Interview with Carrie Bobo
“Home” is a very important concept in your artwork. Can you elaborate on the geopolitics of “home”?
For me the concept of home is everything. Home exists across scales, disciplines, cultures. Home is so many things and in so many ways to so many people. Home exists for me most strongly in three different ways - home as place, home as idea, and home as identity.
Home as a place is the wellspring from which we learn to see our position in society. It is the location of our first cultural rituals (think Easter eggs and afternoon tea) and everyday mundane domestic experiences. Our idiosyncratic world views and histories emerge from the things we see and are taught in our childhood homes; they become our personal foundations, our grounding.
Home as an idea is the sense of well-being, belonging, and acceptance that we perennially seek. As our society becomes more global, the specifics that once signified our idea of home soften, becoming more universal. As we become more mobile, travel more widely, and live in countries that are not our own, the differences, we once saw as stark, fade. Our grounding, our ties to our foundations of home, loosen. For many of us, home becomes less a place and more our relationships; it becomes the language we dream in.
The most overtly geopolitical, home as identity is the home of our national and cultural identification. As the world becomes more global, in some, a desire to protect, to insulate, grows. We institute policies to safeguard this idea of homeland and our intimate spaces of domesticity. Troublingly, we judge who we allow in and who we exclude as potentially dangerous to our physical safety or our ways of life. We watch as natural disasters, political turmoil, and war destroy or make people’s homes and homelands unlivable and, for many, fear overpowers empathy. At the same time we watch children at the US border living in cages, asylum seekers detained in camps, and families evicted. These visions change our relationships to our own homes, rendering once stable associations suddenly vulnerable, ephemeral, privileged.
If we’re lucky, we only imagine living in the borders, separated from home either by physical or emotional turmoil, unable to reconstruct home as place, idea, or identity.
My own grounding comes from a single place, a single family ranch house in the exurbs of Oklahoma where I spent nearly all of my childhood and adolescence. This is the place where I learned how to think about race, about gender, about domestic economies, about hierarchies and power structures, without yet understanding those words. I learned my own culture’s geopolitical priorities. I learned well how to be deferential, who to trust based on their appearance, and likewise who to expect to be capable, outspoken, and in charge. This foundation was unsettled by the novels I read. Novels of people with different markers for capability, different measurements of strength, different structures of home.
As a child, these stories of others made me feel that I didn’t belong in the place I was growing-up. I longed for the far away places of the novels I lost myself in, and this longing for a place that feels like home, for me, is what remains. This longing is what moves me forward.
Your paintings have architectural forms of houses at their center, however the viewer is always looking at them from the outside. Can you talk about the relationship between the interior and the exterior?
These paintings are portraits. Unfortunately it’s not possible to make portraits from the inside. I can’t paint the internal, critically important, everyday experiences we all long for; though, I hope that this specific longing, in a way, is present in my work. I’m interested in the duality of façade. We use this word, façade, to describe both architectural constructions as well as to describe the way in which we, as human beings, present ourselves to the world and to each other. We each use our own façades to welcome, to include, to exclude, and sometimes, to just barely hint at, what may be, a way inside. I’m interested in this exclusion, in how we often feel ourselves held outside, both at the level of the personal and the political.
How do you relate yourself to art history? What importance does this relationship have for you?
I grew up largely in a world where ‘art’ was spoken of with disdain, as a frivolity indicative of waste and a degraded position outside of society; often a thumb to the nose of those that admirably toiled and reaped the benefits of demanding physical labor. My mom nurtured my love of drawing and allowed for me the possibility of art. As I grew and travelled I visited museums where as a young adult, I fell in love with Giacometti, his sculptures, and, most deeply, his drawings; those fierce, specific, yet universal portrayals that come so close to being portraits from the inside. As I grew older I came to love Thiebaud and Diebenkorn, their strict constructions, their clarity and grace through a color that is simultaneously perfectly representative and vividly unreal. I became entranced by the poignant minimalism of the exquisite grid lines of Agnes Martin and found inspiration in her compelling paucity. Now my artistic practice is grounded in a constant survey of art history; a search for home through image, through perceived familiarity in the unfamiliar, through more intimate knowledge of self by way of experience of the viewpoint of other.
What do you think about today's art world? What does an ideal art world look like to you?
I see the art world as I do the world in general, a place of inclusion and exclusion. I struggle with the assignation of art’s value through currency and with the purely exclusive nature of the upper echelon world of art-as-investment and what can be seen as the pay-to-play nature of membership in an elite society. The work Collecteurs is doing to expose privately held pieces to public view goes some way toward breaking through this cloaked world of private arts ownership. In contrast, I see an ideal art world as a place with societal support, where institutions work to engender conversations (I’m thinking here specifically of the European Kunstahalle model). I imagine a world made of places where artists expose today’s critical political and personal realities.
You’re an artist that works between Bushwick, Brooklyn and Göteborg, Sweden. What are some of the challenges you face in these art environments? What are the similarities/differences?
When I moved to Brooklyn more than 15 years ago, I ended up by chance connections at S 4th and Bedford. And while it sounds fancy now, it wasn’t so much then, what I remember is listening to the sounds of a window open to the street on warm summer nights, open to the sounds of the storefront cum evangelical church, the pizza-by-the-slice that was most busy as the bars closed around 4 o’clock in the morning, and the incessant beep, beep, beep of the city bus lowering down to meet the curb each time it stopped at the corner. From my window as I lay in bed I could see the top of a concrete silo, small panes of glass creating a clerestory emblazoned with ‘Domino’ from the then defunct sugar factory. Now when you walk along the Williamsburg waterfront you are greeted by what remains of this sugar factory. The silo and it’s glittery topping are long gone. The rest has been ‘developed’ into new condos and retail and restaurants. I moved from there on to East Williamsburg and then Bushwick.
When you walk along the waterfront in Göteborg you are greeted by a similar sugar factory. This one has had a few uses over the years, but today is an artist collective workspace. It’s often that I stand, looking to the south, with the sun shining from behind the massive, fortress-like brick building perched atop a massive, two story high, rough hewn chunk of stone, bedrock. A winding exterior stair leads up to the entry door, a few stories above the ground. Inside you find a mystical world of thick, white tiles walls, narrow tall windows reaching almost all the way up to the soaring ceilings. Light streams in tangibly to places pregnant with quiet, and with possibility as remnants of work lay inconspicuously around - meters of freshly hand printed fabric on the fabric printing tables, partially tufted rugs with their vibrant newly shorn mounds of wool in the tufting studio, lithographs, etchings, and monoprints drying in the printing studios drying racks, the wet-gloss of enameled steel samples hung from walls. For less than the equivalent of twenty dollars a month you have access to all this. And through the small windows pierced through the thick walls you see perfectly framed views of the river, the bridges, the contemporary art museum. This artist collective model is quite common here, found in special buildings where contemporary cultural activities preserve places of cultural heritage. These organizations engender a mutually supportive community of artists, in a place that believes the artist role is important enough to society to deserve support.
This interview is a part of our Public Support section, dedicated to our Kickstarter supporters.