Friday, January 11, 2013

RAD TALK: An Interview With Ultra Terrestrial

"Rad Talk" is a new column running on The Emma Edition, for 2013. In this column I interview creative people who make my life all the more rad and whose work I think deserves a wider audience. I’ll be giving them a forum to speak on things they may never been asked in a typical interview. A new interview is posted on Fridays. 

For me, an artist’s process is sometimes more interesting than the outcome. For this installment of “Rad Talk,” I interviewed Becca Kacanda, an artist currently residing in Iowa, who has enough philosophies on art to color the page. Raised in an evangelical home, today, Becca speaks out openly about her beliefs in the interplay between psychedelics and religion as it manifests in her own work and life. Read on below for our interview: 

Q: How would you describe your art to someone who’s never seen it before?
A: “Ecstatic, childlike, visionary, crafty, girly, colorful, personal, and psychedelic.”

Q: Some artists feel that colors dictate their process; others feel that they use certain colors by whim, and that colors don’t really add a specific meaning to the piece. Do feel like colors are an important aspect of your work thus far?
A: “Colors are very important. I have always felt really drawn to super bright colors and unusual color's definitely one of my obsessions.  The trick is figuring out how to make a design that shows off the interplay of colors really well and is also emotionally captivating. It's weird to me that so many artists are shy about using color because to me they are the greatest joy of making's very intuitive and emotional and sometimes I will know the color of an object I'm painting before I know what the object is.”

Q: On your Etsy shop, many of your jewelry pieces are made with shrinky dinks. What other materials do you use/ want to use? What role does material play in your work?
A: “I haven't made shrinky dink pieces in a while but I think it is somewhat overlooked as a good medium, its really durable and you can even print or draw complex images onto it before shrinking. Prior to that I had learned that using acrylic on plexiglass is a thing (Jim Nutt did it really well and I recently saw and loved his pieces at the Madison museum of Contemporary Art) and I want to do that, but it's expensive. Shrinky Dinks were the next closest thing. As far as materials go, I am definitely attracted to fake, unnatural mass produced stuff from the dollar store and cheesy craft supplies.  I think those types of things have made such an impression on my brain, probably because I grew up in Flushing, Queens and saw a lot of cheap, imported knock-off toys that were really weird and more importantly, not associated with narrated characters on TV, so they felt more inviting and personal. At the same time, I know these things are horrible for the environment and probably all made in miserable toxic factories...the thought of contributing to the destruction of the earth to make plastic wiggly eyeballs or glitter or toys that are going to fall apart in 2 days is pretty nuts. Pom Poms aren't symbols of childhood innocence anymore, because they were dyed with toxic chemicals and made in China... but if we stopped making useless shit our current economy would fall apart.   If I was an adult 30 years ago, I probably wouldn't be having thoughts like this... I still really want to make things that are totally beautiful and fake and glorious with all this horrible colorful glittering stuff. Hopefully that makes sense.”

Q: You work under the byline, Ultra Terrestrial. What significance does it have to you and your work, besides just sounding totally rad?
A: “I lifted that phrase from Phillip K Dick's book VALIS, which is an extremely important book to me for so many reasons. I haven't read a great amount of his work, but one of his central concepts is that of multiple universes/timelines existing simultaneously and occasionally crossing over and revealing themselves in unexpected and mysterious ways. I am also fascinated by all of the ancient alien stuff and the idea that our DNA is extra terrestrial. A lot of people like to make fun of that idea but if you think about how fucking mysterious and crazy life is it really doesn't seem far out at all. So Ultra Terrestrial is really just about embracing that alien-like weirdness. I think a lot of people are stuck in the thinking that they're not smart or special, they can't accomplish amazing things because they're not brilliant or whatever, and that's such tragic thinking and it's so wrong and self defeating. The cosmos is massively intelligent ( VALIS stands for Vast Active Living Intelligence System) and since we are part of the cosmos, we are privy to it. That really inspires me to make work. I think right now most of human kind is very out of touch with themselves which is why we are doing so many stupid and destructive things. Most people are operating on a very sober reality at all times. We should not be sober all the time. I believe psychedelic substances were put here for a reason--- it helps us to access that vast intelligence....which we REALLY need right now.”

Q: Is making art your main job? If not, please describe your job below.
A: “I desperately wish it was but that hasn't happened yet. My day job is not creative at all, I work in a call center.  It takes up tons of time obviously, but having money and a steady job and being able to afford to live, buy art supplies and have a studio in my apartment has been incredibly conducive to making art despite the time sucking. So the next step is to figure out how to not have the job at the same time.”

Q: You recently moved from New York to Iowa. In terms of the art community, what have you observed is the biggest difference/ similarity? Are people in Iowa more or less receptive to your work?
A: “I feel like I can answer this question two different ways. In terms of my town's "art community" as perceived through gallery openings and art fairs I would say it's pretty safe, the art here is very much realistic/pastoral scenes and pottery and other traditional crafts, a lot of cutesy decorations for your yard, that type of thing.  I think the general Iowa populace probably perceives visual art as a quaint hobby here...something older people do when they retire, which is obviously really different than how artists are perceived in NY for sure. So I don't have a lot in common with that and so I'm not actively trying to show work here...but of course I would if I felt there was an appropriate audience.  I mean, even though Iowa may sometimes seem hopeless there are still people out there who break the mold and make cool shit and hey, I'm friends with some of them! One of my friends who I have the best art conversations with primarily does organic farming and that probably wouldn't have happened in New York. And really when it comes down to it your art community is your friends. And now that we have the internet your friends can be anywhere, so I think your physical location is not as important as it used to be.”

