Catie Newell is an environmental installation artist offering a visual conversation between a crumbling industrial city and it's ignored demise. Newell is small in stature countered by her enormous undertaking of making Art that makes you listen. Salvaged Landscape is an intricate installation of burned timbers from an arson Detroit home. Deterioration has smothered Detroit, met with turned heads and submission. Newell's piece stands in contradiction, showing the scars and destruction while standing in its cube like perfection. Once inside the installation blackness engulfs the walls but can't keep out the constellation of lights that stream from the holes in the wall. Salvaged landscape is a haunting, thoughtful, impeccably executed success. DT: Catie you live and work in Detroit Michigan where there has been a slow deterioration of Industrial culture. How has this influenced your work?
CN: Two ways: First, there is a long history and diverse ability for fabrication in the city of Detroit. There is an ever-present awareness to making, assembly, and material. This supports and resonates with projects that are heavily invested in fabrication with a shared ethos and determination. Secondly, the deterioration both of the industries and even more so their physical presence leaves its remnants. I get a lot of inspiration from existing volumes and materials of this once industrial city. Though the industry may have gone away, the buildings, structures, and products that were created remain and continue to define the character of the city. I can’t help but respond to it.
DT: What is the unifying thread in your installations? (What angle do you start with, the visual or the conversation it provokes?)
CN: All of my installations are unified with the endeavor to manipulate existing volumes through the clever assemblage of materials to develop a new atmosphere that inquisitively pulls at its occupation. My last 3 large installations (Weatherizing, Salvaged Landscape, and Second Story) capture and disrupt domestic spaces. All the works were once-residences.
I am always trying to create a new space. By working directly with the material in the space, one begins to see how all these factors will behave (and surprise) when assembled together. I am drawn greatly to the scale of the human. Forcing the viewer to move through it, and be consumed by the installations atmosphere.
DT: Your work is just as much about "process" that it is about the end result. Expound on what you experience in the process.
CN: In terms of my experience within the process, it is necessary to remain agile. The work I do is very hands on. And given some of the materials... I have to remain alert and reactionary. Willing, and wanting to embrace the unexpected. No doubt my work takes great time. While I have overall designs and intentions of each installation, often times the space (at full-scale) drive the outcome.
I take risks with my work, I work within existing (and often ailing) spaces, I can acknowledge that the space itself is already amidst an ongoing story and even formation. Embracing that provides me with the chance to realize my work contributes it's history. Salvaged Landscape is definitely the strongest example of that. Its entire existence, process, and even afterlife continues to be an unfolding story.
With "Salvaged Landscape" it was the material of the house, the charred wood, its beautiful bulbous black texture that immediately drew my attention. It was a fascinating condition upon a familiar material. It was the material that created the volumes that were once a residence. That realization stuck with me,... contributing new spaces or rooms to the house could only exist because it had been set ablaze.
All your works are in public spaces, what has been the reaction to your work from the local community? (support, annoyance, dumbstruck)?
Interestingly, within these domestic spaces..they were in fact very private spaces. In their new life, after abandonment and even mischievous occupancy, they are now public. And so the work does receive interesting reactions from the local community. My installations generally receive the dumbstruck reaction; taking familiar spaces and making them unreal. There is also a great support that comes from doing something for the space. In other words, that there is care, energy and creativity being put towards a building that has otherwise been left for dead. DT: What do you feel is the present directive in art? (examples of artists from your generation/peers you find contributing to the conversation)
CN: We are in a time that leaves us surrounded by ailing conditions, abandoned houses, roughed up cities, and anxious thoughts. For me, designing and making anything completely new seems ridiculous, and out of context. I find that art must respond to this condition, not gawk at it, but to work towards doing something productive. It calls for a physical and social responsibility.It is not to say art is the fix., but it is...insightful.
I would place peers like Mitch Cope and Gina Reichert of Design.99 also within this attitude. Their work embodies an artistic and intelligent reaction that they see within their own neighborhood. They are doers; a charge to all artists.
DT: Are you working on and upcoming project we should look out for?
CN: Yes. Salvaged Landscape has yet another addition to its life. ( Salvaged Landscape is being hosted at the GRAM for ArtPrize 2011). Second Story (another Newell instalation) is at Extension Gallery’s in Archeworks in downtown Chicago. Wes McGee, and I are working on a project we are calling Glass Cast. Using reconfigurable slumping beds and glass blowing molds. This work is being supported by the Taubman College of Architecolumesture and Urban Planning’s Research Through Making Grant.
Watch the rough cut of Stephen McGee's film about Catie's month-long project at Imagination Station, Salvaged Landscape, here on DT. Or head over to the Salvaged Landscape page on Catie's site for more images.