Briefly describe the work you do.
My everyday experiences (a jog on the beach, reading the newspaper) can become the source material for my art. I make assemblages out of found beach trash which I then photograph against the sky or ocean landscapes. These photographs are then placed within a larger installation of actual beach trash configurations.
Tell us about your background and how that has had an influence on your work and on you as an artist.
I grew up around animals both at home and at elementary school. This sensitized me early on to the gift of their presence and their mysterious qualities. Near the end of high school I discovered and began a long relationship with feminist writers. In college I began to see connections emerge between violence against women and violence against animals and nature. Eventually, these subjects became the themes of my art.
The concept of the artist studio has a broad range of meanings in contemporary practice. Artists may spend much of their time in the actual studio, or they may spend very little time in it. Tell us about your individual studio practice and how it differs from or is the same as traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
I don’t have a regimented schedule in the studio. It ebbs and flows. Because my art is concept driven, I often imagine my most productive studio space as being in my head. Taking the barest sketch of an idea through to it physical existence has its frustrations but it’s always a fun challenge and can lead to unexpected results. I often look back through my photo archives and let connections emerge.
What roles do you find yourself playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
I never imagined that I would teach high school photography at the school I myself attended. I never imagined I would take my teenage girl dream of becoming a beautiful fashion model and instead put my body (the female body) to use toward far more radical purposes.
When do you find is the best time to make art? Do you set aside a specific time everyday or do you have to work whenever time allows?
An idea could strike me at any time and any place. I don’t generally set aside regimented time unless I have an impending show or other deadline. Deadlines create intense periods of work. Having an assistant is also great for managing studio time and creating more focus to move things forward.
How has your work changed in the past five years? How is it the same?
For the past five years I have been working with the unending flow of beach trash (much of it plastic) that is filling our oceans and endangering marine life and more. I am trying to narrate this tragedy we humans are embarked upon by presenting a view of the destruction we all take part in creating. The work’s intent is to instigate a personal “Ah ha!” moment around our own participation. The materials that I work with (photography and beach trash) have not changed, however their presentation does. My intention is to always push at the traditional notions of photography. I am as concerned with what is inside the photographic frame as I am with the installations I construct around it.
How have people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers, other artists or even pop icons had an impact on the work you do?
At a certain point, the radical feminist theory I was so engaged with didn’t feel like it was acknowledging other blatant forms of exploitation. This rift was mended when I discovered writers such as Carol J. Adams (The Sexual Politics of Meatand Animals & Women), Marjorie Spiegel (The Dreaded Comparison), and others. They made connections between feminism, racism and speciesism and illuminated the animal and environmental concerns that were informing my art work.
Have you ever been pulled in the direction of a pursuit other than being an artist? What are your other interests?
Apart from a brief fantasy as a future choreographer (wholly inspired by Duke Ellington’s music) – I can’t say that I had many other “professional pursuits”. At most, I spent years disco roller skating and still love it when I can find a rink and I go through marathon periods of unearthing new electronic music (John Beltran, Lemon Jelly, Moby, Lazybatusu). My most primal passion has to be exploring new plant-based cuisine. I am a total food hound and love the prospect of sating my palette with a thousand different sensations.
Influenced by the human disregard of the environment and its animal inhabitants, Julie A. McConnell, a fine art photographer and mixed media installation artist creates photographs and assemblages to narrate her concerns and reorient the viewer’s perception. Her long-time engagement with feminist theory informs art that speaks to the interconnected exploitation of women and the natural world. Combining wry humor and poignant imagery, McConnell’s work grapples with the violence humans inflict on animals and inevitably ourselves.
Reviews of McConnell’s work have appeared in The New York Times, New York Magazine, The Brooklyn Rail, and C Magazine. Selections from her photomontage series, Hillary et al., have been featured in Photography Quarterly. McConnell participated in the book, Death in the Studio, featuring the interpretive studio deaths of 62 artists as documented by Lederer and Priesch.
McConnell’s solo exhibitions, Deliberations on Equilibrium (2009) continuing with Single-Use Landscape (2012) saw the integration of beach trash into her photography and mixed media installations. Her notable group exhibits include Enantiomorphic Chamber at NurtureArt and Sustaining Vision: A Tribute to Arlene Raven at New Jersey City University’s Lemmerman Gallery, and a two person show at PS122 Gallery. Central Booking’s recent group show Natural Histories featured McConnell’s Stereograph Cards from the Animals in Mind series while Un/Natural Occurrences exhibited her mixed media installation piece Elemental Disturbance. She was a participant of Aljira’s Emerge Program and Exhibition curated by Arlene Raven.
! Over the years McConnell’s Doberman companions have inspired her card line, Canine Greeting Cards, as featured in Taschen Press’ A Thousand Hounds: The Presence of the Dog in the History of Photography.
Born and raised in New York, NY, she attended NYU Tisch School of the Arts (BFA) and Hunter College of The City University of New York (MFA). She continues to live and work in Manhattan.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.