Smile Politely

WorkSpace: Nicole Brunel

Welcome back to WorkSpace, a series featuring an inside look at the places where local artists and creatives roll up their sleeves and take care of business. Today, we are going to see the work of a Canadian ex-archaeologist, ex-touring musician, and current amateur comedian, Nicole Brunel.

Smile Politely: When and how did you decide to become an artist?

Nicole Brunel: A few years ago I was playing music in bands and realized I hated touring and the partying obligations of a rock N roll star so I decided to go back to school to pursue what I imagined could be the opposite lifestyle; making small press comics alone in my parent’s basement. So I actually started out as an illustrator. My motivations have changed now though!

SP: What or who are your influences?

Brunel: This is also always changing, but some things that inspire me are magic realist novels, ficto-criticism, archeology, queer of color theory, and comedy (in all it’s forms). I’m very inspired by ideas and art that blend genres. I was really impacted by Irena Haiduk’s Seductive Exacting Realism last year, and also recently by the photographic work of Kerry James Marshal, Jason Lazarus, Sharon Lockhart, and Dawoud Bey.

SP: Who would you like to collaborate with and why?

Brunel: If I was being really self-indulgent I would make some sort of “residency” where I could get all the most hyper, funny people I’ve ever met (Arielle McCuaig, Alethea Busch, etc.) together with me to work on spontaneous ideas for like 3 months, and we just drink coffee and melted ice cream, make a new language and loose our minds on each other, wait maybe this is more of a cult than a collab.

SP: Tell us about your workspace.

Brunel: For the most part I am very grateful for the studio that I have here. As a real
estate agent I might describe it as “gritty”, “a fixer-upper”, “one bathroom, no bedrooms”, “spacious”, and “woodshop amenities”. I think more than anything, knowing that I am in a temporary space has influenced what I work on; that I won’t be able to move a lot of artwork once I graduate makes me feel conflicted about object making, but also feeling like a tourist in a community complicates my motivations for social art making. I think this may be one reason that I have started doing more digital photography, video, and internet-based artwork.

SP: Choose a piece of your artwork and explain it in detail.

Brunel: Title “All Ages Font Space”, 2015. The patches were made by searching the word “punk” on and using the font names in place of band names. I was reading Mark Fisher’s book “Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative?” which
describes how capitalism absorbs counter-cultures, thus pacifying them and strengthening it’s own mythology. In response to this, I theorized that a resistance could not be absorbed if it’s existence was undetected; the patches are an example of how an inside joke resists absorption or could discredit the integrity of an outsider authority. The patches were available for purchase (pay what you can) so that the concept could be actualized outside of the gallery.

SP: What movie would you recommend to watch and why?

Brunel: Go to the Alfred Hitchcock movie marathon at the Virginia Theatre starting
October 23rd! Spooky old movies on a big screen, plus supporting your local arts

SP: What is your favorite spot in C-U?

Brunel: When I’m not in the mood for a tailgate party I like to go the graveyard by my studio. There is a dumpster there where they throw all the plastic flowers that I have been observing. I also like the store in downtown Champaign that sells lots of little plants.

SP: What do you think about the art scene in C-U?

Brunel: Since I am still new to C-U, I mainly only know the arts community that is in
connection to the University. I feel like I need more time here to have an opinion on
the scene!

SP: Where, when and how can we see your work?

Brunel: I post to my Instagram a lot, and I will also be set up at the MFA open studios on October 28th.

About the author: Jimena Oliver

Jimena is a photographer at Smile Politely. Find more of her work and photographs online:


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