Out of the Vault: Soundtracks with April Surgent

Making art from glass is time-consuming. It is an undertaking that can unfold over hours, but more often takes place over days, weeks, or even months. A great music playlist can be essential to keeping focused and staying creative. These playlists were the starting point for our exhibition Out of the Vault: Soundtracks. MOG Curator Katie Buckingham sat down with April Surgent to learn more about her work in the exhibition and her creative process.

KB: August 19th is World Photography Day, so let’s talk about But You Won’t Look Back. Is it based on photos you took while traveling?

AS: Yes, while I was in college, I received a scholarship from the Spanish Embassy in Canberra, Australia to travel to Europe. I traveled for four months and took a lot of pictures to bring back as research. Throughout the trip, I was thinking about how place informs people and their environments. But You Won’t Look Back is inspired by a church in Milan, Italy. I was people-watching on the piazza, where all these normal people just passed by the cathedral – it was fascinating how such a grand building just blended into the city.    

KB:  So, I’d love to hear a little bit more about your playlist. Are these songs the ones you listen to while you work?

AS: I was listening to the songs in this playlist on that same trip around Europe. It’s my go-to playlist. When I don’t know what to listen to and I have to get to work, these are the songs that guide the vibe.

KB: Engraving is a very time-intensive process – do you listen to other things while you work

AS: I listen to a lot of books and podcasts. To put it in context, when I am engraving, I don’t chose books that are shorter than 20 hours. I usually work on the same piece for several weeks at a time, so I like to get into a long book. One of my favorite audiobooks is Lolita, narrated by Jeromy Irons. He is such a wonderful orator, it is like listening to play.

KB: How do you keep inspired over such a long period of time?

AS: Coldworking is the perfect thing for me. I’m really slow at things and kind of introverted. Lots of research hours inform my work, so I don’t find the hours of engraving to be a hindrance. In fact, I feel like if I were in the Hot Shop, I might be overwhelmed by how fast I would have to make decisions.

KB: So, what happens when you are stuck on a creative problem?

AS: Whenever I am feeling like I need extra inspiration, I spend time in my garden. Even though living and working at home can be hard, I get a lot of joy from my garden, and I feel like it helps clear my mind. A lot of times when I feel stuck, uninspired, or overwhelmed, I’ll just start something. Even if I feel like I don’t know what the hell I’m doing, I just start to do something. Anything. Even though I don’t necessarily know where it’s going, I think just starting is always key.

KB: You typically do a lot of research before embarking on a piece. How does that research take shape for you?

AS: That has changed a lot since COVID-19, because, over the last decade, I have been traveling a lot. But since the pandemic, I have been doing all my research online and reaching out to people in the field from home. So, doing research like everyone else, I guess.

KB: How’s that going? Do you like it?

AS: I do like it. It feels good, it feels freeing. If I get interested in one tangent or another, I can focus on it, and run down the whole rabbit hole. And I can bring all of my past research together on the table and sift through it. It feels really good to have a library of information to scatter about. I don’t think I will necessarily stop traveling, but this new approach has been fun.

KB: What are you working on next?

AS: I’m really excited about a commission I am completing for Brunnier Museum at Iowa State University. They were interested in my environmental work, and I am working on a piece connected to their research. You can also visit my website or Traver Gallery to see more of my current work.

Check out April Surgent’s playlist on Spotify, and visit us at Museum of Glass to see more of our collection featured in Out of the Vault: Soundtracks.

About The Artist:
Glass artist April Surgent makes work that raises public awareness about climate change and environmental impact. Surgent began studying blown glass, but after studying with Czech master engraver Jiří Harcuba at Pilchuck Glass School, she transitioned to working with engraved glass. In creating her work Surgent draws from her experiences with conservation research and her deep interest in the beauty of the natural world. Inspired by the connectivity of our ecosystems and connection to place, Surgent’s glass works call for thoughtful reflection and positive community impact.

Surgent’s work is featured in Out of the Vault: Soundtracks, currently on display at Museum of Glass and open through June 18, 2023.

Learn more and view Surgent’s work at https://www.aprilsurgent.com/

Image credits:

  1. Photo by Derek Blagg
  2. April Surgent (American, born 1982). But You Won’t Look Back, 2006. Fused and cameo engraved glass; 17 1/4 × 33 1/2 × 2 1/2 in. (43.8 × 85.1 × 6.4 cm). Collection of Museum of Glass, purchase courtesy of Lisa and Dudley Anderson. Photo courtesy of Bullseye Gallery.
  3. Photo courtesy of the artist.
  4. Photo courtesy of the artist.
  5. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Out of the Vault: Soundtracks with RYAN! Feddersen

Making art from glass is time-consuming. It is an undertaking that can unfold over hours, but more often takes place over days, weeks, or even months. A great music playlist can be essential to keeping focused and staying creative. These playlists were the starting point for our exhibition Out of the Vault: Soundtracks. MOG curator Katie Buckingham sat down with RYAN! Feddersen to learn more about her work in the exhibition and creative process.

