Briefly describe the work you do.
I’m an artist who lives and works in Chicago, IL. I work primarily in collage, performance and video. My current work is an investigation into the notoriously complex, elusive, political, and intoxicating industry that is the oil industry. Touching on issues of labor, finance, cultural variation, and industrial development, this project aims to expose the intricacies and complexities of the varying perspectives on the industry. It attempts to illuminate and hold in balance the vilification of the industry due to its harsh and real effects on the environment and the quality of many lives, while also illuminating the necessity of the industry and the ethical, intelligent and efficient practices already in place. This project is a collaboration with Toby Wright, petroleum geologist and oil man.
Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.
I spent the first 16 years of my life traveling in Central Asia. The sort of dissonance and transition, but also curiosity is evident in my work. Making has always been my way of of understanding and interpreting the worlds I dwell in – whether that be in the backwoods of Wisconsin, the eerie mountains of Wyoming or the urban hum of Chicago.
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.”
I love this question! My recent work has been heavily research-based, so “working” could mean anything from collaging in my studio, making a mold of an oil drill bit, conducting interviews, or buying halves of cows at local butchers.
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?
The research aspect of my work is a recent development and making work that contributes to broader social, political, environmental issues is something that has become really important to me. I didn’t have this mentality when I first started making art, and I’m really excited to see more and more young artists becoming increasingly engaged in the pertinent issues of our time.
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 try to work two full days a week, and as much time outside of that as possible. I find it really important to keep up with the contemporary conversation by maintaining a regular practice of visiting other artist’s studios, museums and galleries.
Are there people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers or even pop icons that have had an impact on the work you do?
I’m really inspired by conversation, and I’m grateful to have so many wonderful conversation partners and meeting more every day! Outside of my talented and stimulating group of friends and family, I’m regularly returning to the writing and work of Alice Munro, Anne Carson and Lydia Davis. In my recent work, I rely heavily on the research of Daniel Yergin and Richard Muller.
If you had an occupation outside of being an artist, what would that be and why?
As most young emerging artists do, I already wear a lot of hats -from editor to cheesemonger to archivist… I like the synchronicity and diversity of my current situation and I can’t imagine a better life!
Emma Saperstein is a project- based artist living and working in Chicago. Her practice of performance, exchange and social practice in the past has been deeply engaged in developing a symbology of grief and grieving with a focus on Central Asian culture, where she spent the first 16 years of her life. Recently, her practice has been engaging a personal and localized study of her experience in Chicago. Emma is a graduate of Wheaton College and the New York Center for Art and Media Studies. She slings, sells and eats cheese for her bread and butter and assists in running an artist’s work space with her fellow cheesemongers.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.