AUGUST SECOND | Something Amazing!!!

An Interview with artist Trina Van Ryn, whose video installation generated Something Amazing!!!
(click to read artist bio)

Julia Greenway (Curator, Interstitial Theatre) Can you begin by describing the installation piece that you will be exhibiting at Interstitial Theatre on August 2nd?

Trina Van Ryn The show at Interstitial Theatre is going to be really new and exciting for me because I've never had enough space to run multiple pieces at the same time. It will be interesting for me to see them all interacting with each other. I tend to make videos that loop - often involving two projections with thematic ties, but no time syncs. This allows for some chance rhythms to develop, which can sometimes bring more to the piece than tight control would. I’m anticipating some really interesting coincidences from this setup.

JG Why is it important for you to use video in this project?

TVR Video gives me the chance to perform and show my performance to an audience but not have to deal with my stage fright. I can also be a lot more honest with a video camera than I can with a real an audience full of actual people because I know that the video camera won’t get bored or roll its eyes at me, or start texting while I’m bearing my soul to it.

JG You have an MFA is sculpture, can you describe the transition from sculpture into installation/multi media work? Or do you consider them one in the same?

TVR It's funny. I majored in sculpture in undergrad in large part because the sculpture department was a catch-all for people who didn't want to tie themselves to any one medium. That, and I really like to use my hands. In my year, we had ceramicists, painters, video and performance artists, a set designer, a photographer - you name it. In many ways, I think that sculpture as an approach is analogous to the art world in general. It is becoming rare to find an artist who only takes photos or only carves things. Most artists are this-slash-that. At the end of undergrad, I was already focused on installation work and had never really produced anything you could call 'sculpture' in the traditional sense. My sense of space came into play a lot, which I think is a universal trait for sculptors.

JG Can you talk about how your work has evolved over the last few years?

TVR The biggest shift for me has been how much I take the viewer into account. In undergrad, I tried to be very aware of the viewer's experience. This, as it turns out, is not the most honest approach to art making. In placing more importance on an anonymous viewer’s experience than my own judgment, I was both selling my audience short by assuming that they wouldn’t find many things interesting, and giving myself an easy out as far as exploring my own opinions and emotions. Several grad school critiques pointed out the disparity between what I thought I was doing and what I actually was doing. In the end, I started thinking about what I want to put on display and not what I want people to see. I think that has led to a much more honest and self-gratifying artistic practice for me.

JG How does the use of glitter, tinsel and shiny objects lend to the concept of your work? ...and also, can you describe the use of clichés in your work? How does the emphasis placed on these clichés reflect our understanding of emotions?

TVR These questions could both be answered with similar statement, so I’m combining them. They were also the hardest to answer. I could write a manifesto on this subject, but nobody would want to read it because it would be full or wordy artspeak. At one point, I was even looking up quotes from Agnes Martin about the meaning of life…

I heard this joke - I think it was on RadioLab - involving Kristen Schaal. She was doing this skit that was supposed to be about barnyard animals. In it, her co-comedian sang a song, while slapping his knee, about how ‘Kristen Schaal is a horse.’ Only, that was the entire joke. She just skipped around the stage, as if she was riding a horse, and the guy sang that song over, and over, and over, and over again. The first time he sang it, it was kind of funny because it was unexpected and a little bit startling. The third and fourth times, it got boring. The seventh time, the audience sounded very quiet. Then, he kept repeating it and the audience started laughing. It went on and on, for at least 20 minutes. By the end, people were crying with laughter.

My point is that cliché, something that has been overused to the point of losing its original meaning, is not something that worries me. I don’t think that repetition leads to a complete loss of meaning. I think it leads to the creation of a new meaning, one that is more powerful and mysterious. I am dedicated to the idea that happiness is a valid goal in life and that a happy life is no less meaningful than any other approach to living.

Glitter and tinsel signify joy and have almost no theoretical attachment, so I use them in my work as any arrow that points to my goal. I think that a repetitive use of these materials doesn’t lead to a loss of their power, whereas an unabashed revelry in them brings this joyful attitude into conversation and, hopefully, validates it as an honest expression.

I wouldn’t say I use cliché on purpose, because I’m not trying to comment on the cliché of easy happiness just for its own sake. I’m not trying to prove it wrong or to delete its underlying message that happiness is good. I’m just going to keep repeating it until everyone finds it funny.

JG Clearly, you are interested in portraying different sides of human emotions. How are you able to take such a heavy concept and make it seem so simple and playful?

TVR I’d look at it from the opposite direction. Simple things are incredibly complicated. There’s nothing more intimidating than an empty piece of paper. It has the potential to by anything. I’ve always been surprised and delighted by the wide array of emotions that simple actions can express.

In some ways, this approach is related to particle physics. Anything around you is not just a simple object. It’s made of atoms, which are made of protons and neutrons, which are made of quarks, which are made of energy. Once you start trying to pare something down to its absolute essence, it becomes clear that nothing is simple. It also becomes apparent that everything is made up of the same stuff, which is a powerful message.

JG You are able to approach your work in a unique and humorous way. How do you feel about artists who take their work very seriously?

