Dana Lynn Harper

Dana Lynn Harper holds an undergraduate degree in Art & Technology from The Ohio State University in 2009 where she received an Undergraduate Research Grant.  She was the recipient of The Bunton Waller Fellowship from Penn State University, where Harper received her MFA in 2013. Harper has been an Artist in Residence at Bunker projects and Second Sight Studio and was awarded an ArtPrize Artist Seed Grant and The ArtFile Emerging Artist Grant in 2014.  Harper has had solo exhibitions at Otterbein University, University of Kentucky and most recently, Front/Space Gallery & Museum in Kansas City, MO.

Artist Statement
My work explores moments of self-transcendence, where time is slowed down and the outside world is forgotten, a place where the imagination is ignited. My perceptually encompassing environments are an invitation to lose yourself through unknowing, allowing anxiety to be distracted by an eagerness to discover. Using overpowering color, inviting textures and an overall multi-sensory experience, the works act as a portal to warm feelings and childhood fantasy, a social catalyst for interaction and connection. Playful patterns, dancing tinsel and unapologetic fluorescent colors are not only a testament to the beauty of life, but to the ever-encompassing joy of living.

Working with forms and colors from cartoons, coral reefs and the microscopic, each piece has an organic organization; paired with unnatural color and implacable materials. This mixing and matching of natural forms with altered synthetic material sends the viewer into a state of unknowing. By masking medium through process, in conjunction with size, color and light, these otherworldly installations avoid referencing one place more than another. This transformation allows my work to remain unbiased and approachable, relatable through beauty; regardless of background, age or heritage.

Equally inspired by vast landscapes and infinitesimal plankton and pollen, the installations simulate the feeling of size and perspective fluctuation. My mini series also has this effect, encouraging the viewer to imagine a shrunken version of the body within the context of the small landscape.  By transporting the viewers outside of themselves, the imagination is released from the physical, guiding them to excitement, revitalization and an invigorated sense of self.

Employing discovery through observation, I consciously ignore a traditional technique or process when approaching a project. Exploring the unexpected capabilities of a material leads to unforeseen concoctions and hybrids in not only media but also ideas. I re-purpose, multiply and reposition material found in my world to create a new and fantastic portal for my own and the viewer’s self-transcendence. Through this ever-changing process of creation, play becomes a transient state that gives me a childlike sensibility and motivation to keep creating. 

To find out more about Dana and her work, visit her website!

Interview with Dana Lynn Harper

Hi Dana! Can you describe your working routine? Do you have a daily studio practice? What is the most important part of maintaining a ‘successful' studio practice?
My studio is currently in my apartment and neighbors' bedroom. Once coffee is finished I go to my studio and play a couple episodes of whatever TV series I’m in the middle of. I usually write in the morning and work on projects in the afternoon. I have a TV series playing nearly all day, it preoccupies a part of my brain, allowing me to focus on two things at once really slows me down. Slowing down is a good thing for me or I get really anxious and non-productive. 

I like working on multiple projects at once, I’m usually writing, looking for opportunities and making art all in the same week. So I sort of pick and choose what I want to focus on or what I want to ignore, having this sort of control gives me a sense of urgency. Jumping from project to project during the day keeps me excited. I like to be in my studio at least 6 hours a day. There are days when I spend over 12 hours in my studio. Studio time varies for all of us, in what we actually do in the studio, whether that is thinking, programming, designing or fabrication. I think an artist needs to sit in their creative space at least once a day, the studio needs to become a safe place, the more time we spend with it, the more comfortable we become. 

Thinking and writing are both important, but I find the most interesting moments and ideas when I am deep in play. There are lots of times when I am not intending to make art, but one object on top of another inspires a new installation. Extended amounts of uninterrupted time in the studio are essential to getting to the good stuff.  Sometimes I go to studio and nothing happens, I can’t make decisions and I am left feeling like I got nothing accomplished. But those stagnant times are necessary; sometimes looking and thinking are just as important as physically making. I think showing up every day is the real work. 

Can you give us some insight into your process? How do you begin? Do you keep a sketchbook/does drawing play a part in your work?
I don’t really sketch in a traditional sense. I don’t use a sketchbook. I collect materials; I am always looking for interesting objects or things. There’s lots of experimentation and play, mix and matching pieces together. I try not to start with any plan, but rather pair things intuitively. The process is malleable, never permanent; works are often made in pieces. Grad school revealed to me what can happen when I am less inhibited. I think most artists need that, to relinquish fear. For me it was the financial fear, the fear that I am being wasteful with material. Having a fellowship during graduate school allowed me to spend more money on the work, which opened me up to experimentation and play. That is how I sketch, with objects and materials.  

