2017/18 Jerome Fellow Interview: Alyssa Baguss | Minneapolis College of Art and Design

2017/18 Jerome Fellow Interview: Alyssa Baguss

By Melanie Pankau on April 23, 2018
Dead Reckoning, 2015, Plumb line marking chalk on gallery walls, Soo Visual Art Center, Minneapolis ; Alyssa Baguss
Alyssa Baguss

In this interview, Alyssa Baguss discusses her interest in mapping unknown places and how the navigation of digital and natural environments influences her studio practice.

You mention your practice examines digital “wanderlust.” Could you tell us more about what this means to you and how this concept drives your work?

Wanderlust is the strong or irresistible impulse to travel and explore. It is often driven by the desire to escape and leave behind the familiar to experience the unknown world. The internet has allowed us to wander to unfamiliar lands never having to leave the comfort and safety of our homes. I’m interested in this constant desire to be somewhere else or engaged in something different. Our phones offer us the ability to do this anywhere at any time. Place is always present in my work. Real and imaginary. It drives my choice of materials, process, and presentation.

Maps and mapping seem like a constant thread throughout your work. Could you talk about how you became interested in maps and why is this exploration/navigation of the environment important to you?

I attribute my strong sense of place and interest in navigation to growing up in rural Iowa. It was nothing but wide open spaces and we drove long distances to get anywhere. I knew that landscape like it was my own skin. When my family would travel, I would want to be the one holding the map. I knew where we were, how long it would take to get to our destination and gave me a third person point of view of the world.

Now I use my phone to guide me to my destinations. I often arrive at places not being quite sure how I got there. It’s an odd sense of detachment to the experience. I try to capture this feeling of environmental detachment in my work by using satellite mapping data. The maps and imagery in my work leave clues to where you might be but it’s never really apparent what or where you are looking at. I want my audience to question how they really know where they are.

Your work moves from large-scale installations to intimate drawings. How do you determine what scale to make your work at? How does the relationship of scale as both maker and viewer affect the meaning or interpretation of your work?  

I love to play with scale in my work. One moment I’m enveloping my viewer in a piece that makes them feel like they are entirely somewhere else and in the next, I’m drawing them into a precious little land specimen in a shadow box. I enjoy balancing the work formally and conceptually between the intimate and the foreign.

I’ll be completely honest, I also just find it rewarding to create a small piece in a short period of time. Smaller pieces allow you to work through an idea more quickly and feel accomplished. 

What was the last work of art or exhibition you encountered that was influential and why?

The last exhibition that left me running for my studio was Merce Cunningham: Common Time at the Walker Art Center in 2017. I initially had strong reservations about navigating seven galleries of Merce Cunningham and I certainly didn’t expect for it to have such a strong influence on my collaboratory work. About half of my artistic practice involves site-specific participatory projects through collaboration with scientists, engineers, and performing artists. This exhibition gave me new insight into my practice and inspired me to consider new ways of creating cross-disciplinary work.

How has winning the Jerome fellowship affected and/or changed your work?

I’ve spent the last few years wishing I had more time to research and play with ideas that I’ve had to place on hold due to a lack of time. The fellowship has allowed me to return to these moments of inspiration I thought I’d never get back to. It’s been a very long time since I’ve played this hard with materials and content. It is such a luxury and I feel so grateful. And let’s be real, the financial support is fantastic. Hustling to keep your artistic practice solvent is stressful and stress is a creativity killer.  

If you could describe your work in one word, what would it be?


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