100 Colorado Creatives: Rebecca Vaughan
#53: Rebecca Vaughan
Denver installation artist Rebecca Vaughan is right at the center of Denver's art community: As a highly credentialed departing RedLine resident and continuing chair of Fine Arts and head of Sculpture at the Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design, she's working alongside longtime professionals and the emerging new guard alike.
Vaughan's well-realized works blend uber-feminine elements with sharp teeth; there's also an underpinning of interest in costuming and historical dress. Some of her pieces can currently be seen in the Biennial exhibit First Draft, at the McNichols Building through September 2, and in maybe the best group show in recent memory at Ironton where she's participating as one of the studio enclave's newest members. There will be a reception for that show at Ironton on Saturday, August 17, from 6 to 11 p.m. And from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. that same day, Vaughan will bid RedLine farewell at a joint Artists Studio Sale.
As Vaughan notes below, Denver will be seeing a lot more of her work in the coming months. To prepare for the approaching Vaughan onslaught, get to know her a little better in the 100CC interview that follows.
Westword: If you could collaborate with anyone in history, who would it be, and why?
Rebecca Vaughan: I REALLY want to collaborate with Marina Abramović, but she scares me. Her intensity and asceticism would reveal that lack in me. I have long wanted to work on a piece with her in which we would individually choose students from our past: one that we love, one that we disliked and one student who humbled us. We would then conduct performances in which Marina and I, one-on-one with our respective three students, would slap each other's faces back and forth unrelentingly for one whole hour. We perform this one-hour action with each student, totaling three hours. We do not tell the students which of the three categories they fit within.
I want to create sculptures with Sandy Powell, a costume designer for film, who created the costumes for Orlando and Coppola's Dracula. She calls on some of the extreme practices in fashion history for her costumes. That is the kind of excess and exaggeration that I am interested in communicating in my own work.
Also, I want to see what kind of trouble I can get into if I were able to work with Beth Ditto, who is the lead singer of the band Gossip. Beth performed for Prince Charles in 2007 for a charity where she pulled up her skin-tight spandex dress to reveal the words "NO BLOOD FOR OIL" written on her thighs. I myself am so careful to be diplomatic all the time; I think that Beth could coax me into boldly expressing my desire for equality and justice.
Of course, Joseph Beuys is on the list of people I want to collaborate with, to engage in relational works which challenge authority and the many perverted notions of democracy. A collaboration with Sophie Calle, in contrast, would pierce deep into someone's personal sphere to reveal desire, loneliness, desperation.
Who in the world is interesting to you right now, and why?
Alison Lapper, a British artist. Or maybe it's more accurate to say that I'm interested in her through the sculptures that Marc Quinn created of her. Alison was born without arms and has truncated legs. When younger, she was fitted with artificial limbs, which she later abandoned because she experienced them as serving the larger culture more than her own physical needs. They were really just a device to make her body appear less abject, rather than actually assisting in her mobility. At the opening ceremony of the 2012 Summer Paralympics, she was depicted in a giant sculpture, nude and pregnant. This ironic reference to the iconic Venus de Milo and as a representation of fertility is a delicious rebuff to the larger cultural fears of her body.
Also, in tandem with Alison Lapper is the Militant Baker (www.themilitantbaker.com), a blogger who writes about pro-body empowerment and got a lot of attention recently for making her own version of Abercrombie & Fitch ads with her gorgeous self instead of the predictable models. I'm thinking that she had something to do with that asshole CEO Mike Jeffries finally apologizing for his remarks meant to shame plus-size teenagers.
And in a complete switch, I am totally interested in the work of some screenwriters like David Milch (Deadwood) and Aaron Sorkin (Newsroom and West Wing) because of the way that they unfold plot, character, affect. I talk about this same unfolding with my students all the time, but with them I call it "First Impression, Second Impression, Third Impression." When you're presenting your piece to viewers, how do you reveal components in a way that draws them in (first), keeps them engaged (second) and then sends them home with something to think about (third)?
What's one art trend you want to see die this year?
