Rising Phoenix Judge Cristian Andersson
Hello everyone! As you may have seen from the title of this piece, as well as the featured image attached, The Shepard is dedicating individual blog posts to our Rising Phoenix Judges! Readers of the issue only get a glimpse of the judge as they are provided with a biography and some comments about the winning piece for the respective genre, but on this blog, we want to give our readers the opportunity to get to know these judges on a personal level. First up: Cristian Andersson, the Rising Phoenix Judge for the Visual Arts genre.
Cristian Andersson is a painter and performance artist working in Appleton, Wisconsin. He attended Columbia College Chicago from 1996–99, and then at UW-Green Bay from 2010–13, receiving his BA in studio and design arts. He primarily works with two different series: his Symphonic Series, which are abstract oil painting soundscapes based off of contemporary classical music, and the narrative work of Social Amnesia, which encompass paintings, installation, performance, and video work–sprawling with ideas of forgotten histories, a current state of being that is both overwhelmed and isolated, and a tenuous future as a result. Along with exhibiting work, he curates local exhibitions, teaches classes to teens and adults, facilitates a cultural program working with individuals living with memory loss and their care partners, and has co-founded fsm., a monthly printed local arts journal.
What projects are you currently working on?
There are three things that I am currently working on. First are a series of paintings that are destined for an autumn exhibition at the Center for the Visual Arts in Wausau, Wis. They are a part of my Symphonic Series of works, in which I place the auditory elements of contemporary classical music, along with any notations I can find written by the composer, into what I call static soundscapes. The ones that I am working on right now translate from the piece Kraanerg by the Greek composer Iannis Xenakis. I enjoy working collaboratively, and thinking of how artistic forms can directly affect each other. In fact, I often find myself with the small part of middleman, as the work I am hearing and the work before me seems to be much more involved in the process. I just feel like I am a translator between the two.
The next project, which has many moving parts, is an arts journal that I have co-created with a frequent collaborator of mine called fsm. We put out seven issues in print, and foresee being able to distribute freely again soon. There is also a website, a series of interviews on YouTube, and soon, a podcast. We felt that there was a need to highlight some of the amazing artistic happenings going on in our community, events that at times are overlooked because they are not heavily publicized or talked about. We aren’t covering a show at the PAC, for example, because there are plenty of places that are interested in talking about that. Instead, we have reviews about more challenging gallery exhibitions, socially conscious essays about art and community, etc. We make this publicly accessible and freely available because we strongly believe that the arts are here for everyone, and that we should not compromise an artistic voice to make it understood, but instead show offer ways of educating those who may be interested in ways to approach what may seem opaque.
Final project is a part of my other ongoing series, my Social Amnesia works. These are multi-disciplinary pieces, all focused on communication in the contemporary age–how it is both used and abused. The piece I’m working on, informally called sound silos, includes a series of parabolic speakers that hang down in the gallery space, each emitting an isolating message to those directly under them, which is different than what comes out of the other speakers. There is a large video projection, which everyone can witness simultaneously. The piece is about how the different messages that are funneled through our sound silos may drastically change the interpretation of what we are all seeing collectively. I’ve been fumbling around with this piece for about a year, and hope to have it completed for an exhibition at the Trout Museum of Art in Appleton, Wis. late this year. Or maybe it is early next year.
Did any of the Rising Phoenix selections inspire anything new for you?
The piece that I awarded with the Rising Phoenix absolutely made me consider how I can flatten pictorial space in the video mentioned above. Whereas I was considering a more traditional cinematic approach to the background of the video, the way that the student used patterning has made me reconsider the idea. There is something about taking away the perceived deep space when thinking conceptually about the video I’m working on, similar to the image that the student entered in for the Sheepshead. You cannot really look past the main subject. That idea is very relevant to what I’m working on.
What made you decide to judge the Rising Phoenix contest for this issue?
