully wrapped candies.

What artists are you interested in right now? Liz Deschenes, Katja Mater, Lesley Vance, Mary Weatherford, Alison Rossiter, Walead Beshty, James Welling, Kerstin Brätsch, and John Houck. And I find myself always coming back to Agnes Martin, Robert Ryman, and Gerhard Richter.

What do you collect? Admittedly, it’s more like hoarding than collecting… I have amassed quite a stock of photographic materials by secondhand and discarded means. This includes but is not limited to cameras, paper, prints, negatives, slides, instructional manuals, theory texts, and miscellaneous darkroom equipment, with a particular flair for 35mm slide archival storage boxes. I am always accepting donations, specifically for light sensitive papers to incorporate into my work.

I worked as a technician at a one-hour photo retailer for half a decade; I saved the canisters from nearly every roll of film I developed along with a number of other materials that really should have been discarded… I mean, if I had an immediate purpose back then for the exhausted chemicals off the Gretag machine, well, I would have bottled that stuff too.

What’s your favorite thing about Chicago? It’s a big enough city for a sustainable art scene but not seemingly impenetrable.

Can you share one of the best or worst reactions you have gotten as a result of your work? During an opening reception, I met an artist who spoke very complimentary of my work. The longer the conversation went on, I grew comfortable and started sharing in some of the bigger ideas at play. It proved a wrong move and was a necessary reminder that communication rarely finds a target. Less is more.