Interview with Qiana Mestrich by Kathy Akey

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Tell me about the title of your show.

I’ve always been interested in how metaphors are used in daily language. If you break the phrase down, another definition of the word “dead” means “precise,” like “dead center”. The word “ringer” comes from a 19th-century horse racing term used to describe a horse substituted for another of similar appearance and trotted around as a way to way to defraud the bookies.

So the term “dead ringer” means “exact duplicate” and is typically used when referring to one person’s likeness to another. When thinking about this term in relation to my show, I took artistic license to think of how the term “dead ringers” could apply not just to people but things too. For example, the flesh-colored stockings used in my installation are manufactured to be dead ringers for a woman’s skin tone.

Further relating this conceptual idea to the photographs of mugshots of women all named “Qiana”, the title/term “Dead Ringers” for me also instigated thoughts about the practices behind (offender and racial) profiling.

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Can you talk a bit about any external influences on you and your work in this exhibit?

A large part of my continued interest in the mugshots came from the essay “The Body and The Archive” by Alan Sekula published in October magazine

Vol. 39, (Winter, 1986) as well as the composite portraits of criminal types by from the 19th century by Francis Galton.

How long have the themes in this show been developing in your work?

I’ve been obsessed with the mugshots and the flesh tones (as seen in the stockings and the title piece) since I began the MFA program.

Your show is very neat, clean and understated, while being intensely personal and thematically charged. How was the design and hanging process for you? What did you find most challenging, most exhilarating?

Hanging the “Namesake, Part 1” piece which comprises of the 24 mounted photographs of mugshots was an intuitive process. My friend Matt and I hung them while listening to jazz so I think there’s some sense of improvisation when looking at the piece. What I found most challenging was designing a narrative path for the viewer; an order that determines which pieces they see and when. Then again I learned that some people will decide this path for themselves no matter how much you try to guide them.

After the group critique of the show by my fellow MFAs, I made a slight change in response to a problem with a piece that many thought they could touch although this was not my intention. Coming up with a successful resolution to that problem was the most exhilarating experience.

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What advice do you have to give the next year(s) of MFA students when it comes to installing their work?

My advice is very practical:

1. Plan ahead but be flexible toward changes along the way. When you’re installing, what you initially envision in your mind may not be the final outcome.

2. Think just as much about how you plan to uninstall the show.

3. A solo show should not equal solo planning; have others help you.

The booklet of short stories that is included is both a departure from and completely integral to the show as a whole.  How has writing been a part of your work in the past, and why did you choose to include it here?

I started writing short stories about a year ago when I felt that my use of photography as a medium would not be enough to illustrate the narratives I wanted to tell. The booklet in the show (titled Some Kind of War) was a way for me generate new images in the viewer’s mind and to also give them a peek inside the mental and physical spaces I’ve been occupying for the past few months leading up to the show.

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With school coming to a close, what’s next for you? 

As the mother of a toddler with little to no space at home to work, my first priority after graduation will be securing a studio space where I can continue the practice I’ve established during the past two years.

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