Honestly, there are some veins of art that have always existed that drive me nuts. If they could die this year, then I would stop wanting to impale myself on a battery acid-laced, sharpened, fire-hot pitchfork. The biggest is reverential art; art that's so damn serious about itself, self-absorbed art, self-referential work that leaves no space for viewers, no humor about itself, no self-deprecation. Now, I realize that many folks believe Marina Abramović to be annoyingly reverential. I'm sometimes in that camp, but she is also fearless, physically rigorous and self-effacing.
Oh, and another kind of art that makes me bonkers is big abstract formalist public art sculptures insensitive to their surroundings and context.
What's your day job?
I am the chair of Fine Arts and head of Sculpture at the Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design. I'm pretty good at administrative stuff, and organized. But honestly, I am an artist before anything else. I could not do any part of my job if I were not a practicing artist who understands the processes, concepts, histories, materials and obstacles that artists face. I'm really so breathtakingly fortunate to have a job in which I can talk about art all day.
A mystery patron offers you unlimited funds for life. What will you do with it?
I would purchase a stretch of trashy motels on Colfax. Each motel room would become a studio space for an artist. I would purchase big sculptures -- like Chris Lavery's clouds on the way to DIA or Donald Lipski's larger-than-life everyday objects or a forest of John McEnroe's ghostly white resin trees -- and place them on top of each motel, earmarking their identities. I would bring in international artists and award grants to the completion of ambitious projects. I would team up my students with nurturing, clever art-stars who could coach them into becoming savvy professionals themselves. I would create programs supporting social justice, and how the arts can change the way that people treat each other, and change legislation.
What's the one thing Denver (or Colorado) could do to help the arts?
Denver: You need to buy art. Then buy more art. Denver: Did you like the art you saw in the arts districts around town? Well, dammit, buy that art! Denver: Did you like the gallery talk or lecture of an artist, but felt not-so-hot about their art? Well, sponsor their studio rent for a month anyway, pay for their materials so that they can keep doing their work! Become a member of the MCA or RedLine, or smaller venues that do not have access to the same public money as the big museums. Denver: Vote yes on every tax increase for education, SCFD funds and infrastructural improvements. That money will go to artists and educators, who are in turn spending it in the community and continuing the flow of money. Apologies, I listed more than one thing.
What's on your agenda for the rest of 2013 and beyond?
My two-year residency as a resource artist at RedLine is coming to an end this month, and I am grieving the loss of the support and the community there. RedLine really helped me get my art career rolling. I am so deeply grateful for the opportunities that Louise Martorano, PJ D'Amico and the staff have given me.
After RedLine, I will be moving my studio to Ironton. I have admired the work of Jill Hadley Hooper, the other Ironton artists and the gallery shows there for years. I'm really looking forward to cultivating a community with my new Ironton family. I'm in a group show there presently called maybe the best group show in recent memory.
Also on the agenda are four shows in the coming year! Two of them will be at RedLine, one at Vertigo and then a two-person show at Pirate with Theresa Anderson. I have been collaborating with Theresa now for over a year. Our work, our materials seem to have a really charged resonance.
And I want to fall in love.
Who do you think will get noticed in the Denver art scene this year?
I have been watching the work of Alicia Ordal and Katie Watson, both of whom are working with concepts of communication, solace, presence and absence. But both use very different media and aesthetics. Katie Watson just showed a new piece at the Denver Digerati event last Friday, "Doing it Alone." This video was a sugar-coated, naive and painful, honest look at how we all must ultimately rally ourselves to keep moving on. And Alicia has long created wall installations, drawings and videos where identity has not yet emerged, or is in progress, or has been lost. I personally recognize the messages that both of them have presented.
Visit Rebecca Vaughan's website for more information.
Throughout the year, we'll be shining the spotlight on 100 superstars from Denver's rich creative community. Stay tuned to Show and Tell for more, or visit the 100 Colorado Creatives archive to catch up.
Do you have a suggestion for a future profile? Feel free to leave your picks in the comments.