1. Please tell me a little bit about yourself and your practice.
Well I’m an artist and facilitator or “cultural worker” as they say. I’m currently based in Calgary and have been here for the past 6 years, but grew up in rural Alberta. My practice has mostly been focused on site-specific installations which I consider to exist somewhere between the realms of architectural intervention and three-dimensional drawings. There’s an element of “fact or fiction” in my work as I’m interested in exploring the boundaries of different mediums. I’ll often use two-dimensional materials (paint, ink, etc.) to mimic three-dimensional objects like string and mesh wire, and investigate the transition between the two. I’m really conscious of the formal aspects to my work, taking into consideration colour and composition, but I’m also quite interested in seeing how art and space affect or influence each other and how that changes our perception of our environments. That’s basically my practice in a nutshell.
2. Where did you study? What kind of an influence has this had on your practice?
I graduated from ACAD in 2010 with a major in painting. I think the studios there were the biggest plus for me, having the freedom to do nothing but create and work out ideas. I was able to learn different medias and that’s something that I was interested in exploring, combining print media, painting, and sculpture to make art. There was also a really strong sense of community there; I really appreciated being able to work so closely with other people in my department. I also grew up in a really small town so I didn’t have much sense of contemporary art before ACAD, so it really set the pace on where my practice is now.
3. What have you been doing since graduating?
Right after I graduated I started working at TRUCK Contemporary Art in Calgary as the Programming Coordinator. It’s been great to have the opportunity to work with so many different artists from all over. I’ve also been involved with M:ST Mountain Standard Time Performative Art Festival and trying to keep up my own art practice outside of all of that, I just got back from participating in Art Souterrain and Nuit Blanche in Montreal.
4. What struggles do you face in your practice? Do you have any insecurities while making your work?
I think my biggest struggle is just making the time for it. I’m still kind of trying to find the balance between work, fun and my practice. You really just have to make it a priority if it’s something you’re serious about, what helps me is having deadlines to meet, applying for shows and trying to line things up so that I have something to work towards. I try not to stress about that too much because I’m working in a gallery right now, which has been really informative to me as an artist – learning the professional and administrative side of things. I think the biggest insecurity I have in making work is worrying if I’m doing enough, I don’t like the idea of becoming comfortable with my work because if I’m not challenging my process or my ideas then it really doesn’t leave me anywhere to go. I’ve considered my whole practice to be a bit of an experiment so there is always that room to fail, and for me that’s what makes it work.
5. Do you find yourself attracted to work that is unlike yours, or work that is very similar?
It’s kind of a mixed bag for me. I’m obviously influenced by work that is like mine and I do look out for it because it helps me critique my own work – seeing what I could do differently or how I can make things more successful. And when I say similar work, I don’t necessarily mean the visuals and design of something, but work that addresses similar interests and ideas to mine that are dealt with in a completely different way. But I definitely appreciate all kinds of work, I mean there’s nothing quite like a good portrait, right?
6. Who are some other Calgary-based artists whose work you are interested in? Artists in general who you are influenced by?
So many! This city has a lot of really talented people. Erik Olson, Shelley Ouellet, DaveandJenn, Sarah Smalik are just a few Calgary artists whose work I always look forward to seeing, but it’s a long list for sure! In terms of influences, I’ve looked a lot at minimalism and op art but lately I’ve been looking at Sarah Sze, Kristi Malakoff, Jim Lambie… again, it’s a long list!
7. What music do you listen to while working in the studio, if any?
I actually don’t mind it being quiet when I’m working by myself so I don’t always listen to music when I’m in the studio or installing. If I have people helping me with an install I’ll put the iPod on, I mean I can only make small talk for so long…
8. What are some of your favorite things to do in Calgary? Places to eat? Way to spend a day off?
Most of the time I stay at home and watch really bad TV. When I have free time I’m usually hanging out with friends or family, going to pubs or movies, I just bought a new bicycle…so, that’s fun. I don’t really have a favourite place to eat, but I like going out for sushi. I really like to cook, so I’d much rather do a dinner party with friends then go out. I sound like a hermit…
9. Do you have any upcoming exhibitions or projects?
I just finished installing a show at UAS Satellite Gallery. Next year I’ll be doing an exhibition at The Ledge Gallery from March to May, 2013. Shortly I’ll be starting a position through the Public Art Program’s WATERSHED+ where I’ll get to work with lead artists Sans façon, that’s going to be an ongoing project, I’m pretty excited for that!
Niessen’s current exhibition, Vertigo, runs at the UAS Satellite Gallery (343 11th Avenue SW) until April 7th, so get down to see it if you haven’t already!
All images via Randy Niessen and http://www.randyniessen.com/