How does your artist statement function for you? Do you think it is an important element in the practice of being an artist? Do you see writing as a language that is synonymous with art?
An artist statement forces me to face my artistic practice head on, I have to analyze what I am doing and why.  This is necessary for me because I am constantly making and changing the direction that I am going. Writing helps me understand my process, the meaning and motivation behind my work. Every time I submit a statement it is different from the last one that I sent, it is always moving and shifting. I used to keep lists of words on my studio wall, they helped me connect forms, colors and patterns to ideas and concepts. I don’t think writing is synonymous with art. Art is for the moments that we cannot express through words, I make sculptures because I get to invent new parts of my physical reality. The more installations I make, the more I realize that what I am doing can never be described in words. Yet, there is a connection with story-telling, I am obsessed with Harry Potter, with made-up worlds that are all given to me in words and then fabricated in my imagination. I love stories and the way they make me feel, but I have never been drawn to writing, it’s no fun for me. Physical pieces of art, like installations and sculptures physically disrupt our world, where as written stories disrupt our imagination.

Is community and conversation among artists and viewers important to you—both in art school and beyond? Has the internet changed these interactions? How do you stay engaged in dialogue now that you are out of school?
Community has always been important, I look to other artists to give me context for my work, to understand all the visual and conceptual layers. My boyfriend, Gabe Michael Kenney, and I have been living in Columbus, OH for over a year now and have just now started to feel “a part” of the arts community. For young artists that move to new cities, just keep trying, keep going to shows and reaching out. I think networking is a horrible word, it implies that we make relationships in order to receive something in return. That’s not really how it works. What’s really happening is you get all of these new artist friends that really love and respect what you do. They come across opportunities and pass them along to you because they genuinely know that you will thrive. Being around other artists is a necessity for me; I need them around me in order to feel like I have a place in this world. The older I get the more distanced I am from “non-creatives,” it becomes difficult to have casual conversations. Creatives live a completely different lifestyle from most people and its important to have a support system that encourages you and supports you.

Having other artists around me that know me well, that understand who I am, not just as an artist but beyond, are essential. The conversations I have, the experiences that are brought about just by their company or being in their studio, help me understand myself.  Finding other artists that are doing similar things, whether that is process, color, pattern or form help me see that I am apart of a larger conversation, that my perspective is not singular but relatable.  Hearing viewers talk about the work is essential to understanding how my work is functioning in the real world. It’s not so much what they say, but rather their reaction to the work. I want to make sure that they inspect it, that they chose to stay, to touch, and to explore. Watching viewers interact with a piece informs me whether it is working or not, talking with artists helps me understand why it’s working and how I can make it better or more effective.  

Instagram has allowed me to continue the conversation with other artists across the country. I discovered a new space in Kansas City, MO over instagram and had a solo show where I got to meet some amazing new artists including Garry Noland and Madeline Gallucci, both of whom I plan on showing with in the near future.  I am also in contact with artists in San Francisco, LA and Australia, seeing where feedback is coming from and being able to tune in to other artist’s studios through instagram is helpful in understanding my own practice.  The conversation is not the same as it was in school, I don’t get nearly as much critical feedback, but it is easy to figure out which direction to go in. I pay attention to which works are the most exciting to other artists that I admire; it’s a strange twisted critique. Solo exhibitions, art talks and studio visits help keep me connected and initiate the best new conversation about my work.

Your work often feels very organic, almost alive in its forms—yet it also evokes a futuristic aesthetic. Is this intentional? Is this a window into your perspective pertaining to the possibilities of the future?
I am always looking at natural formations for inspiration, large landscapes, growing moss and even microscopic images. I think of my work as otherworldly, not of this place. Rather than futuristic, I think it is timeless and undetermined. I do think about the future a lot and what I can give to make it better. All of my work is intended to spark the imagination, to present a place or object that becomes a gateway to possibilities. I believe children are the closest to their true selves, I believe that we are manipulated by time, societal expectations and fear. Children’s kindness and open-mindedness are mind blowing and I believe that if we can maintain some of these childhood characteristics as adults we would all be much better human beings. Igniting the child within adults is important to me, it is the motivation behind my work and indirectly reflects my concerns about the future.

