This week WPA brings you a Q&A with Melissa Messina and Katie Wat, jurors of current exhibition Interwoven: Art.Craft.Design. on view now at Arlington Arts Center. Melissa Messina is Senior Curator of SCAD Exhibitions (Savannah College of Art and Design); Kathryn Wat is Chief Curator, National Museum of Women in the Arts.

WPA: Thanks for talking with us! So first off, how did you find the artists for this show?

Melissa Messina: After Stefanie Fedor, who is the Executive Director here at Arlington Arts Center, and I developed the theme we invited Katie Wat to co-jury, and then AAC put out a call for submissions. We held our breath waiting to see if we'd get a substantive response, and we did!

WPA: What were you looking for as you were looking through work?

Messina: Katie and I were looking for work that was not only fine art or craft or design, but had elements of all three. Of course, quality is of paramount importance, especially when selecting from digital images.

Katie Wat: Honestly, I looked for what I always tend to look for: works that surprise me and make me think about the topic at hand in a different way. If I see a subject or a certain application of materials repeat over and over among submissions, I confess that I become a bit numb to those. Our selections for Interwoven, correspondingly, extend across a broad range of subject matter and an expansive array of media.

WPA: In what ways is DIY culture important to the show and to you personally?

Wat: DIY has certainly been in the contemporary art ether for the past few years, so I wasn’t surprised to see it among the submissions to Interwoven. Like just about everyone else, I've been watching artists like Oscar Tuazon recently. While there are certainly artists in Interwoven who embrace similar materials  - plywood, tubing, netting, and commercial paint, for example - I see DIY as more of an attitude or outlook that comes through in so many works in the show, regardless of media. It’s a passionately free-thinking and fairly sassy world view.

Messina: I'll start with why it is important to me personally... So much of what is considered DIY in the art world has feminist roots and that is one of my personal interests. So much great art was formerly relegated to the realm of the domestic and craft - "women's work." What much of the public do not realize is were it not for the feminist art movement, much of what we see in contemporary museums and galleries today wouldn't be presented and/or collected at all. For instance, it took years for fibers-based work to be taken seriously as a "fine art" medium. Likewise, even ten to fifteen years ago, the design, craft, and fine art worlds were more delineated and separate. Now there is a deeper understanding of how one discipline informs the other. Entire museums are dedicated to it. And art is better for it.

This merging has infiltrated all creative practices: artistic, curatorial, and academic. I wanted to re-explore this concept by seeing which - and how many - artists would respond to the call, what work Katie and I would collectively select, and present it in a place like AAC where they were willing to take a risk on the outcome.

WPA: Do you see a thematic or common subject matter in the show? What does the work as a whole communicate to you?

Messina: Again, I think the common denominator in the show comes from the "trifecta" we sought work that has roots in fine art, craft, and design. One will see unique takes on glass, woodworking, and knitting, in addition to some really interesting dialogs about painting, photography, and sculpture. We also have video, animation, graphic design, and sometimes a combination of several of these mediums in one piece.

Wat: We took the title of the show seriously and, clearly, so did the artists. I was amazed by the range of media, subjects, and scale among the submissions, and I think that’s indicative of contemporary art today. The old modernist dichotomy between fine art and craft and even between conceptual art and more hand-worked objects has just dissolved. Works in Interwoven are simultaneously painstakingly designed, immaculately crafted, witty and brainy, and also visually compelling.

WPA: What do you hope audiences will understand about this show or what would you like them to take away from it?

Messina:  When an artist uses something like the skin of a paint tray, a balloon, or public signage in their art, it offers the audience a way in. It is something familiar and therefore more comfortable. When these objects are used in a considered and well-executed way, the outcome moves beyond its materiality and into the realm of art. By presenting art that engages with the history of fine art and also investigates design principles and craft aesthetics, I believe it offers a greater opportunity for engagement.

WPA: Why is cross-disciplinary work important to contemporary art dialogue?

Wat: I think many folks in my business used to worry that digitalization and/or globalization might flatten or homogenize cultural expressions. Sometimes, frankly, it seems that they do. What I’ve also experienced, however, is that cross-disciplinary processes, by their very nature, can yield sharp, intriguing, provocative works. And that is what Interwoven celebrates.

WPA: What importance or message to you think this show brings to the art world at large? And to artists as individuals? To the public, even?

Wat: While this is not exactly a new idea, I think this show vividly demonstrates that the full scope of contemporary art extends far beyond the materials and tools you can buy at an art supply store.

Messina: To the art world - I'd like for it to discover some new names and ideas. I hope this show will be a platform for some of the emerging artists in the show. There are some future art stars in the mix! To artists, I hope it fosters greater experimentation and further blurring of boundaries. To the public, well, I just hope they come!

WPA: What was it like working with AAC?

Wat: AAC is my latest art-world crush. Their can-do attitude and devotion to artists is phenomenal. I’m embarrassingly easy to discourage. We looked at some submissions, and I’d say, “That is so cool, but it would be impossible to install, right?” And Stefanie Fedor would respond, “Let me call the artist. I’m sure we can figure it out.” And every work I was worried about is in the show and beautifully installed.

Messina: AAC was amazing. The staff there is stellar. It is hard for curators to select work and say "Okay, see you at the reception." They made some beautiful placement decisions and groupings. I know they worked hard and like most non-profits have to function with MacGyver-like maneuvering, but the show looks amazing and polished. Their dedication and commitment to the exhibition really shows!

Interwoven runs through March 24, 2013 at Arlington Arts Center. For more information on the exhibition, click here.

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January 24, 2013