Katherine Tzu-Lan Mann is a Washington, DC – based painter who works primarily on paper. She received her BA from Brown University and MFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art. She is the recipient of a Fulbright grant to Taiwan, the AIR Gallery Fellowship program in Brooklyn, NY, and the So-Hamiltonian Fellowship in Washington, DC. She has participated as an artist in residence at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Vermont Studio Center, Salzburg Kunstlerhauss, Triangle Workshop and Anderson Ranch Art Center residencies, and will take part in the Bemis Center residency program later this year. Mann is currently an instructor at the Maryland Institute College of Art.
Blue Sky Project is a summer experience that empowers professional artists from around the world and local youth to collaborate and build community through the creation of ambitious works of contemporary art and performance. Katherine Mann participated in the Blue Sky Project in 2009 and is now one of six returning resident artist who have come back to the program for the summer of 2012. I had the opportunity to sit down with Katherine and discuss her work and experiences.
Philip Titlebaum: What was it that initially drew you to Blue Sky Project?
Katherine Mann: I heard about Blue Sky Project when I was in grad school. I think I just found it on a listing online and I liked the idea of doing something in the community. Before that I had done a couple community projects but didn’t think of myself as a community oriented artist. I mostly kind of just stuck to myself in the studio. Working by yourself in the studio can be really great and your work changes as you take risks on your own but my work has always been about introducing incongruous elements into a larger environment and it seemed like the perfect way to do that was by using other people to help me make the work. Introducing high school students into the work sounded like a really interesting challenge and it was. It was great.
PT: Could you briefly discuss your 2009 Blue Sky experience?
KM: I came there with one project idea, which was to make a large painting essentially. We finished that and we had all this extra time on our hands. The idea of the painting project was that I’m interested in pattern and abstraction so I sent all these kids out into the community and we built our own patterns and abstractions from sketching and looking at patterns of leaves and bricks and whatever else was out there in the wide world and then brought all those together and placed them into a larger painting that ended up being twenty-five feet long using a lot of print making. In the end that piece looked very much like my work but it had all these other voices in it. They all kind of came together and it was a really strong painting. But since we had this extra time, we began looking at the space we were supposed to exhibit in and they had this big pit in the middle of the building. Since my process has always incorporated pouring; I’ll begin paintings by pouring inks and water and allowing them to dry and then building on top of that and using that sort of as a skeleton of a larger abstract painting, so it seemed like I should do this on a really grand scale. This pit was about sixty by thirty feet in diameter so why not make something that large and have the kids work together with me to make something that felt truly immersive. That initial idea then got grabbed onto by a bunch of the other artists especially Rodney [Veal], the choreographer and dancer and it turned into all of these other projects.
KM: The pit projects began with two collaborative dance and painting performances, where the process of pouring paint into this giant architectural space became performative, with dancers in the same space and the act of pouring paint becoming choreographed. We poured gallons and gallons of paint into that pit, then allowed it to dry and painted on top of that. We ended up with a huge wall and floor drawing, but one in which the process of pouring and dancing was integral.
PT: What effect did that experience have on you as an artist?
KM: I think it made my work stronger. It made me understand that my work doesn’t have to only be painting; I can expand into other mediums and it’ll still be my work. It also allowed me to understand that when you’re working with a bunch of other people somebody’s going to make a move that I don’t personally like and that I’ll cringe at but eventually all of that can come together. Since my work is so much about systems anyway, there ought to be some parts of the painting that make me cringe. Everything shouldn’t work seamlessly. I’m not interested in a seamless painting, I’m interested in a fragmented painting that has elements of poetry and lyricism but then other jarring elements as well. Working with other people really did that, especially going out of my comfort zone and working with other artists including sound, dance, choreography, and installation.
PT: How has this year been different?
KM: It’s more solitary, I’m not working with the kids but I am still working with the same dancer, with Rodney. Everything that I said about 2009 is still true this year, I just have more time on my own. It’s more like other traditional residencies that artists are used to in which you have a lot of solitary alone time; the time and the space to make work, which is in and of itself a gift, plus the risk taking ability that Blue Sky has. The only thing that’s missing is the kids, which is too bad, but they’ll be back.
PT: Can you speak a little about what to expect at your upcoming exhibition on June 27?
KM: They’ll get to see the installation that I’m creating for Rodney to dance in; the beginning of a collaboration that I’ll be doing with Rodney and Shaw Pong [Liu]; so a painter, a chorographer/dancer, and a sound artist, beginning with me. I’m creating this environment that the dancers and sound will become a part of. We’ll see the beginnings of that environment. I’ll install a twenty-five or thirty foot cut paper installation that will be hanging in the space. Essentially what people will see is the work that I’ve done in June.
PT: Is there anything you’d like to leave people with?
KM: I’m really happy with the work that I’ve done over the last couple weeks. Even what I was saying before about taking risks and moving into new mediums in 2009, when I was here with Blue Sky, I’ve still always thought of myself very much as a painter and a two-dimensional thinker, so this new piece that will be exhibited on June 27 is going to be my first foray into real three-dimensionality. I’m working with a lot of cut, filigreed paper that’s kind of folded in on itself and hung so that it sways and moves in a three-dimensional manner. That’s something that people should check out.
“New Works by Katherine Mann” is an exhibition that is free and open to the public. It will take place on Wednesday, June 27 from 5:00 – 8:00 PM at 8 North Main Street, Dayton, Ohio. The work also comprises 1/3rd of a collaboration with choreographer Rodney Veal and sound artist Shaw Pong Liu, which will be performed August 10 & 11 at 8 North Main Street, Dayton, Ohio. “New Works by Katherine Mann” can be seen by appointment through August 1 by calling Blue Sky Project @ 937.732.5123.
(Submitted by Philip Titlebaum, an intern with Blue Sky Project)