Studio visit is a Q&A with a local artist. Here, Melissa Merli chats with Quinn Koeneman, who is about to begin his second year studying at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Q: You're going to be a sophomore at the School of the Art Institute, right? How's it going for you up there?
A: It's going really well. I feel I fit in there very well. It's a very encouraging atmosphere, and everybody has his own thing, so I'm looking forward to going back.
Q: Do you have a major?
A: The school doesn't really have majors, so I'm focusing on drawing and sculpture, and I can change that any time I want. And they don't give grades. It's pass-fail. We grade on the critique system.
Q: How have your critiques been going?
A: Mostly positive — and the negatives help you learn.
Q: What have you learned?
A: Omigod, where do I start? You'll have to give me a minute for that one. I guess the favorite thing I learned is the power of poetics.
Q: And what do you mean by that?
A: Poignant is another word I would use. It's one of those abstract things. It's so hard to describe. It's that feeling when you look at a piece and it just feels perfect in some non-aesthetically beautiful way.
Q: It seems like many of the pieces in this show of yours at Indi Go (which ended Aug. 13) are poetic — and about the spaces between people.
A: Proxemics (study of the cultural, behavioral and sociological aspects of spatial distances between individuals) is the name of the scientific study I reference a lot.
The whole idea, I guess for me, started with the idea that you can't touch art, and I want my work to have a relationship between itself and the viewer, and you need a lack of barriers for that to happen.
Q: Tell me about this piece, "Awkward Message Board." Did you walk around Champaign wearing it? What were the reactions?
A: I had someone else walk around in it. I walked around in it in Chicago. It was fairly positive and interesting. My original plan was to have people analyze their comfort zone with me and a strange object, but it also ended up giving everybody else an opportunity to be an artist by drawing on it.
Q: Tell me about this piece that looks like a sail, called "The Crazy Ones."
A: I started thinking about sails and what they do for people — pull them forward — emphasis on the forward. So I decided to walk around the Windy City as if it was propelling me.
Q: Did the cops stop you?
A: Yes, two security guards on Segways in Millennium Park asked if I was going to leave it there because they thought I was going to use it to commit vandalism. When I told them it was an art project, they took an interest in it and seemed to like it. When the wind picked up, it pulled me backward instead of forward. I thought that was poetic.
Q: Tell me about "At Most Fears" (a group of Mason jars labeled with titles such as "Atmosphere of Endings," "Atmosphere of Id", etc).
A: Every time I put a Polaroid picture in one of the jars, I breathed into the jar and gathered into it air from the area where I took the picture, before sealing the jar.
So theoretically it would hold the air from that moment in time and space. If a jar were to break, it couldn't be remade because that moment is gone. I was alluding to memories.
Q: What is your favorite piece?
A: "Almost/L'Amour" is one of my favorites because it drew an emotional reaction from one of my teachers. It deals with love and death in this strange, quiet way. Part of the idea is the struggle to operate it, like a marionette puppet. In the struggle to find something you desire so much, you have to find beauty in your struggle.
Q: Your pieces are so conceptual. Are you always thinking about what you're going to make next? Why did you pick art as a way to express yourself?
A: To be honest, I can't do anything else with my life, or else my ideas would pile up. It's a compulsion. This just had to be. I don't feel I chose art in any fashion. The ideas just keep coming, and the only way to move on is to make them.