First off, I’ve also been a fan of the journal, and participated in it a number of times both as a student and then after graduation. From this experience, I know that it can be exciting to have your work represented in print. I also know that as an emerging artist that there is value in having your work actively looked at, considered, appreciated. Especially from someone who is outside of the circle of friends, family, and those at the university. I may never meet the people who created the images I was given to consider for the Rising Phoenix award, but I want them to know that I did take time with their work and that I appreciate that they took the initiative to want to be a part of the process by creating and sharing it. I decided that I wanted to be a judge because I value this exchange.
What made you decide to pursue the arts as a career? Did anyone inspire you? How did you overcome criticism or people who doubted you?
As cliché as it is to say “I had to,” well, I kinda had to. I was doing pretty well for myself in a more culturally conventional job up until the moment where I realized that my mental health required me to do something that was more in line with how I viewed myself. Up until then, I would sit in meetings and wonder how I had gotten into the line of work I was in. I certainly learned a lot from that time in my life, and it has helped me in many ways in my art career. I will always appreciate that. I view the arts as any other job out there. A painter, poet, dancer…they are all bringing intrinsic value to society. Once I came to that realization, the permission to give myself the ability to be a part of the creative class became much easier.
Many people have inspired me on this journey. My father was an artist, and that certainly was of impact. I am continuously inspired by those who find ways to see the arts through the lens of other disciplines–science, politics, etc. I firmly believe that the arts should be at the table when there is serious discussions about society, ethics, climate and when artists have the ability and understanding that their thoughts and solutions are just as valid as anyone else’s? Whew. That person has helped me continue in the arts because they have reinforced why this all matters. I’ve definitely had doubters in my life try to impress upon me that going into the arts isn’t a serious profession. It comes down to being honest as to what success looks like to you. I am very aware that I am not going to have the same level of financial success that I could if I chose a different path. And, perhaps people will roll their eyes (internally and/or externally) when I say what I do for a living. But, that is just it. I make art for a living. The values I place in self-exploration, discovery, sharing, teaching, inspiring…those things can be all checkboxes in how I understand success.
What elements inspire your writing?
In my Social Amnesia work, it is our relationship to technology, how we choose to use and be used by it, and how we relate to each through it. The careful crafting of online personas became a performance piece. The over consumption of news and social media became a large installation. The sound silo work is about tech’s direct influence on us and how it impacts how we see our world. I’m extremely curious about artificial intelligence and wanting to make work about that. Not…here is a painting made by AI, but instead, here is how we are creating relationships with AI (sometimes unwittingly) and what is the impact of that.
I am also inspired by artists who work cross-disciplinary and collaboratively on a project. While I completely understand the idea of focusing down on your work–finding a method of creation and sticking with it–I think that we may be doing ourselves a disservice to say “I’m a painter. I’m an opera singer. I’m a filmmaker.” and not challenge ourselves by proclaiming “I’m an artist” and finding the medium that works best for the message and, even more excitingly, asking others to join in to help realize it.
Do you have any advice for those who want to pursue a career in the arts?
I was watching an online conversation earlier today with William Kentridge. At some point he said: “Ignorance is a good starting point.” In many contexts, ignorance is a negative. And, because that statement seemed so paradoxical, I noted it and have been thinking about it. Ignorance is a state of unknowing. It is a point of innocence. Ignorance is also necessary for enlightenment. And enlightenment is where we can discover a new truth. So, to all of those art students out there I suggest to be comfortable not knowing how any of this is going to end up. Don’t know your style. Don’t start a project that you have so completely mapped out that it becomes tediously boring by the time you finish it. Don’t say I’m a painter or a poet. Instead, be open to learning and having your assumptions proved wrong. Don’t have a detailed map of everywhere you are going to go, but instead open up some strange looking door into a room that you are completely unsure of and just walk in. Start your art career with a healthy dose of this sort of ignorance. You have an entire lifetime of discovery ahead of you and if you go in with all of the answers, you may miss the big questions. And, stop saying art is hard.