Who here would consider themselves an artist? Who here would consider themselves an athlete? Who here believes that you can seamlessly meld the two together? While it may not seem like the most likely combination, Regin Igloria, a visual arts teacher from Chicago, is doing just that by walking all the way to Outhaus Gallery in Urbana to present a day-long drawing performance. I was curious as to why he’s undertaking the crazy long distance between Urbana and Chicago, so keep on reading and get ready to mark off September 20th on your calendar.
Smile Politely: So as I understand it you’re walking from Chicago to Champaign, opening an art gallery for one night, and leaving the next day. Could you explain why, in particular, you’re undertaking this sort of walk?
Regin Igloria: I’ve done many walks as performance pieces, or what some might consider durational experiences, for the past ten years. Initially they were attempts to find moments and images that I could use as references for my drawings. Eventually the walks became works themselves as I discovered how complex walking could actually become, especially in the context of social and cultural perceptions of movement in a particular landscape. I also came to realize the process of drawing (repetitive mark-making, the monotonous strain) mimicked the process of walking long distances. Both allowed me to reach bouts of joy and/or frustration, which was an exercise in self-discipline.
There are many artists and writers who use walking as an art form or subject matter, and I have definitely considered their approach (Richard Long, Henry Thoreau, Rebecca Solnit), but I am mostly influenced by individuals who I’ve recently read about who approach it out of a more direct and sheer necessity: James Robertson, whose story of having to walk 21 miles each way to work became an internet sensation earlier this year, and the Venezuelan athlete, Maickel Melamed, who was the last person to complete the Boston Marathon this year. These are just two examples of individuals who have kept me humble about the whole walking experience.
I have always been interested in the figure in the landscape — how one copes with challenges both physical and psychological as they traverse through it — so I continuously look at how others immerse themselves in specific landscapes. And when I speak of landscapes, I’m talking about every possible kind. Land as our daily routine, the sidewalk as a guide to fulfillment, the road as the path to success. I’m interested in the range of spaces we encounter and how we are affected by them; it’s a humbling experience to know how and why individuals travel. The idea of walking to Champaign/Urbana came from Bert Stabler’s open call to present at Outhaus. Knowing someone at point B gave me enough reason to think about the town as a possible destination. To me, it doesn’t matter if that point is one mile or 500 miles (or more) away. The only incentive I need to start planning for a walk is that someone or something is waiting for me when I arrive. In this case, the goal is to use the long, arduous walk to get into a certain frame of mind so that when I arrive at the Outhaus, my drawing process becomes clear and succinct. It’ll be interesting to see how it actually affects the kind of marks I make and my approach to using brush and ink. Maybe it won’t — I don’t know as I have never put myself into this situation before.
SP: What is the theme or focus of the gallery? What style of art are you trying to showcase?
Igloria: I was initially drawn to Outhaus because I had always envisioned performing a durational drawing piece that would be enclosed in a small space (like the gallery), where I could be sitting and drawing at a table. To me, it is a perfect setting for a piece like this as it evokes a private, quiet sanctuary where one can focus on one task at hand. In this case, it will afford me an opportunity to continue this mindful walk in the form of drawing with ink.
When I am at the Outhaus, my plan is to draw inside the space until I complete every page of the ten blank books I bring along. It might take three or four hours, or it might take all day to complete. It is not an exercise in futility, or a masochistic endurance ritual. What I want to do is remove the typical rules from the equation, such as “you only have an hour’s time to work until going to the office.” I actually hope it will be the most calming and relaxed thing I can do as an artist. What happens when you allow yourself the time and space to complete an action fully? What happens when you don’t have to have an end product? What does it even mean to finish an action? These are questions I don’t think we have opportunities to answer — or we don’t really make a worthwhile effort to fulfill. I see the walking portion as the long, stretched out breath one takes in order to settle into a calm frame of mind.
SP: How long has it taken you to prepare for the gallery? What has been the most fulfilling and frustrating part of those preparations?
Igloria: I spend most of my time preparing for various projects that take place throughout the year — either on my own or with my involvement in collaborations (e.g. as Free Air with artist, Amy Sinclair), performing for other artists’ work, teaching, plus working my arts administration job. With most of my projects that involve books, it is completely immersed in daily activity as a “maker of parts.” The last few months have been made up of everything from lumber and power tools, to sewing with needles and thread, so it’s a nice mix of soft and hard materials.
I haven’t experienced any frustration with this project; though I know when I begin my hike I will encounter physical pain and/or exhaustion, and just downright weariness of seeing cornfields for hours on end. I also know that is part of the process, so between the moments of struggle is joy — moments I look forward to.
SP: Outhaus Gallery is a bit off the beaten path of what I normally think of as an art gallery, why did you choose to showcase your art at Outhaus gallery? Is the gallery going to be aiding in the showcase and expression of your art?
Igloria: I chose to do this piece at Outhaus primarily because it seems so obscure and unassuming as a venue for experiencing works of art. I think about the space as a typical backyard shed, a place you might find power tools and a lawn mower, or some other landscaping equipment that the average homeowner might have—but has potential secrets and a mystifying presence. I always wonder what people store away in their basements and attics, and what takes place within those spaces. The Outhaus takes on a similar feeling for me, a domestic space that evokes images of rummage and yard sales, and the personal histories those quirky one-day events hold because of the objects they contain.
I have a keen interest in leaf blowers, shovels, and an assortment of other landscaping equipment from living and working in the suburbs for several years. I did not grow up with the same kind of reverence for this equipment, and when I observed the level of importance they held for some people, I was profoundly moved. As metaphors they speak to the way humans continuously till and work the landscape, work laborious hours “in the fields,” or something more akin to busy urban living, like coming home from the office where one might experience work-related stress. The Outhaus definitely maintains that kind of sensibility for me and other works I’ve produced in the past, so visually and metaphorically it works very well with my persona.
The other aspect of that equipment is the existence of a much greater social divide, especially when you think of the laborers who use them for grooming someone else’s property and not their own. I also like the fact that I can do a performance in someone’s backyard and still think of it as art, and have others consider that as well. That is not anything new to the contemporary art world, but I’m always excited about having people there who might be more interested in coming to a backyard barbecue gathering, rather than a fine art gallery or museum. These newer audiences are really the ones I enjoy making work for- not just people in the art world who are already counting on you to do your thing.
If I Could Bring You Things You Never Had: A New Performance by Regin Igloria, will be held at Outhaus Gallery on September 20th from noon-9 p.m., and is open to the public. Outhaus Gallery is located at 709 East Sunnycrest Drive, Urbana IL.