Artist Talks: Ally Fouts & Aimée Beaubien

Installation Photo | © Aimée Beaubien, 2020

Esthetic Lens presents another installment of Artist Talks. Artist Ally Fouts visits Open Studio: rooted-looping-scrambling-rambling-tangling-twining-tendrils, an exhibition at 062, and has a conversation about the work with the artist Aimée  Beaubien, alongside 062’s founder, S.Y. Lim.

I stand at the foot of a small set of stairs leading to the door of Gallery 062 in the Bridgeport neighborhood of Chicago. I’m patiently waiting for the gallery founder, S.Y. Lim, to let me in to view the work of Aimée Beaubien. We meet, greet, and wind our way up the stairs and into the gallery. On my entering, I am sucked into a stunning spectacle; enveloped by bright colors and complicated vines. I’m in nature…rather, I am in a colorful, warped synthetic twist on nature. This technicolor covering is where I meet Beaubien and we begin talking about the installed environment she has so carefully constructed and tended.

Installation Photo | © Aimée Beaubien, 2020

Ally Fouts: From my understanding, this work has been anything but static. How did the idea come about for you to publicly show an installation while simultaneously creating it?

Aimée Beaubien: “S.Y. had shared the floorplan with me. When we spoke about this over dinner, I wanted a space that was larger than my studio space so that I could experiment with new materials and ideas. S.Y. invited me to use this space, which is fantastic. I asked her if she would be okay with me using this space as an extension of my studio, and I told her I would be totally down with people coming through as I’m working on it and seeing things evolve and develop. This has been such a great opportunity to get out of my own space and build my own world.”

Installation Photo | © Aimée Beaubien, 2020

“We decided to call it an open studio, and I gave the exhibition a name. The name is all the different plant movements that I have been observing and translating into the way that I am making things. I am paying attention to the things that are growing around me, specifically in my garden, and I am making objects in response to that.”

Installation Photo | © Aimée Beaubien, 2020

AF: Working in an open studio space means that public foot traffic is a factor. In what ways did working in this way help the development of this piece?

AB:“When I came in here the first time, I asked S.Y. to black out areas for foot traffic for everyone who works in this building and needs access to the elevators or doors. We mapped out areas that I shouldn’t build into. We have had some people that came early and then at the end to see how my work had progressed. There were some people here two days ago, and I asked them, “has a lot changed?” and they replied, “oh yeah, tons changed!” 

Installation Photo | © Aimée Beaubien, 2020

AF: The public being allowed to watch the piece grow in real time would definitely impact the piece. Setting that element aside for a moment, how did using this specific space, rather than your home studio help the development of the piece?

AB:“I really tried to take advantage of the length of the space. I am currently preparing for an exhibition that will happen next year in San Francisco; that gallery space is as long as this. This been a great opportunity to get a sense of how much material I may want to bring with me there and different ways that I can potentially occupy that space. The other fantastic thing is, I don’t have to rush. Usually when you have an installation piece in an exhibition, there a very compressed amount of time to put it all together, you have to hurry. Here, I could take my time; I didn’t have to have a plan for each day. I could just come in here and respond to the space and experiment.”

Installation Photo | © Aimée Beaubien, 2020

AF: I notice the combination of synthetic elements embedding between organic materials, including flattened leaves and twisting vines. I wonder, where are these natural materials sourced from?

AB:“When the pandemic started in March, my husband and I were taking walks to Humboldt Park, and I noticed there were still so many oak leaves on the ground. I started picking them up, and then started 3D drawing around the oak leaves. Then I started gold-leafing leaves. I like the poetry in that: trying to preserve something that is deteriorating, that’s falling apart, or declining. Trying to capture something and make it more precious and beautiful, which to me is so much what we do with photography. I am photographing these plants and leaves that are around me. They fade in real life, but I have this beautiful and accentuated photograph of these dead plants remaining.”

“This giant vine was growing along my garage. During the pandemic, my husband wanted to replace the rotting wood on our garage, so we had to take the vine down. I was able to remove it in one piece, and rather than photograph it, I thought, what would it be like to extend it in space? This is the first time I have been able to have such a huge living presence in an installation.”

Installation Photo | © Aimée Beaubien, 2020

AF: I’m trying to imagine the headache of acquiring all of these materials and bringing them to the gallery with zero prep work. The meticulous detailing of the installation made me wonder, are there any parts you prepare prior to bringing here?

AB: “I build a lot of components in my studio and then I think about how the components can come up into different configurations that respond to the uniqueness of each installation space. I am interested in trying to visually demonstrate how everything in the world is interconnected. I try to see if there is a way I can weave all of these things together so it looks like they are touching. All of the leaf drawings were done in my studio; the sticks I did here, they were kind of a new thing. After a recent big storm where many trees came down, I started collecting all of the fallen sticks on my block. Then I began playing with them because they are so animated. To me, they start to look like coral.”

“I made all of these chains last summer. I am constantly looking for more material to add to it. The opportunities to experiment with and have different materials talk to each other just keeps expanding. With every iteration I am inclined to do something new to see where it can go next.”

Installation Photo | © Aimée Beaubien, 2020

AF: As I navigate the space, a certain moment in the work catches my eye; books opened to pages illustrating various flora. The rest of the installation is made up of many visually weightless materials; the books become a sort of anchor. Where did the idea to include the books stem from?

