|Emma Lee Running|
Where did you grow up and what were any early influences on your work? Where do you live now?
I grew up in Denver Colorado. In high school I worked for a sculptor, Jefferson Rubin, and also for The Bloomsbury Review a great book review magazine. From Jefferson I learned a lot about the daily life of being an artist, and the Bloomsbury Review exposed me to a remarkable community of writers and thinkers. Both of these experiences were instrumental in me wanting to lead a creative life.
Site specific installation. Project Space. The Charlotte Street Foundation Urban Culture Project, Kansas City, MO. Front windows of the installation. Cut vinyl on glass. 82 X 60 inches.
I got my BFA at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, working as a studio assistant for many great artists, including Ann Messner, Emiko Kasahara, and Grimanesa Amoros. I also worked at Dieu Donne Papermill, which was my first introduction to the world of hand papermaking and the New York gallery scene. I moved to Iowa to work at The University of Iowa Center for the book in 2001, and got my MFA in sculpture from UIowa in 2005. I live in Iowa where I’m an Associate Professor at Grinnell College.
Detail of vinyl on glass
I think I’ve wanted to live a creative life for as long as I can remember. As a child I wrote a lot, and attended a high school for performing arts in Denver where I wrote, performed in plays, and made art. When I applied to college I knew I wanted to be in New York. I had a lot of ideas about what that life would be like, some of which were true. I studied for a semester in Amsterdam in 1997. Being in another country where I knew no one and didn’t speak the language taught me an enormous amount about being alone with my work. I also saw a tremendous amount of art while I was there. Sensation was up in London, Documenta and the Munster Sculpture Project were happening in Germany, and when I was in Amsterdam I went to the Stedelik Museum ALL the time. It was the first time I’d seen work by Nan Goldin, Rebecca Horn, William Kentridge, Jenny Saville, and Rachel Whiteread. I remember thinking I didn’t know art could be like this and wanting so much to be a part of that world.
|Intimate Structures, 2010|
5X6 feet. Cut paper, graphite and wheat paste
I make installations and drawings. I was trained as a papermaker, and though I don’t make all of my own paper these days, the aesthetics of that practice inform a great deal of what I do. I often print or paint directly on the walls and windows of the spaces I work in. Lately I’ve been working a lot with cut vinyl stencils.
Detail of cut paper drawing and graphite print.
My current work is looking at patterns that exist in the natural world. I’m very interested in botanical form. I’m also particularly interested in systems and structures that are similar in micro and macroscopic scale, such as the way the veins in a leaf mimic those in our bodies and also a river system seen from space.
|Intimate Structures, 2010. Detail|
I teach at Grinnell College and have a studio space there. I also work site specifically, so most pieces come together on location. Sometimes my car and my laptop are as much my studio as my physical space!
Latex paint on glass
Do you involved with any arts groups or communities?
I’m a core member of the artist collective The Moving Crew. This incredible group of artists is interested in site responsive projects that engage with ideas of transformation and change. I’ve found my work with this group to be some of the most challenging and rewarding work that I do. In 2010 we completed our first international project with the two-part exhibition Ideal-X in Rijeka, Croatia and Grinnell, Iowa. Four core members shepherded this project to completion with the help, hands and vision of more than 200 artists in the US and abroad. In huge projects like this we all contributed in as many ways as we could. Sometimes that means brainstorming and making art, and sometimes it means writing grants and cooking meals. All of it is generative and very exciting.
|Ideal X, 2010|
Collaboration with The Moving Crew. Site Specific Installation, Rijeka, Croatia.
Screen printed cardboard boxes and shipping containers.
|Specific Night, 2011|
Front windows of gallery. Paste on glass.
Making art in Central Iowa is sometimes a lonely task. I have the pleasure of being married to a great artist, Jeremy Chen, and also to working with great colleagues in my department as well as artist colleagues and friends across the country. Each of these relationships presents it’s own opportunities for support and community. A good example is the project Kind Favor Kind Letter that I’ve undertaken for the last 2 years with my good friends Kate Carr and Tatiana Ginsberg. We are close friends, but live very far apart. The project began as a year-long commitment to writing physical letters to each other about our work. It became 2 site-specific installations and an artists book.
|Kind Favor Kind Letter, 2011|
Site Specific Installation. Faulconer Gallery, Grinnell, IA.
Collaborative Project with Kate Carr and Tatiana Ginsberg.
|Kind Favor Kind Letter, 2011 |
Latex paint on drywal
If I’m stuck I give myself a new deadline, and apply to a new residency or exhibition. A new site always has challenges in the architecture, light, physical materials and scale of the space. Proposing projects for new locations can force me out of stagnation.
Do you have particular habits that you think support your art practice?
I walk as much as I can and I take a HUGE number of photographs. Documenting closely the specific botanical information I’m interested in gives me an archive that I can draw from while making new work. Many of the phenomena I’m interested in are fleeting. I always try to make myself take the images right now rather than putting it off. Often when I return to a subject, it’s changed.
Do you have other jobs other than making art? I’m a professor teaching sculpture and drawing.
Where would you like to be in 5 years as far as your art making?
I would like to be making more permanent site-specific work. I’m very interested in art in the public sphere, and I would like to continue to work in non-traditional spaces.
Do you have any upcoming shows that you'd like to mention? I am in a group exhibition at Catich Gallery at St. Ambrose University in Davenport Iowa this month, and will be working on the windows of the old fire station in West Des Moines
this month, and will be working on the windows of the old fire station in West Des Moines for a public art event in October.
You can see more of Emma Lee Running's work at these sites: