Briefly describe the work you do.
I use the camera as a means to understand space/place and how we interact with it. Sometime this involves working with a pre-determined space, such as the boundary lines of the city of Washington, DC. Other times, it has more to do with my own life, such as a postcard series documenting ceilings from all the different beds that I slept in during the course of a year. Working with both film and digital cameras, my projects always start photographically. That said, I am also often interested in alternative means of presentation. For example, for my MFA thesis project I mounted 12” x 12” photographs onto six-foot tall columns to create a sculptural installation.
Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.
I grew up in Washington, DC, left for seven years for school, and then fell in love with the city when I moved back after college. In college, I was a political science major with minors in art and philosophy and thus, DC seemed like the right place to move upon graduation. Needless to say, I never worked in the government, but rather ultimately, focused the political work into my studio practice. I don’t think my more recent work necessarily comes off as political, but social/political theory informs much of my practice.
The concept of the “artist studio” has a broad range of meanings, especially in contemporary practice. The idea of the artist toiling away alone in a room may not necessarily reflect what many artists do from day to day anymore. Describe your studio practice and how it differs from (or is the same as) traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
First off, I don’t shoot “in the studio” – or at least I haven’t yet. Rather, I’m more likely to be hopping fences, wandering through city streets at night, and kayaking across lakes to take my shots. I also don’t have dedicated “studio space” outside of my apartment, but I still spend quite a bit of time on the couch or on the balcony reading, researching, and just letting my mind wander. I’m not necessarily opposed to having a dedicated space, but I also don’t need it.
What unique roles do you see yourself as the artist playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
I had always been interested in teaching after college, but for years I didn’t fully pursue it. During grad school I gave a few demos and artist talks to students at other universities and the professors there encouraged me to teach. I was fortunate to start as an adjunct the semester after I graduated and have loved it ever since. But there’s not really a time when I stop being an artist or start being a professor or anything else. It all just blurs together in a way as I go through life.
When do you find is the best time of day to make art? Do you have time set aside every day, every week or do you just work whenever you can?
I work best on having several days (or more) in a row to really focus on making art without any huge distractions. There are often periods of time when I’m not making new work, but rather re-visiting older work, reading fiction, going to museums and galleries, following the news, listening to live music, and just soaking up the world around me. I usually travel a few times during the year and often try to start a project during the trip. But it usually doesn’t work that way. I’ll research extensively ahead of time and then shoot very little. Alternatively, most projects come to me at the most random times when I’m just going through my life. The next goal is then to just set aside a few days to get the ball rolling.
How has your work changed in the last five years? How is it the same?
I began my MFA program six years ago. For the first year, I experimented with a bunch of different ideas and techniques. Since then I think my work has been pretty consistent. I’ve been exploring the same conceptual ideas and executing them in a variety of ways.
Are there people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers or even pop icons that have had an impact on the work you do?
I wouldn’t even know where to begin listing the people who have influenced my work. By teaching us to love learning, be curious, and ask questions, my parents have certainly had one of the biggest impacts. I was fortunate to work with amazing professors in both undergrad and grad school and continue to work with talented colleagues. And I’m constantly influenced by the work my friends are doing, even when it has nothing to do with art. One of my good friends works for the city of Denver, CO on a team that strives to help make the city work even better for the residents. This ties directly into my conceptual concerns of how we use and interact with space and our conversations often leave me thinking through ideas from a different perspective. Another friend is neuropsychologist working with veterans. Our conversations prompt me to think more about perception and how we relate to the people and world around us. Finally, literature and music also impact my work greatly. For example, when I was working on a project with night shots, I kept coming across various quotes about night and darkness. Each quote prompted me to think about the project in a different way.
If you had an occupation outside of being an artist, what would that be and why?
I love teaching and hope to continue doing that for many years. At various times in my life I’ve considered going back to into more political career work or even law school, but ultimately I opted for art school instead. To be honest, I would like to be contributing more to the city. While I’ve volunteered here and there over the years, I haven’t found a consistent way to be involved, so I would probably be working in some sort of local activism or involvement.
Originally from Washington, DC, Alexandra Silverthorne graduated from Connecticut College with a major in Government and minors in Art and Philosophy and holds a Master of Fine Arts from Maine College of Art (MECA). In 2003, Silverthorne co-founded Panorama Community Arts with the goal of providing art experiences to all residents of DC. Through this she taught workshops in photography, ceramics, and mural painting to youth and elderly in Washington. Since 2010, she has taught undergraduate darkroom photography courses at American University and the University of the District of Columbia. She has also taught additional courses through MECA’s Continuing Studies program. Silverthorne received a fellowship to travel to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan for the 2004 annual World Conference Against A&H Bombs. She has also received several grants from the DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities as well as one from the Puffin Foundation. Her work can be found in the permanent collections of the John Wilson City Hall Building in Washington, DC.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.