#34: Kia Neill
A relative newcomer to the Denver photography community, Kia Neill hasn’t wasted any time making her mark on the region, as an artist, a teacher on several platforms, a curator, a museum resident and even as an expert snowboarder. She’s a person bubbling with ideas and in love with the Colorado outdoors that attracted her here. We’re looking forward to seeing what she brings to Denver for years to come. Get a glimpse of the turning wheels behind Neill’s work from her answers to the 100CC questionnaire.
Westword: If you could collaborate with anyone in history, who would it be, and why?
Kia Neill: I think it would be fun to work with Jim Henson. If you remember the movie The Dark Crystal, in the DVD extras that reveal the making-of, Jim and his team talk about how the story and the mythical world they created all started with how Jim imagined the way the individual characters would move — their body mechanics. His artist team explained how they made thirty or forty sculpted maquettes for each character, because, though he had a vision for how they moved and how they interacted with their environment, Jim had no concrete vision of what each character looked like. That’s what determined the form and aesthetic of everything in the story and ultimately also determined the film’s plot. I think that’s a really interesting way to write a story and create form and imagery — by thinking of dimensional movement as the starting point.
Who in the world is interesting to you right now, and why?
I listen to a lot of guided meditation videos, and right now I’ve been engrossed with these ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response) videos by Olivia Kissper. With ASMR, it is all about the sound, which in general is really sensitive, high-quality, dimensional sound — you hear every single little thing (such as crinkled paper falling on the floor), and you can tell if it’s coming from the left, the right, from above or below, and how far away it is. I feel Olivia also does a good job with the lighting in some of her videos, especially the more recent ones, and some can be as entrancing to watch as the sound is hypnotizing.
In one of her videos by which I am particularly entranced, she just cuts sand with a chef’s knife on a cutting board for an hour. The sound is mesmerizing, but what really captivates me is how, after she cuts the sand and then collects it and moves it around, the sand appears to undulate within her hands. It seems almost like it’s some peculiar creature breathing, like a bizarre fish that expands itself to ward off danger, or similar to the way a jellyfish swims. It’s audio-visually intoxicating.
What's one art trend you want to see die this year?
To be honest, I don’t pay attention to art trends. I find that doing so only distracts me from realizing my personal vision and expression. But maybe I would say that I would like to see more artists get away from reacting so much to art historically and get out of their studios and integrate with people who have very little familiarity with art. As artists and people within the art world, we all recognize how important the role of art is in the progression and well-being of society. But our artwork needs to resonate with people who maybe don’t appreciate art to begin with, or maybe only understand art as being a technically well-done, realistic painting, or anything by an art legend such as Michelangelo, or simply something to occupy empty wall space (usually a stock art image that’s been printed a million times).
I’ve seen so many artists get stuck in their art-making world, and if you can’t relate to people outside of your everyday, your artwork most likely won’t relate to a larger audience. Granted, maybe some artists don’t care about that, but I see interacting and relating with people from all walks of life allows us to better see and celebrate our own identities, and can ultimately allow us to see how our personal expression can impact others. Personally for me, when that happens, it makes me feel really good.
What's your day job?
I’m a person with lots of curiosities and abilities, and I like to take jobs that are also learning experiences for me, so I’ve always had lots of them. Besides what I do under the umbrella of my art career, teaching has been my mainstay. I’ve taught college art for fifteen-plus years and currently adjunct at the University of Denver. I’ve also taught at various art centers over the years — currently at BreckCreate up in Breckenridge — and I will be teaching a workshop at the Colorado Photographic Arts Center starting this summer.
I am also a snowboard instructor during the winter, and I have to say that my experience teaching in the mountains has been the most enlightening toward my teaching practice in general, but also in increasing my understanding of people, their motivations and inhibitions. It’s also been really interesting to witness and experience the differences between the cultures of mountain life and the city of Denver. My soul is definitely a citizen of both, and I find the perspective from the window between the two to be quite interesting, not only in regards to social dynamics, but also to contemplating my own identity.
A mystery patron offers you unlimited funds for life. What will you do with it?
I would produce giant mural-sized photo collages, and I would probably also produce some sort of crazy elaborate cavernous installation. Then again, I might make that grotto my home. I used to make large crystalline cave installations out of papier-mâché and “crystals” made from cut-up CDs and holiday lights. These installations were about thirty by forty feet in size.
I like to create little nook-and-cranny types of spaces — one might even call them womb spaces. But it could be fun to make something far more elaborate and permanent — like a Fragile Rock Castle! And I would make it up in the mountains somewhere, so during the winter I could create large snow sculptures and snow-cave additions with color-changing lights and such. And then I‘d probably make arty sculptural costumes and props and hold eccentrically themed dinner parties and photograph people out in my created snowscape…sort of like a happening/participatory performance.
Denver, love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?
I love Denver! I am fairly new to the city and still getting to know this place, but I plan to be here a while. I moved here two years ago, after the mountains called me. I’ve lived in a number of places throughout the U.S. and a number of big cities, too — Chicago, San Diego, Los Angeles, Houston — but Denver is the first place I’ve moved to where I instantly felt at home…with my people. I guess that so far, I find there’s the right balance of everything I need here.
What's the one thing Denver could do to help the arts?
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Again, since I’m fairly new to the city, I am still getting acquainted with the state of the city’s art community, but I will say that we could always have more quality public and corporate art projects. I think public art is so important, because it not only breaks up visual mundanity of the city’s utilitarian spaces and structures, but it also help people by briefly taking them out of their normal focus and state of mind. Public art can help give a sense of familiarity, connection and rest in people who are feeling distraught (for whatever reason, no matter how big or how small), and it can also open one’s perspective of the world. Opening our perspectives, I believe, is how conflicts get resolved, and I believe this also keeps us young.
What's on your agenda in the coming year?
Well so far, I am teaching at DU, teaching snowboarding in the mountains and am currently in residence at the Children’s Museum of Denver. I am curating a show at Artworks Loveland as part of Month of Photography, and will also be exhibiting a few pieces of my own for MoP. I am also working on a solo exhibition of my mixed-media drawings to be held this coming September at Naropa University.
Kia Neill is currently an artist-in-residence at the Children's Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus, through March 31. Visit with Neill during open studio hours from 1 to 3 p.m. Tuesdays and 2 to 4 p.m. Sundays through March 7. Photography Unsettled, an exhibit curated by Kia Neill, opens with a reception from 6 to 9 p.m. March 10 and runs through April 28 at Artworks Loveland, as part of Month of Photography 2017. Visit MoP online for more information. Learn more about Kia Neill and her work at her website.