You mention that your work is relatable to wide audience through the concept of ambiguous beauty—can you talk about how that functions specifically in your installation, Bloom Bloom?
Bloom Bloom covers you in warm light and soft texture. She is a total environment, a separated space. Creating a space that overwhelms through color and light, which pulls from and mimics nature allows viewers to be in awe but without fear. There are endless references, from the uterus to the inside of a pumpkin. Everyone that enters the space has a reference that makes the installation relatable. Using repetition is an easy way to create pattern and texture, in Bloom Bloom, the repetition creates an undulating canopy that is made of bright inviting texture. This familiarity and beauty allow Bloom Bloom to be approachable. 

Your work awakens a sense of the imagination—do you feel like that is an important element in artwork in 2015? What are your thoughts on the overall presence of imagination in society today?
Imagination empowers us, to dream and to create. It allows for previous impossibilities to become realities.  In order to change our world we have to imagine that it can be better, we have to believe that things can be different. Imagination is important for any line of work. I look at people in my own life, experiences I’ve had, I make things that I feel the world needs. My work is not a reaction to the art world, I hope that it proceeds it, that it moves people who are not in the arts. As far as artwork in 2015, I see artists who are using similar overall pattern and made-up worlds, many are friends of mine, so it's hard to say that this is a pattern that is occurring across the board. I think imagination is downplayed, used as a process to get towards one end goal, a product. As adults, we don’t spend much time daydreaming or playing “pretend.” Imagination for the sake of imagination is almost non-existent as an adult. That has a lot to do with our consumer-based culture.  It seems that everything has to have a purpose, we are no longer making art or using our imagination in order to simply dream, but instead we are focused on designing objects, places and architecture. Ideas that cannot be placed in our current state of reality do not have any value because the value is not yet definable. As adults, we disregard “outrageous” idealistic ideas and tendencies because we can’t put them in their place, we can’t connect the dots. As an artist I have realized that I can’t always define what I am doing or find logic in it, but later down the line, everything comes together. All the pieces and parts start to form one image or one idea, but if I had stopped myself because I was fearful of it being nonsense, I wouldn’t be where I am now. Imagination takes you there, it is the seed of every good idea and every new development.

You mention that ‘play' becomes a transient state for you when you work—can you describe how you get to a mental state where that is possible and the importance of getting there in order to continue creating?
I collect materials and objects from anywhere that I can find them, I pick up things that I find interesting.  These materials inspire my work, each one a moving part, manipulated and paired with another. I used to be hesitant about what I buy, that I must know exactly how I am going to use the object. But now I allow myself the freedom to make a mistake, whether that is early on in process, even buying the material itself or later on.  I match materials together, sometimes through color or pattern. I place them next to each other and see if their conversation is worth preserving. As the arrangement changes, so does the appearance or interpretation of the material. I often work in ways that can be easily undone. Not many things are permanent; they can be untied or taken off. Starting out using so many digital programs as a young artist has influenced my interactions with materials. I was using Photoshop back in high school and my undergraduate degree was in Art & Technology. These digital programs got me used to thinking in layers, always being able to go back and undo. The installations are really the last step in the process, after I’ve mixed and matched materials, manipulated them and transformed them into something new, I have to think in a more conscious way. Selecting what process to move forward with is based on practicality and feasibility. 

Are there a few artists that you are looking at currently?
I am always looking at Yayoi Kusama, I relate to her obsessive process, her pattern making. I also enjoy seeing variety in her work, she moves from paintings to installations and I love that. I also love Alyson Shotz, Tara Donovan and Lynda Benglis. The two duos Pip and Pop, Friends With You and Confetti System also inform me of my own playful nature. I am also always looking at my friends work, works by Madeline Galucci as well as Joe Hengst are always inspiring.

If you could ask one of these artists a question, what would it be?
My question would go to Yayoi Kusama, how do you balance drawing with the creation of your installations? What drives you to still create 2D works after creating such respected and successful installations?

What do you listen to while you work? Any music or podcasts we should check out? 
I actually don’t listen to music when I create work, I think it enters my head space too much. I can’t ignore music, I find myself fighting to concentrate. But for some reason I have no problem having my computer constantly playing television shows while I write, prepare and construct my work. I have watched so many series, the Harry Potter movies, The Office, Futurama and Bob’s Burgers are my fall back shows, things that I can watch no matter what. Lately, I have been watching a lot of HBO, Six Feet Under and Veep have been my most recent favorites. 

Thanks so much for taking the time to share your work and talk with us!

To find out more about Dana and her work, check out her website.