Interview with Tara Cronin

"She Looks Up and Closes Her Eyes" 2009

CH:  Your recent thesis show Flight: From, To and Within brought together photography, video, drawing, sound and salt to beautiful effect.  What does it mean to you to work in a variety of ways?  Is photography the base of your practice?

TC:  Photography is certainly the main rock and foundation by now; i enjoy thinking photographically, and it was the first medium I really felt compelled to understand and appreciate and try to master. While I experiment very much in other mediums that I once mastered in my youth- drawing, music- it is a photograph that I can often answer questions with.  Video also, being time-based in a different way, feels fluid to me.  However I think I actually [ironically!] feel most comfortable verbally.  I like writing very much, i had a lot of fulfillment and fun writing my thesis, and I like to freewrite in general to flesh out my thoughts.  I think both photography and writing can really inform each other in a way that creates a powerful and very useful and helpful dialogue as i work through them both.

I grew up playing instruments and making drawings.  I went to music school during high school– i thought I would go on to college for music and end up in an orchestra somewhere.  But it was during my last year in high school that I began taking lots of photographs, and also writing a lot more. So yes and no- photography as the base of my practice.

Its very important for me to create a sort of literally interactive experience with an exhibition.  Whatever it takes; whatever is appropriate. We enter an exhibition with not only our minds, but our bodies and every sense that accompanies them.  Why should the experience of artwork be always all senses, if only one is most fitting for the ideas in the show?  Why also, should it be only one sense, if others can enrich the way we encounter the work?

From the series "One Long Tuesday" 2008-09

There is also drawing/makang marks by hand, and music/sound, which plays a large roll in what I respond to; I can’t listen to much music–but that is because it transforms the space I am in emotionally.  Even if its toward a positive transformation, its that transition that is too jarring for me.  But conversely, I am interested in repeated sound– what does that do to the psyche?  How does that calm, lull, soothe, or drive it toward anxieties?

CH: More than any other student in our program, you make work that engages all the senses; photographs and sound are more common in a gallery space, but in the past you’ve scented your works on paper, and in your thesis show I was made to step on and crush the salt that you laid around the gallery in order to view the prints. These works have an experiential element that pulls me in to the room and the work. How does expanding the sensory experience aid the work? Was I supposed to crush the salt?

TC: Sensory experience is very important to me.  I am a very sensate person; i collect paper; i hold on to materials that ground me in this world- a porous stone, a briny-smelling dried seahorse, an ambient-white-noise song. I want my work to always somehow bring at least one other sensory experience into it, than the medium it lives in.   I want viewers to have an almost physicaL experience when sensing my work; whether that be as simple as noting the texture in a photograph of a gritty wall, or via a different experience like hearing one thing while seeing and smelling others.  What does that do to memory and perception?  To intermix varying stimuli?

Installation View

Humans are amazing creatures; we are able to experience the same object, place, memory, etc, with many differing senses!  It’s very important to me to try and tap into this gift of the way of experiencing the World.  Because I explore themes of dissociation and fear of transition, one main reason senses are so essential to my work, is because it is through the 5[6?!] senses that we make our way through the world – and thus through our ways of dealing with the strangeness of dissociation or the anxiety during transitions.

And yes, i was hoping people would engage the salt in any way they encountered it- smell it, taste it, pick it up, discover it under your feet.  I actually really admire Walt Disney..!  He created a world that is basically a gigantic installation in a way.  An interactive one.  You get lured in and feel compelled to poke the colorful button or feel frightened by the haunting music.  Perhaps it is not supposed to be such an enriching and luring experience, perhaps people are supposed to just have some fun!  But, I went to Disneyworld recently, and, though I sort of didnt have fun– i was very weirded out actaully. !  However that inspired me– I was moved by the power of this enveloping sensory and emotive experience.

From the series "What Is This Thing" 2010

CH:  Your work investigates the psyche and the body by dealing with laughter and fear, blood and medicine. How do you connect the two in your work (body and psyche)?

TC:  To me that is not necessarily a connection between two things– they are one.  The one is encased by the other sort of; and as far as I know, one cannot exist without the other.  The mind as i understand it, is a sum of the synapses firing in strange and complex ways in our brains.  It is also a spiritual sum as well, but that is a whole other conversation.!  When people break an arm, its easy to see and thus fairly easy to treat.  When people have a broken heart, forget it!  It is more complicated.  Still, we learn things very often by the simple tool of repetition- if I expose myself to critical theory for long enough, I will understand it better than before I knew what it was.  Don’t our physical muscles work the same way?  If I repetitively and in a controlled manner keep exposing my bicep to little tears in its fibers, it will grow stronger.

I am really oversimplifying this analogy here, but, I really believe this is a core way of understanding the “one-ness” of body and mind– they are parts of the same one person; they function similarly.  We are made of carbon and water and various parts that somehow become something called human.  It is not a far-fetched thing to think that for example, a physical illness can be cured by “thinking” it away, or at least “treating” it to be better.   People sometimes dismiss a psychosomatic ailment, because there is nothing to see, to physically prove something is wrong.  But even if nothing is physiologically abnormal, physical pain can be happening.  Our minds are incredible, and incredibly powerful.  What is it when someone hallucinates voices and people right there in the room as real as a pinch on the face?  These are sensory and physical things.  If someone can create pain psychologically, we can also take it away psychologically.  They are not two separate things;  they are two sides of the same sum of many parts that equal a human body.

From the series "One Long Tuesday" 2008-09

Think about a pill for example;  medicine is not a cure.  It is a treatment.  Psychotropic drugs seem stickier because we can’t even quite tell how they are working– but even they work the same: physiologically.  If someone has severe depression, and studies suggest that it may mean they dont have enough seratonin firing in their brain, then perhaps they take a pill that makes them fire extra seratonin.  This is still not a “cure.”  Modern psychiatric medicine is amazinG, but because it such a crucial help in many cases, not because it instantly “fixes” the problem.  Is a crutch.  I take my bunch of meds and I dont say, Ok, when will it work?  When will i feel better, now that I popped a pill?  These medicines just balance whats happening physiologically, so that your body AND mind are under less stress, so that I myself have the strength to do the mental and emotional work it takes to heal.

"What Invites, What Is Remembered" From the series "One Long Tuesday" 2008-09

I feel I sort of sidestepped your question– you asked how this connection comes out in my Work.  I dont think it does Directly– i think because I view that interrelation in that way [above], sure, it may come out in the work indirectly– in the experiencE of it, not really in the ideas that i talk about.  If what I was talking about is how I view the body and mind, then how else but Only in a combined sensory experience can I put a show together?  If something we experience through physical sense can ignite an emotional response, then how I can I not incorporate that?

CH:  Now that you’ve finished school, what’s next?

TC:  o My Gosh, i was really terrified for a little while; I really dO hate transitions, and this is a huge change of chapter-to-new-life-chapter.  But, of course life goes on.  I am grateful to have peers and family while its going on.  Ive been applying to various opportunities, residencies, etc.  I think that would be helpful and enjoyable as I continue to make work.  When I let go of the rigidity of fearing not having the schedule Ive expected daily for the last three years, I felt the Phew of this new freedom.  Its more freeing than I feared, thank goodness for perspective.  Im also writing more, which is a great addition to my workflow/practice.  I have this weird anxiety that rushes me out of bed in the morning; its a good anxiety, that there are a lot of things I want to do and Life is happening under my nose!  I suppose Im just going to continue Doing, with more time to Do, and trying to understand this weird life. Why not, right?

To see more of Tara’s work visit:

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