AB: “I have these garden books from the 1930s that have the first full-color photographs of flowers. I started making hammock swings for them and presenting them in this installation. I also started printing photographs on a Tyvek material, so that the material itself could hold a crease and start to feel like a book. That was really fun to experiment with. Now, I have so many ideas about ways I can push it.”

Installation Photo | © Aimée Beaubien, 2020

“There are close up photographs I have made of different leaves. I either manipulate the color or photograph it in conditions where the color is exaggerated. I try to see how they are related to the weaving work I am doing, or the drawings in space. I am thinking about the whole life-cycle of a book as well; from trees, to paper, to books.”

Installation Photo | © Aimée Beaubien, 2020

“I like the idea that there are all of these different time scales that are happening in the gallery space. Materials accumulate in different life cycles. I have these grow lights in the space that are supposed to be encouraging new growth. There is a lot of visual poetry.”

Installation Photo | © Aimée Beaubien, 2020

AF: Looking around, I realize how prominent the shadows are and how they elegantly bounce around the walls as the installation shifts. The shadows feel too meticulously considered to be an accident. How much thought went into lighting?

AB: “I collaborated with S.Y. She did absolute magic with the gallery lighting.” 

S.Y Lim: “This was kind of hard to do because there are so many parts to the installation that are up high— lighting it was crazy. You can see, whenever someone opens the door upstairs, the wind comes through and the shadows move as if it’s alive.” 

Beaubien and S.Y. both light up with buoyant enthusiasm. I could feel the sigh of pleasure they took from me noticing the successful details of their tireless work and its ethereal outcome. Together, we all watch the shadows dance for a moment.

Installation Photo | © Aimée Beaubien, 2020

AF: Taking in this piece as a whole, my eyes wander from one field of color to the next. It contains enough different colors to result in a headache, if not carefully considered. The reality however is, my eyes move through it with seamless ease. Aimée, how interested are you in color theory?

AB:  I am super interested in color theory. A lot of this color palette comes from having grown up with my great grandmother’s photographs. She took photographs of her garden every day. She photographed everything that was growing around her. I didn’t pay attention to it until I did a residency at the Roger Brown Study Collection. While I was there, I learned that at one point he had a collection of 50 different varieties of roses on his property. It seemed so obvious that a person’s collection would expand into their garden. I started thinking about my great grandmother’s photographs more carefully. From photographing the hollyhock that came up every year, to the peonies that were only there a couple of days. I started paying attention to the ways the colors in the photographs faded over time. She had drugstore prints, so a lot of the colors that have the longest staying power are orange or magenta— the warmer colors. I gave myself more permission to push the color palettes around with my photographs.

To me, this is all an invented landscape and is about my imagination of how plants are moving around me.

Installation Photo | © Aimée Beaubien, 2020

AF: As we walk through the piece to get a fresh perspective. I notice objects brush against me, gracing my shoulders and scalp. Nervously, I wonder…do you encourage viewers to walk through the tighter delicate spaces, or only view from afar?

AB: “I hope that people feel comfortable walking through it. When they brush up against something, it activates the material and brings it to life, like walking in the woods.”

“I am also interested in weight distribution, this also goes back to color theory. When an area is really dark, it appears heavy when it is actually lightweight; the scale of things shifts too. I am printing photographs of leaves that are much larger than they appear in real life.

I am interested in activating all different senses. What am I looking at? What am I experiencing? What’s real? What’s a photograph? What’s the translation that is happening in that space in between?” 

 “It is always fun to watch people navigate through the piece. I also love seeing the way people choose to document it. There are all of these little photographic moments in here where you can find a photo within a photo.”

Installation Photo | © Aimée Beaubien, 2020

AF: I can hardly stop myself from asking the age-old question, is it complete? And if so, how do you know if it is complete?

AB: “I think if I had more time, I would move some things around. Usually with an installation, I keep adding elements until I find myself things down, then I know it’s done. Last Friday (9/18/2020) was the last day that I added anything, only then was I like ‘okay, this feels good.’”

Installation Photo | © Aimée Beaubien, 2020

AF: There are so many separate elements within this installation, but it all feels so tightly wound in a way that makes it seem as if everything appeared at once. What was the first, and then final elements added?

AB: “The last treatment that I did was this wall here (pictured below); I wanted to connect everything. I liked these books floating through space, all at different angles. The first thing that I placed was the giant vine. Then, I wanted to figure out how I could connect these two areas; the vine seemed like the perfect thing to create that connection. I liked the idea that the vine was bridging the spaces. I wanted to build little areas of interest that were different but still connected. This technique is something that is used a lot in landscape architecture and gardens; building these little exterior rooms. Hopefully, people see different things while moving through the space”

Installation Photo | © Aimée Beaubien, 2020

AF: It seems as though I am peering into a world all your own. I am curious, what does the rest of your artistic practice include?

AB: “I make artists’ books. This Tyvek material is the same material I am experimenting with for a new artist book I am working on with Spudnik Press. There is going to be inkjet on one side, and I am going to add silkscreen onto the inkjet and the backside. The artist books are a really important part of my process. It’s an opportunity for me to organize the different material research that I am doing. It is a way to figure out different unique ways to translate the experience of moving through the installation in a book form.”

“Photography is my training, and I have always cut up my photographs. Even when I first learned how to make photographs, I was always cutting them up and making collages. This is an extension of a collage project for me, just with more dimensionality.” 

Check out Beaubien’s Website, Instagram, and Creative Quarantine article for Esthetic Lens.