TVR Great works of art are interesting because of their nuanced ability to express many facets of human experience simultaneously. Art is an expression of our shared humanity and SHOULD be taken seriously! This doesn’t mean that it can’t be funny. I recently saw the new documentary about Marina Abromovic, arguably one of the world’s most serious artists, and she cracked herself up in parts of it! On the other end of the spectrum are Stewart/Colbert. Their shows are hilarious and yet still influential and informative. My own work is an expression of my personality, which is naturally light and buoyant. It also has notes of sadness and darkness. This is because I am human.

JG Do you feel apprehensive exposing yourself and your personal feeling to your audience? Is your work a reflection in how you deal with your own emotions?

TVR Of course I feel apprehensive showing strangers my personal emotions! I think that is a natural human trait. If you aren’t in some way scared by personal exposure to judgment, you are probably a psychopath. However, everybody that I admire artistically has talked about that gut-wrenching nervousness you get when you take a risk and present an honest new idea. It’s scary to open yourself up. It’s a lot easier to hide, but people can tell when they’re not getting all the information. I try not to lie to myself in my work and I think this openness is something that other people can relate to.

JG You said in an artist statement, “who would use this much glitter if they weren’t trying to prove something, especially to themselves?” What did you mean by this statement and how does this idea relate to your work?

TVR Growing up is not as easy as you think it will be when you’re twelve. I’ve always had this tendency to be awed by how great life is, but I have learned that it is full of problems. I consider myself a very lucky person. I come from a very loving family, I have a strong body, I tend to roll with the punches, and I tend to get the things I work for in life. However, this is not the easiest time to be young.

I started Cranbrook in the Fall of ’08 and, from the vantage point of the suburbs of Detroit, had a front row seat of this recession. At the end my first year, I had not gotten quite the amount of praise for my work that I had been used to in undergrad and the world seemed like a much scarier place in which to be a young artist. That summer, I spent a lot of time thinking about what I really want out of my work and out of my life. As artists, we have this wonderful gift or being able to express ourselves and create our own realities. Even though some parts of life have been disappointing, I always want to believe that existence is amazing. Being at Cranbrook forced me to face my weaknesses and figure out how I want to deal with them and I emerged from there with a much stronger commitment to my convictions.

JG What is it that you want your viewer to take away from this body of work?

TVR I don’t really know what the viewer should take away from my work. I think it depends a lot on where the viewer is in his or her life. Watching a sunset can be life-affirming, depressing, just something nice to see, or even a complete waste of time. All of these are valid responses. Even though I love showing my work to other people, I’m really not making it for anyone but myself. Basically, viewers in the past have tended to project their own feelings onto my work and then respond to the aspects that they are most in touch with at the time. If my work can make people think about their own emotions, that’s great, but I don’t presume to know what viewers are lacking in their understanding of life or that I have any answers to give anyone.

JG What’s next for you and glitter? What is your future looking like together?

TVR Well, we’re thinking of getting a house together. In a few years, we’ll probably get some sequins, maybe a little rhinestone. The future looks very much like this:
JG What where you like as a kid?

TVR Aw man, I was the biggest dork as a kid. I mean, I had my fun, but my only friends were my sisters. Apparently, I sang constantly. In a very high little girl voice. All the time. I also had very nerdy interests like watching science and history documentaries instead of Saturday morning cartoons. Middle school was great for me because I went to middle school with a bunch of people who didn’t know me in elementary school and by the time I was 11, I had realized that nobody else really wants to hear about the mating cycle of ladybugs or the new song I made up about fairies.

I had a lot of alone time, which made me very comfortable with myself. I remember when I was really little, like four or five years old, I used to sit in my room and wonder at how lucky I was to be in my family, in my house, in this beautiful world. The biggest lesson I took from this lonely, happy childhood was that other people can be mean if they want to. I would much rather marvel at the beauty around me than dampen that feeling for other people.

JG Who are you idealizing right now?

TVR Right now, I’d say Yayoi Kusama is pretty cool. She just does whatever the hell she wants! She voluntarily lives in a mental institution so that nobody questions her when she wears her bright red wig in public. She has a show at the Whitney and a line with Louis Vuitton and it seems like she’s never given less of a fuck what people think of her. I’d like to be like that. Just tell everyone ‘Fuck You, I’m putting glitter ALL OVER this shit!’


Trina Van Ryn is originally from St. Louis, Missouri. She received her BFA in Sculpture and Art History from Washington University in St. Louis in 2007, followed by an MFA in Sculpture from Cranbrook Academy of Art in 2010. Always fascinated by things that are shiny, she is currently focusing on playing with glitter, tinsel, sculpture, installation and video. Her work has been exhibited nationally in galleries and festivals such as the Museum of Contemporary Art in Detroit, Forum Gallery in Bloomfield Hills, MI, and as a top 100 finalist in Artist Wanted: The Power of Self. In the spring, she completed a residency at the Vermont Studio Center. This fall, Trina will return to Washington University in St. Louis to receive a Masters Degree in Teaching, in addition to being reunited with Gesso, her cat. Trina Van Ryn currently lives and works in Brooklyn New York.