elliot earl keeley
february 11, 2017
boone, north carolina
Ava: Are you a cat or a dog?
Elliot: What do you mean, like am I a cat person or a dog person or do I prefer--
Ava: No, are you yourself a cat or a dog?
Elliot: Cat. I’m a cat for sure.
Ava: What have you been listening to lately in your studio?
Elliot: I’ve been listening to a lot of Afro-rock, of all kinds, Afro-rock and Afro-soul. It’s got good energy, I guess. That’s all I’ll say about that.
Ava: What is your studio beverage of choice?
Elliot: Water, or beer. Or, you know, old coffee.
Adele: Old… coffee.
Elliot: Yeah, it’s been sitting around.
Ava: So you drink it cold?
Elliot: Well, I don’t know, that just happened recently. There were some coffee cups, and I couldn’t remember which one was mine, and I picked one up and it was really old.
Adele: Did it have mold it in?
Elliot: No, it didn’t. It was from like two days before. It was just cold. And it was espresso.
Adele: Did you enjoy it?
Ava: Was it delicious?
Elliot: Yeah, it was good. So I kept drinking it.
Ava: Describe your studio practice as a party.
Elliot: Sometimes it’s like, you know, you have a potluck and no one signs up for food and then everybody brings soup.
Adele: Everyone always brings chips and hummus though.
Elliot: Or yeah, everybody brings chips and hummus. There’s no organization, there’s no planning ahead. None of it makes sense or is satisfying at the time but you remember it really well as a pretty good time, like, remember that potluck we had? Someone brings something really great, and there was one great dish. Sometimes I work on a lot of bullshit in my studio and I make one thing that was really memorable and that’s what makes it satisfying.
Ava: Mmhmm, like someone brings homemade spinach artichoke dip.
Elliot: Yeah, if that’s what you like.
Adele: I was gonna say like, you know, some sort of delicacy, like homemade meatballs or something.
Elliot: Yeah, someone goes all out, they pour their energy into this one dish, and everybody else fucking brings--
Ava: --chips and salsa--
Elliot: --chips and salsa, or something like that. Or a baguette.
Adele: Yeah, like bottle of wine and goldfish. Damnit.
Elliot: One time, a friend and I made a chicken pot pie for a potluck, and--I won’t name any names cuz this is on the record, but--someone sat on it, and then they still served it to everyone and we got to the party and he walked in and was like, “hey I brought that chicken pot pie that I made! It’s a little fucked up, who cares!” He stuffed the chicken back in after his ass already touched it.
Adele: Was this a performance piece?
Elliot: No. It was great.
Ava: So are you saying that the chicken pot pie is when you like, try to solder one thing and you melt off another thing and it all just kind of falls apart?
Elliot:Yeah, things don’t always go as planned.
Adele: Sometimes your butt touches the food.
Elliot: Yeah, sometimes you sit on your pot pie.
Ava: What rituals do you have?
Elliot: That’s a hard one, again. I don’t feel good about that question because I don’t spend a lot of my time being deliberate about always doing certain things.
Ava: Even without being deliberate about it, do you think that there are things that you do in a specific way just out of habit,like the way you make coffee, for example, or shampoo your head. Do you find any ritual to that or is it random every time?
Elliot: Yeah, I mean I do those things the same way every time but I don’t think of it as a ritual. I mean all of those things are rituals but none of them are too extraordinary. Which is funny because I always say that I like to find the beauty or the aesthetic value of things that are all around me. When I’m walking, I’m always looking down, I’m never looking ahead, because I’m trying to find those things that are left around. I spent a lot of time on my hands and knees looking around on the ground.
Adele: That’s funny you should say that because part of the thing I’m trying to teach my students this semester is that looking is a process of making, to help them shed their ideas of the easy answers or cliché solutions. I’ve assigned them each a color that they have to make work about and in the hopes that whoever has magenta is inadvertently training themselves to always be looking for magenta and that’s how they start to think about that color. Instead of being like, well, if I make something about magenta it’s just going to be flood pink or something, which is an easy answer. A ritual can be a way of thinking that’s taught or practiced.
Elliot: I do practice trying to see things differently.
Adele: Is that how you find the things in your work? Because I’ve noticed there are a lot of small items and I’m really curious about how you find the materials you use.
Elliot: I’m not just going to the hardware store, I’m looking for something that’s going to excite me. I’m not just taking a walk, I’m keeping my eye open for something that’s going to change the way I see a certain location. Oftentimes I don’t remember where I find things but sometimes it’s so specific I can tell a whole story about when I found something, what I was doing, who I was with, and that’s a way of connecting an object with a place or a point in time.
That’s what a lot of this stuff is, like that piece of tape on that necklace on the wall--I found it at my friend’s house. My friend’s dog chewed it up. And I was like, man, I love this dog, I love the color red, I love this moment, I love the people that were there in the moment. That meaning has nothing to do with the piece, now it’s just a composition, but it connects me to it in a deeper way. It’s more meaningful to me. Which is why I’m interested in jewelry because I can take those moments that I know and am so familiar with and it becomes unknown. Every time someone looks at it I can’t come up to them and say, “hey you, guess what, all these pieces mean this.” You can try it on close to your body and you can have a similar experience that I’ve had with this object but it’s become so far removed from the original meaning, it’s abstracted at that point.
Jewelry has three layers of viewership: there’s the person wearing it, the audience, and this context of you seeing it on the wall, and there’s my relationship to it and my relationship to the wearer. Like I said, I can’t tell someone everything there is about a piece. You have to trust that--or I have to trust that--someone’s going to understand it, just a little bit.
Adele: I can tell from your zine. That’s my best point of entry as a designer. I’m like “oh yeah, I can read this.” I feel like I understand you based on how you made that zine.
Elliot: Yeah, and the zine is just a collection. I don’t always use a sketchbook for drawing and collage. It’s sometimes a flat file where I keep something I’ve found on the street. I found this cool piece of paper, I can’t put it in my pocket or throw it in with the rest of the hard objects so I put it in a sketchbook and I can revisit that, and revisit those moments, because sometimes it is really easy to remember but sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it’s so vivid.
Ava: What are the greatest challenges facing your artmaking in the next year?
Elliot: I am really worried about being at Penland for the next two years. Or--the next year is gonna be a very different experience of making. It’s going to be way more public than I’m used to. This exhibition [up at the Nth Gallery in Boone] is the first time a lot of people in Boone--and I’ve lived here six years now--have seen my work. I’d consider it to be a private part of who I am. I’m not shy to tell people I make art, I’m not ashamed of that, but I don’t throw out a business card all the time. I’m kind of worried about being at Penland and being a face for the school. I’m worried about meeting expectations that people have of Core Fellows that they’ve met in the past, expectations of what kind of work I should be making or what kind of quality work I should be making. I don’t want Penland to change the way that I work because I don’t always like being tight, I don’t always like making things perfect. It can be imperfect and still be beautiful. I don’t think that craft has to be painstaking, it can be freeing. Or you can totally dissociate yourself from any kind of craft. I’m worried about what people are going to think of my work. I do worry too much about what people think about me but I’ve never done anything like this. It’s a residency where what’s at stake is my name, kind of, and my work.