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Artist Q&A: Mia Cross & Daniel Zeese

Work in Progress, the latest exhibit in Sasaki’s art gallery, explores the process of creation through the inherently experimental nature of two artists working together for the first time. Below, we asked the pair, Mia Cross and Daniel Zeese, about their work and experience (answers edited for clarity):

Q: Have either of you worked on a collaborative installation before? If yes, how did you find that process? If no, how did you find this process?

Mia: We have never collaborated before except in our job where we met, if that counts. I found the process for this exhibit to be pretty seamless and fun. I think Daniel and I were able to make decisions throughout and grow and learn in a productive and eye-opening way. The work that resulted was like nothing we’ve made before.

Daniel: I have tried working in collaborations in the past, usually as a pairing of different skill sets and a shared artistic narrative. Mia and I met while working for someone else, which in a sense was a collaborative effort. Like architecture, once the work moves to a certain scale it needs a lot of different people having their hand in it. This process was a lot of fun. When we presented our idea to Sasaki, we knew that we both appreciate each other and each other’s work, but not much more. We also wanted to show our work next to each other, like we have presented on the first and last walls of the exhibit. It is almost like looking at my work through a new lens when I now see it next to something of Mia’s. Being able to draw those connections made it possible for us to pull together the new work we presented in the middle of the exhibition.

Q: What are some of the challenges or advantages of working with another artist?

D: My challenge was that I didn’t want to get in Mia’s way. I had a fear that, because we were using paint, it was going to look like I was making Mia’s work or make her direct me on how to make her work. I appreciate the quality of her work so much that it was a challenge to wrap my head around sharing a canvas with her. It was hard for me to make decisions alone; in the beginning I thought I needed approval of each color I was about to use. Once she told me to stop asking her confirmation, our conversations became more about the narratives of each work. When we started making up the stories behind each piece, it became clear what we both were doing.

M: As an artist, you’ve been making work a certain way for X number of years and that is instantly switched up—which I think is good. Also when artists work alone they don’t necessarily have to vocalize their decisions and feelings about the work, which becomes more important when you are working with another person.

Q: It’s very interesting how—individually—the pieces can be attributed to one of you with relative ease, but as a collection it flows almost seamlessly. Did you have the concept for this exhibit before or did it grow organically? In other words, did the idea of “work in progress” precede or result from your process?

M: Some of the leg work we had to do before the exhibition—taking scans, coming up with a concept, and printing the materials. Because we knew we would be creating the actual work at Sasaki, Work in Progress felt like an appropriate title from the start.

D: We proposed the framework in which we would put the show together: a collection or pairing of our previous work, a studio space that we would work in and guests could inhabit, and a new body of self-portraits we would compose together. The first few days after our install, I don’t think anyone knew what was going to end up in the exhibition. Once we arranged the components and materials we kind of let it grow organically. A lot of the pieces have multiple names, which came from our process of reworking individual components of them to revamping entire narratives along the way, a lot of which sprung from comments of people walking by while we were working. A few weeks later is when passersby started asking “is this done yet?” and we were also questioning if it was.

Q: In your description, you say that “work in progress” can act as a “safety net around something we are not yet sure how to talk about.” Can you expand on this? Are there pieces of this exhibit that you are not sure how to talk about?

M: I think that the statement reflected our process. Because the work was being made in the space in real time, our hope was to highlight the fact that the work was perhaps not fully realized yet. I think now that the work is made and we’ve have some space from it, we could talk about the pieces.

D: I think it is OK to make something, have a conversation about it, and then change something about the work or change how it is that you talk about it; I think this is most clear when you take the time to read the names [of the pieces]. The names “Dumpster Twins / Toolbox Twins” changed because of two different interactions we had on site.

It is a strange feeling being a visitor in a space but also having control over what is going to be happening in it.

One of the first times we felt really comfortable that was when someone stopped by and started to have a conversation with us because they had the same tool box as Mia. Once we started feeling a bit too comfortable in the building, we spent some time being a bit mischievous, rummaging through the dumpsters for scrap materials that caught our eye—a mutual passion. While the work itself didn’t change much between those two interactions, the way we interpreted it did.

Q: Where does the living room furniture factor in?

M: Daniel and I wanted to create a fictional joint studio. We literally combined our favorite objects that we like to be surrounded by in our studios or homes. We needed a couch for sitting of course and found that one on Craigslist. We have very similar sensibilities regarding what objects we find beautiful and that couch spoke to both of us. We still have to decide who will keep it.

D: We really wanted to set up the show in a way that even if we weren’t there, viewers would get a sense of who we were—first through the work, and then in the living room (which we call the studio). It is a kind of way to introduce the blending ourselves. We wanted to offer an experience reminiscent of walking into either of our studios where we would informally show you our work and our process. In that space there is a lot of things that inspire us, our collections, things we have made that we don’t necessarily consider art that we would exhibit, things we plan on using in the future, and materials common to our respective studios. All of it together in that space creates an installation of a hyper-real, albeit fictional, shared studio space that we inhabited for the duration of our time in the gallery.

Q: What guiding principles and similar sentiments behind your work are you referring to in your artist statement?

M: This sort of goes back to the couch. I really appreciate Daniel’s aesthetic and I think he likes mine too. We see beauty in a lot of the same places. One day, we spent a half hour on the couch ogling at a Gucci catalogue. I think that it’s clear on the first gallery wall in how well our work pairs… maybe even better than we initially thought! We have a similar appreciation for color, process, form and storytelling.

Q: Who or what are your inspirations?

M: 1: Daniel. 2: Stuff. 3: Nature. 4: Paint. 5: People. I hope it’s not too corny, but I do draw inspiration from everything everywhere. I can’t help it-—everything is so incredible!

D: 1: Mia. 2: Materials. 3: Storytelling. I love telling stories and then having the power to make an object and embed information into each decision of making. Sometimes it is about designing the process and sometimes it is about making the object.

Q: Where do you see your art going in the future? What would you like to explore?

M: I would like to do another collaboration with Daniel and expand upon our existing ideas. Maybe do some collaborative sculpture. In my own studio I want to continue to create work I’m proud of and share it in new cities.

D: We both have such a large body of work outside of what we were able to show at Sasaki. I would be really happy if we were able to do this again and see what we could do in three dimensions. I think for this show we were excited to explore the idea of portraiture, but it would be interesting to see what else could come out of a collaboration together.

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