KB: Let’s start by talking about Disconnected Bison Stack. It was made at the Museum as part of your 2019 Visiting Artist residency.

RF: During the residency, I was making a series of works inspired by Columbia Plateau burden baskets. These baskets are traditionally used for food gathering, but I have been thinking about the metaphorical burdens we carry.  Disconnected Bison Stack talks about two different burdens – the first references the mass slaughter of the bison, an extremely destructive part of colonialism that continues to have ramifications today. The second set of icons relates to a previous project called Disconnected Towers. That project was inspired by the gentrification I witnessed in my neighborhood in West Seattle, where single family houses were torn down to build much more expensive, inaccessible units. Disconnected Bison Stack combines icons and symbols from both projects onto a burden basket.

KB:  I’d love to hear more about the music that you put on your playlist. Do you listen to it while you work?

RF: I listen to a lot of different things while I work, and I wanted to share some artists that I look up to. Buffy Sainte-Marie and John Trudell are icons of contemporary Native music.  Black Belt Eagle Scout and Ya Tseen are from a younger generation. I selected songs that I think are beautiful, musical pieces, but also have important social commentary. The playlist mirrors the importance of social messaging in my own work. I also really wanted to include local artists. I like listening to music, and a lot of my friends are in bands, so it was important to me to represent some local scene as well.

KB: Another aspect of being creative is where you work. I’d love to hear about your studio space.

RF: I like where I work because it feels like a time warp. My studio has low windows and, because the lighting is always the same, I have no idea how long I’ve been working on something. It is really nice to just be consumed by my process and lose track of time without distractions. I also like the ability to work in different places. I might work in my studio, but I often draw in a chair by the window (if my cats let me) or at my kitchen table. Sometimes I like to work in bars, too. Having different spaces can shift your point of view.

KB: That’s really cool. When you’re working on a new series, where do you go for inspiration?

RF: I try to bring in a lot of different references. It is like a funnel – you need to fill yourself up with a lot of ideas, and then what comes out the other side, the processing that happens, is the work that you do as an artist. My work often starts with Plateau storytelling and aesthetics, and combines with contemporary ideas. It is very important to think about the messaging within a piece, and include metaphor, symbolism, and action to reinforce its content.

KB: Do you do anything to help push through a creative block?

RF: Sometimes an idea strikes like a lightning bolt. Other times it takes a process. I noticed myself doing the same things over and over again in my sketchbook, so I made myself a brainstorming template. It has a series of lists that help me think through different lenses. For example, there is a list for content – what am I trying to communicate? And another section for thinking about material opportunities – am I working in glass? Vinyl? Acrylic? And a third list for thinking about how to integrate action and inter-activity. Then I take ideas from each list and start connecting them together.

KB: What are you working on now?

RF: Recently, I’ve been working on Coyote Now projects, which are contemporary adaptations of Coyote’s role as the trickster. I had a residency at Institute of American Indian Arts where I started working on an idea called Coyote and the Monsters Yet to Slay. One of Coyote’s jobs, when two-legged people were going to come and inhabit the world, was to slay monsters that were going to be a threat. I have been thinking about how we have all these societal monsters that still need slaying, like the economy, and about ways that Coyote could symbolically do that work for us.

Check out Ryan! Feddersen’s playlist on Spotify, and visit us at Museum of Glass to see more of our collection featured in Out of the Vault: Soundtracks.

About The Artist:
RYAN! Feddersen specializes in creating compelling site-specific installations and public artworks which invite people to consider their relationships to the environment, technology, society, and culture. She is a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation from the Okanogan and Arrow Lakes bands. Her interactive murals, site-specific installations, and immersive public artworks activate spaces throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Feddersen’s work is featured in Out of the Vault: Soundtracks, currently on display at Museum of Glass and open through June 18, 2023.

Learn more and view Feddersen’s work at: http://ryanfeddersen.com/

Image credits:

  1. Photo courtesy of the artist.
  2. RYAN! Feddersen (Confederated Tribes of Colville, born 1984). Disconnected Bison Stack, Made at the Museum in 2019. Blown glass; 14 3/16 × 10 3/4 in. (36.1 × 27.3 cm). Collection of Museum of Glass, gift of the artist. Photo courtesy of the artist.