10 Questions: Anna Neighbor

To Make Something, 2011. Wood, glaze, newsprint photograph, rock, 37 x 21 x71 inches

10 Questions is a recurring feature that asks artists and other cultural figures about their work, lives, and personal insights into the contemporary art world.

Anna Neighbor is a Philadelphia-based artist who teaches in Moore College of Art & Design‘s Photography and Digital Arts Department. She is curating work with other artist colleagues for 9 Perspectives on a Photography Collection at the Arthur Ross Gallery through January 27,  and she is exhibiting her work in the group exhibition Refuse and Reuse: Language for the Common Landfill at the Icebox Gallery in the Crane Arts building from November 18 to November 28.

1. Where are you finding ideas for your work these days?

Ideas are tricky. My process used to be very idea-oriented, with the idea coming first and the work predictably following suit. But something shifted, and fully-realized ideas stopped coming. I now don’t have ideas as much as I do hunches. If I keep looking up at the sky, it is probably time to make something about why we look up at the sky. If I keep distractedly putting my finger on my pulse though it irks me, it is probably time to think about what a pulse is and what it can represent. If I keep picking things up off the ground that have been discarded, it is probably time to start thinking about working with readymades. While the origin of the piece might come from the gut, it cannot be all that. I work very hard at honing my awareness of what I am reacting to and why, and this helps me rein in what could otherwise be a very schizophrenic studio practice.

2. What’s your art world pet peeve?

I am incredibly ambitious in my studio but not in my art-world career, so am not really in a position to hold pet peeves. I believe strongly that if you are dedicated, make genuine work, steep yourself in the things that fire you up, share your work with people and spaces you respect, and be generous likewise, opportunities will open up. The most common complaint I hear about the art world (meaning NYC and LA — there are, of course, many other “art worlds”) is that it is too exclusive and too moneyed. Yes, and yes. But it is just a community, like any other community, and succumbs to the same tribal lunchroom like-mindedness that most communities do. Fortunately, the non-commercial art world has expanded greatly in the last decade, and it has become much easier for artists to find communities within the art world that share their values as artists, or create their own. There has also been a rise in smaller, scrappier commercial galleries that seem to operate in the grayer areas as well.

3. Who is an artist that you think hasn’t received enough recognition?

Recognition is overrated.

4. What’s your favorite place to see art?

No favorite place. If the work is good, I am happy to be there.

5. What’s the last show to surprise you? Why?

Anish Kapoor’s Memory at NYC Guggenheim (2010), and Lee Ufan there as well in 2011. Utterly astonishing in their ability to elicit and make apparent what it is to be human in this world with the simplest (at least on the surface) of forms and gestures. The illusion of infinite vacuousness in Kapoor’s piece, and the emotional matter-of-factness in Ufan’s work are stunning. I have revisited those exhibitions many times in my head.

6. What’s the weirdest thing you ever saw happen in a museum or gallery?

Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed looking at Roni Horn’s Still Water. I found it very strange that somehow a black vortex of amazingness didn’t open up underneath them and swallow us all up.

7. What’s the worst piece of art you’ve ever made?

There’s actually nothing I’ve put out there that I’m embarrassed by. But there are certainly works I’ve moved past, so to speak. Past the idea or sentiment that swept me up and generated the work. As artists, our ideas just continue to evolve and sometimes that evolution creates a disconnect with past work, though we may understand it rationally in terms of how it relates to what came before and after. That said, there are plenty of things I’ve opted not to put out into the world, and am confident that they should remain in my studio, if even.

8. What’s the last great book you read?

John Fowles collection of short stories The Ebony Tower, and specifically within that the last story, The Cloud. I read this a few years ago now, and it still stands as the best thing I’ve read in that time. Nothing and everything happens, with beautiful and unnerving subtlety. Two of the other stories are about artists — one a writer and one a painter — and he does an amazing job of ruminating on the confidences and insecurities of making and putting things out into the world.

9. What’s your guilty pleasure?

Fart jokes with my daughter. And while I think the album is terrible, I just can’t get enough of Snoop Dogg’s Rastafarian reincarnation as Snoop Lion.

10. What’s an idea for a work of art that you’ve thought about making but never will?

Never say never. It is my job as a teacher to say that (though my hope to one day recreate a life-size portion of Stonehenge protruding out of a gallery wall could put that to the test right well).

About Anna:

Anna Neighbor is interested in making manifest the suppressed yet essential concerns surrounding existence and mortality. Utilizing materials and methods such as rubbings, imprints, photographic images, videos, mirrors, and using simple gestures that often take the form of the trace, her work lays bare the basic driving forces of making, keeping, and losing. Her intent is not to create a new, lived spectacle for the viewer, but rather to create works that function as shadows or reflections of lived experience. She recently had a two-person exhibition at Greenlease Gallery in Kansas City, a solo exhibition at Vox Populi in Philadelphia, and a solo exhibition at the Samuel S. Fleisher Art Memorial in Philadelphia. She lives in Philadelphia and teaches photography at the University of Pennsylvania and Moore College of Art and Design.


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