Briefly describe the work you do.
I make small and large scale sculptural objects that can function on and off the body. Many of the pieces I make, fall into the category of wearables/jewelry, but because of their sculptural aspects, I consider them to function as intimate installation art that can interact with the human body on some level.
Tell us about your background and how that has had an influence on your work and on you as an artist.
I graduated from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor with my B.F.A. in Art&Design. While there, I took many metals and sculpture courses. Now, I am attending the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee as an M.F.A. candidate in Intermedia, focusing on combining Jewelry/Metals, Fibers and Installation Art. Having an interdisciplinary education in both my undergraduate and graduate studies has allowed me to view my work on a multitude of platforms. I draw upon different principles and technical skills and ways of looking at my work because I do not feel restricted to one material or medium. With jewelry for example, I have no fear in making it as large and sculptural as possible, where the piece becomes a performance rather than just an object for adornment. I like having the opportunity to transition between materials and practices, and luckily, having this background in interdisciplinary art has made every day in my studio exciting.
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’m pretty traditional when it comes to the way I utilize my studio. As an artist who works in fibers, metal and installation, I need the tools and studio spaces to create. I love walking into my studio in the early afternoon with a large coffee and just looking at the things I’ve made and left out from the day before on my workbench. I always have something started and I always have a few hundred things that need finishing. And that possibility of what I’m going to produce for the day makes me feel stoked and inspired. My studio space becomes this place that I look forward to visiting everyday of the week, and I get restless when my schedule doesn’t allow enough time for me to sit and just make.
I also look forward to going to my studio because the one that I have right now through the university is amazing. I have every tool I could possibly need at my disposal, a coffee shop just down the street, and two amazing people I get to share my space with and bounce ideas off of when I feel stuck or stressed.
What roles do you find yourself playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
When I first started making art seriously, I was convinced I was going to be a graphic designer. And then something weird clicked in me and all I wanted to do was go back to the days of my childhood when I was physically making crafts and building things. I guess I never expected to completely reject technology the way that I had. Now, I’m trying to find ways to bring technology back into my practice. It’s been this constant push and pull between wanting to make digitally and then want to just physically make everything. Basically, I see myself as this jack-of-all-trades that I didn’t think I would be if I had just stuck to the digital.
At the same time, I didn’t see myself as an educator when I first started art school. Before I strictly settled on art, I was doing a double major in art and English Literature. I wanted to teach Literature at the college level, but I had no desire what so ever to teach art. And now, I’m pursuing my Master of Fine Art with the intention of teaching in Academia. I’ve been lucky enough teach my own Foundations Courses (2D and 3D Design), and to assist in intro and upper level jewelry classes. I love the idea of passing on and sharing knowledge.
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?
I used to leave school, work on homework, and then head to the studio late at night from 7 in the evening till about 3 or 4 in the morning. Now, I can’t even imagine working with the tools that I’m using (like torches and kilns) at those ridiculous hours. I’ve wised up and learned to separate my studio life from my non-studio life, so I try and make it into my studio immediately after I teach or have class during the week with the plan to leave before 8:00 in the evening. On weekends depending on what I have going on, I usually head in a little before noon and try to stay for at least a solid work day of six hours. When I can’t make it into my studio, I read, sketch or work from home because I need to keep my hand busy.
How has your work changed in the past five years? How is it the same?
My work has changed for the better in the past five years. I’d like to think that I’ve grown as an artist technically and conceptually. I’ve also become more comfortable with letting my work take me in unexpected directions. In the past, I was, what I would call, “narrow minded” about what certain forms of art could be. Jewelry/Metals meant it could only be made of metal, and sculpture had to be small and non-functional for example. Now, I don’t feel restricted by medium, dimension or technical skills. On the flip side, I am still a perfectionist when it comes to making. My friends and I joke pretty often that because I’m so driven to be technically precise, that I can be a machine with how exact some things are. It makes me feel good knowing that I can be technically sound when I want to be, and completely unrestricted when I choose. I’ve slowly made space for that freedom.
How have people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers, other artists or even pop icons had an impact on the work you do?
My family and friends have always been supportive of my work, so their impact has been pretty significant. Almost all the work that I make, has some personal connection to the concept, so every interaction and experience I have impacts my work on some level.
In the last year of my undergrad, I had two professors for my year long senior thesis that greatly impacted me as an artist. They supported me and challenged me in ways that I had never experienced before in my education. Both of them were very supportive of me pursuing graduate school immediately and now, I stay in contact with them as my mentors.
My current professors in grad school along with my graduate thesis committee have impacted me as well. They’ve challenged me and helped me develop philosophically (through introducing me to the writings of theorists such as Brian Massumi and Erin Manning), conceptually and professionally. I’ve had the fortune of working as a studio assistant to Arline Fisch at Penland School of Craft. Through my various opportunities like studio visits and critiques with visiting artists, along with participating in summer workshops and various organizations, I’ve found myself growing as a maker.
Have you ever been pulled in the direction of a pursuit other than being an artist? What are your other interests?
I love reading. I wanted to be a Shakespearean scholar and professor of modernist literature earlier on. While I don’t actively work as either of those, I still spend a good amount of time reading. Recently, I’ve found myself coming back to that world in terms of writing. I love writing about my work, and analyzing other’s work, so hopefully, I’ll find a nice way to combine the making process with writing in some way in the future. My other interests include old movies, coffee and really good desserts.
Melis Agabigum is a M.F.A. candidate studying Intermedia with a focus in Jewelry/Metals and Fibers at the University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee. She received her B.F.A. from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor in 2013. Melis served as a studio assistant to metalsmith Arline Fisch at the Penland School of Craft in 2014, and is currently working as a Foundations Instructor at UWM teaching 2D Design and 3D Design.
Provoked by an interest in material fiction, Melis’ work examines the physical and emotional connections that can occur between the body and object. Her work has been shown at the national and international level in shows such as: #StickitSNAG Platforma Gallery, SNAG Boston, MA; TACTILITY Gallery 224, Port Washington, WI; and Resolutely Ambiguous at the Walker Art Museum in Minneapolis, MN. She was also the 2013 MJSA Education Foundation Scholarship recipient.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.