Artist Interview: Roz Crews


Remember when I said I would blog all throughout my semester abroad and then I didn't? hA yeah that was naive of me. LET ME NOW DISTRACT YOU FROM MY PITFALLS WITH A LOVELY INTERVIEW WITH ARTIST ROZ CREWS.

For those of y'all who are unfamiliar, Roz Crews works with the public to create artworks that explore the process of learning and question institutional notions of education. Last semester she was the Artist In Residence at the Hoffman Gallery and put on a very cool show called "When Research Can Be A Rainbow." Unfortunately I missed out because I wasn't on campus that semester, but I hear that it involved floor sitting and free tea and cookies, so naturally, I'm a fan.

For more information about Roz' work, you can visit her website: rozcrews.info

For more information about "How Research Can Be A Rainbow" listen to the PioPod episode, "Exploring Research Methods Through Art" wherever you get your podcasts.

1. I noticed that you’ve done a lot of work with Lewis & Clark (I’m a big fan of “Community For Rent” and of course, your residency last semester). How did that relationship start?

The short answer is my partner is an alumni! He studied sculpture at LC. Longer answer is: At some point Linda Tesner, the former director of the Hoffman, invited Spencer and I to use the Hoffman over the summer as a site for community engagement / a place to host activities related to our small press (Sunday Painter Press), but then we couldn't do it because the gallery was to be used for rentals in the summer. A few months later, Pearl Hesselden invited Spencer and I to do a project for LC art week - Community for Rent! Then Sage Roebuck invited me to do a project with art club, and after that, Jess Perlitz invited me to do the project last semester.

2. How would you describe your process? How do you decide the best method or material to use for each project?

I have a few different processes depending on the kind of project I'm working on. Most often, I'm asked to do a project at a particular place, so I spend time learning about the qualities of that place (very context-specific, and often folks have specific requests they're hoping I'll fulfill through the project). I do research by talking to people and reading newspaper articles about the place. Then I decide what makes sense to do within that context. I also pay attention to the limitations including things like: Is there space available for me to create an installation or exhibition? Is there a budget to print publications or buy materials or pay other people to participate? Is the place far away from where I live or close? Sometimes I involve other people from that place in the decisions about what the project should be, but usually, I design a framework that allows for people to participate in *hopefully* meaningful ways.

3. How has the coronavirus impacted your work and process?

Well, it's required me to think in new ways about how to do my projects. It's also caused me to reflect deeply on why I live in Portland and whether or not I should consider moving back to Florida where rents are much cheaper. I had a solo exhibition cancelled, and I reworked the project to make it a publication. I am teaching online instead of in person, and I got to design my dream drawing class which I teach over Zoom to kids, teens, and adults (it's not affiliated with any university or school, so I can do whatever I want). That's been great. I'm not sure what it will mean for future work, but I'm looking forward to it. Just another limitation.

Drawing of a favorite book character from memory from the Drawing Time workshops (2020)

4. Who are your artistic influences?

I've been really inspired by artists that I've met in person who helped shape who I am: Harrell Fletcher, Kristan Kennedy, Coco Fusco, Morgan Puett, Jo Jackson, Anna Craycroft, Miranda July, Paul Ramirez Jonas, Lee Walton, Jen Delos Reyes

And lots of artists that I don't know:

David Hammons, Group Material/Julie Ault, Jon Rubin, Stephanie Syjuco

5. What is your favorite drawing tool?

Micron pens, copic markers, mechanical pencil

6. When working with the general community, you can’t control outcomes - what do you do when your results don’t come out as expected?

I usually start my projects with a loose framework of what I expect to happen, but I design them so there is a lot of surprises along the way. By creating a lot of space for intentional unknown things to happen - I'm sort of waiting for the outcome to be unexpected (if that makes sense). I thrive on working that way because I learned a long time ago that I can't control what other people do or what happens in a project. It gives me a lot of excitement.

"Wouldn't exist without your questions" (2017), A performance in which Roz answers participants' questions through a drawing that they can keep.

7. I'm an introvert, but I'm super interested in collaborative artworks. Do you have any tips for getting past collaborative stage fright?

I'm an introverted only child (I get a lot of energy from being alone), and I sort of save-up my energy to do public things. For me, I combated stage fright by throwing myself into public space over and over and over again when I was in grad school. About a year or so into it, I started to enjoy speaking in public, and I realized that no one's judgements can affect me that much if I really believe what I'm saying. Sometimes people's critiques or words do affect me, and they can change how I move through the world for the better. So I like that.

8. How do you even get people to participate?

Well, I usually try to create situations for people to engage in that I myself would like to engage in if someone asked me. That's really important to me. If the task I'm asking people to do feels at alll like something I wouldn't want to do, I have to shift it. I also try to prioritize following people's energy, asking myself, "what does it seem like people are excited about in this place?" Then I try to design something based on that. I never force anyone to participate, and starting in 2017, I've been really focused on doing projects that are for participants who aren't REQUIRED to be there. I realized awhile ago that people who are required to participate are not my ideal audience. It has to be something they choose and want to enjoy.

8. Out of all of the collaborative works that you have either led or participated in, which has been your favorite? Why?

I learned to make participatory work by participating in other people's projects, and some of those have been really enjoyable...but I'd have to say my favorite project I've done is probably the one at LC last semester. I really liked working with all the faculty members, and I learned so much. I also loved the staff that worked with me in the gallery, they were all so wonderful and curious. Many of my works aren't actually that collaborative but rather, I think of them as participatory. Sometimes I work collaboratively with someone to design a project (Schemers, Scammers, and Subverters Symposium was totally collaborative from start to finish because Ralph and I came up with the idea together and then produced it together with people who participated as lecturers and vendors), but normally, I work in a pretty solitary way to come up with an idea that is then produced through semi-collaborative approaches or enacted through participation. Pablo Helguera does a good job breaking down the spectrum of collaboration/participation in his book Education for Socially Engaged Art.


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