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Artist Interview – Nic Wiesinger

Nic Wiesinger is a curious traveler. His artwork seems to take him on journeys in search of documenting not only the road taken, but documenting those who have been in his steps before, and pondering who might be there after him. Nic gets pleasure from documenting all of these “footprints”, and still wonders how each individual has a different experiences. His mapping of places real, historical, and imagined forces the viewer to think about their place in the world. As an artist living in the desert, Nic is concerned and wonders about water usage, droughts, and Arizona’s changing landscape.

He is also very curious about how we all communicate with each other. Whether through maps, the web, stories, or social media, Nic always seems to be searching to find those things that connect us, and I was very happy to find out more about him and his work with this interview.

What inspires you?

Originally, I’m inspired by travel, getting the ground under my feet and experiencing other places. The memories that I cherish the most from my childhood are those traveling, either on large family road trips or small excursions with my dad. I’d hover over the map while traveling to a fishing spot, and I’d try to connect map with place, distance with time.

These early trips, and the power and disconnection associated with maps have always inspired me. I’m a major map geek, and that disassociation between what’s actually on the ground and the way that we try to visualize and display that data fascinates and drives me and my love of nature and place.

Have you always made art?

When I was a kid growing up in Indianapolis, my neighbor across the street, Ellie Siskind, was an artist, and I would spend time with her, drawing and visiting her studio. But it wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties before I really started to tie all my influences into the active art-making that I practice today. Through my early work in photography, I was able to use a visual language to describe what was trying to get out. But I didn’t really consider myself an artist until I went to Herron School of Art and Design, in Indianapolis, and learned how to hone my skills of communication.  I was a part of a brilliant group of young artists who challenged, pushed, and persuaded each other to create better, and more compelling artworks than we thought we could. It was an exciting time, and one that left a huge mark on me as an artist.

Are their any particular influences for your work (other artists, music, literature, etc)?

As I was putting together my visual language, I was persuaded by teachers like Linda Adele Goodine and Patrick Manning to pull my influences from the whole of myself. I have a background in social history and geography, map making, music, technology and participation, so many of my pieces have a little or a lot of those traits intertwined within. I’m a huge fan of the writer Rebecca Solinit and Lucy Lippard as well as Jorge Luis Borges and Ronald Takaki.

But being a product of television, I’ve taken artist influences from everything around me, like channel surfing, so I’m drawn to photographers like Richard Misrach and Joel Sternfeld. Other artists like Richard Long, Hamish Fulton, (local artist) Matthew Moore and Francis Alÿs, float around in my head to peak in and out. And then John Baldessari, or Yoko Ono, or Miranda July, or Sophie Calle take over. I’m more a fan of a buffet, like a Cafeteria Catholic, I pick and choose bits of influences. A little bit of this, a little bit of that. But always with a critical, conceptual angle or attitude. I guess I’ve become a water geek too. Ask me anything about the canal system in the valley, it’s a fascinating story.

12 Year Drought: Fluctuations in Landscape Over Time, 2012

Well, let’s go there.

Your work seems to describe what it is like to live and be at this moment in time, and especially focuses on the fragile environment around us. You seem to use your art to relay that information to others to see how they experience that information in different ways using technology or simple every day objects. Is this a good description of what you do?

That’s a good way of describing what I do. Usually, when talking to someone who hasn’t seen my work, I describe my thesis project at ASU called In it, I created hand made boxes and books with information, historical narratives, and activities that relate to the canal system in the valley. These boxes are hidden along the canals and their geo coordinates are marked.  The website then allows the viewer to learn about the water in the valley and find where these caches are hidden along the canal. This brings the participant to the site of the water that is all around us to learn, participate, and activate the water that we barely notice anymore., 2011

So, yes, in this project I’m using technology to bring people to a place in order to have an experience, either through learning or an activity, as a way to better understand and connect with the water and ecology of the canal system in the valley. Not all of my projects are this intensive in scope, but all deal with the experience in some way. Some are about mapping an experience or the failed attempt to map an experience, and some are more participatory than others, but it is this connection to a place that I am striving to find. What makes us want to be “here”? Why do we put an importance to this place, why do we make this our home, and how does this location of our home imprint itself on us? Sometimes this question needs to be actively asked, sometimes it needs to be mediated through technology, and sometimes it leads us in ways that get us lost. But it is these questions that drive my creative process.

Do you hope that viewers experience what you experience, or is your hope that they all have different views and feelings?

I’ve always found that the best artwork is one that has many different entry points, many different levels for someone to access and appreciate what is being created. So what I hope is that I’ve created something that is intellectually strong, conceptually challenging, and aesthetically pleasing (or displeasing) that causes the viewer to stop and think, or feel, or engage with the art in either a visceral way or in a participatory way. The viewer will bring to the piece their own histories and aesthetics, what I can control is the ways that they can access, appreciate, and maybe even contribute to what I am trying to say.

What are thinking about now?

Water, water, water. It’s such an important part of where we live and how we remain vital, and it’s such a precious and contentious thing here in the southwest. I’m curious about why the Colorado River doesn’t flow to the Gulf of Baja, and what becomes of rivers that are dry because we divert all the water to urban areas. What happens to nature when humans try to control it too much?

So then, what’s next for you?

I’ll have my second show at Eye Lounge next fall, and will be traveling to Italy over the summer for an artist residency focusing on walking, mapping, and writing. But my next big project will be shown at the Phoenix Art Museum. I am a recent Contemporary Forum grant recipient, and I will be creating a participatory piece titled (check this link in the new year). It’s based around a quotation by writer John Donne, which talks about how no one is an island, and everyone is connected to humanity., 2013

The project asks participants to take a word from the quote and write it in a non-permanent manner on the earth, then photograph the word and upload the image, along with the participants name and location, to the website. Once the phrase is complete, I will display the entire quotation at the museum. The more the project grows, the greater the possibility that the museum will have words from people who have participated from all over the country, or even the world. Look for updates and possible events this spring!

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