Q: My favorite art of yours is actually your sculptures. I really hope you continue to do more of those. Where do you get the materials for them? Is it stuff just laying around your house that you choose to refurbish or are you on the hunt for a certain something?
A: “Thanks! I have a lot of fun with the sculptures and they are a very new direction for meI acquire objects from thrift stores mostly. Like my "Grass Cloud" was made from a cloud-shaped piece of wood someone made for their kid probably and then just gave it away to the thrift store. I had just been collecting those weird objects and picking up vintage craft supplies for next to nothing as well as using coupons at craft stores to acquire anything I found interesting even if I had no idea what to do with it. They are very indulgent and I don't think about them as much as my paintings, but they have gotten the most love on the internet. Funny how the stuff that you slave over the least always seems to be the most popular.”

Q: You integrate a lot of cultural references in your work: psychedelia, organic living, and a lot of tribal references. Where do the ingredients for this melting pot come from?
A: “All of those things you mentioned are my primary areas of interest. I have always been attracted to psychedelic artwork even a kid, just an intuitive knowing that it was getting at something very deep below the surface that's not often talked about ....which was comforting.  It wasn't until much later that I had my first psychedelic experiences which completely changed my perspective on life. Its pretty interesting because I grew up going to church and sitting there being sober listening to someone tell me that there's more to life, but you just have to trust that there is. But when you take psychedelics you can experience it all directly- love and understanding and wisdom (even hell) -- it seems like religion is kind of a counterfeit form of the real thing since it just talks about this stuff but says you can't have it until you die. I recently just speculated that maybe early Christians had been eating mushrooms together and that Jesus represented that experience.  And then like two weeks later I stumbled across an interview with John A Rush who wrote a book called The Mushroom in Christian Art and it’s this whole theory that is very weighty and well supported with visual art work-- that Jesus actually is the personification of a psychedelic mushroom. That connection totally turned my world upside down because religion and psychedelics were the two things that have affected my life probably more than anything else.  And a lot of tribal art is really psychedelic too and just looks so rad.  And I definitely think tribal cultures have incredible wisdom and their art work is just totally mind-blowing and beautiful and they had a deeper understanding of life, they were more empowered, but it was also very physical.  I think a lot of that is because they weren't disconnected from the earth like we are now--  now things like nudity and living off the land are considered backwards or obscene or gross now, but it's what makes us human. Older cultures realized that certain foods could heal the body and they were holy- they contained wisdom. So that's where the whole organic interest comes in. I've been eating primarily organic food for about 4 years and it's amazing how much better it tastes and how much better you feel.  Right now most modern people are just taking in whatever is given to them- whatever the conventional foods are, whatever is on TV, it's very dangerous. We are in a place where we can get away with just following orders, consuming without comprehension or questioning. Our lives have become very ersatz. That's very different from growing and eating your own food and building your own home and creating your community with your neighbors from the natural resources around you. They were so smart and self sufficient and understood life and death in such a profound way.”

Q: This is kind of a more personal interest question, because I recently co-founded a website called The Do Not Enter Diaries, devoted to filming the stories of teenagers and their bedrooms, but I am interested to know what you were like as a teenager.  Was your room covered with art projects in-the-making?
A: “Actually my teen years were not very creative and I didn't make art until the tail end of high school. This is probably hard for most people to relate to if they haven't gone through it, but my early teen years were very much influenced by church and youth group and breaking away from that was very difficult and scary and I did not know how to express what I was going through. My brain's thoughts just could not correlate with (Evangelical) Christian thought anymore and everything fell apart mentally. I really didn't feel like I could express myself creatively at home.  I was getting into some cool underground music and books through the internet but I wasn't brave enough to start covering my walls with my new interests....although if there had been sites like yours at the time it might have empowered and inspired me.  Now that I am an adult with my own apartment I cover my studio walls with all sorts of awesome things so it’s kind of like having the dream teenage bedroom I never had. I think having a space that is personalized is so important. I watched your Do Not Enter Diaries sneak peak and I am really looking forward to the full launch!”

Q: Do you have any projects in the works we can look forward to?
A: “Right now I am working on pieces for a show titled "Works on Paper" on March 9th at the Open Space Gallery in Baltimore. The show is sort of the kick off for the Print and Multiples Fair that will be held in Baltimore. too. So, [it will include] pretty big paintings on paper and then I will be making a zine which I am planning on [devoting] to Jesus and mushrooms. After that I am planning on continuing more paintings on paper and sculptures.”

Thanks so much, Becca!

All images on this post are courtesy of Becca Kacanda

To check out more of Becca Kacanda and her Ultra Terrestrial art, click here

Follow me on Twitter @emmaedition

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