Artist Interview: Introducing ARC resident Marie Wustner

As pre-lude to the Eastside Culture Crawl November 2011 I'd like to share with you some of the amazing resident artists here at The ARC at Powell @ Commercial in East Vancouver ... Join us here and visit this blog from now until November and each month I will feature a new artist. See what we do, where we live- inside our studios, and what we create. Hear our stories. Join us in our journey here at the ARC and leading up to the Crawl.

For July I'd like to start by introducing ARC Resident Artist Marie Wustner....

Marie, How did you find out about The Arc and tell us about your art form that allowed you to live here... (Marie you gotta tell them about your $400 car!)

I spent the last decade migrating from Buffalo NY, to Roam Italy, Bali Indonesia, Byronbay Austrailya, Philadelphia USA, Aceh Indonesia, Shanghi and Beijing China, Toronto Canada, Back to Bali, Sayuilta Mexico, and then I returned to NY. My experience living, working, studying, and volunteering in these extraordinary places was inspiring and educational but I had no deep roots. I was looking to grow some and begin to “settle down”.

In early 2010 my partner and I were living in a sleepy little surf town in Mexico. The environment was stunningly beautiful, the out door recreation splendid, and the culture… well it was interesting…. After spending two months surfing and watching the locals party hard in the bull fighting ring behind our apartment, we decided that it was time to plant some routs in a place that could fulfill our love for the outdoors and our creative/ intellectual appetite. Cultural and culinary diversity are extremely important to us as well, so we began looking for a thriving metropolis to live in.

My work visa for Canada took president and the icy east where I grew up was not the environment I longed for. Vancouver boasted mild climate, an international community, some of the best and most assessable winter sports, and a large documentary community! We set our sites on the west and within 8 months we were on our way!

We sold our two door sports car and traded it in for a 1979 Chevy G10 “creeper” van (AKA: The A-Team Van!). Which we lovingly named Sketch! We bought it off a couple of Aussies who were leaving the next day for South America on a two year round the world adventure. For the bargain basement price of $400 we got the van, a tent, blow up mattress, cooking stove, tennis rackets, cooler, and a packet of hamburger helper. We popped some bright yellow NY state plates on it, loaded it up to the brim with all of your most valuable possessions, and began driving west.

At first the only place we could rent was on Salt Spring Island. So we over shot a bit but finally landed a spot in a unique community of artists here in Vancouver. Becoming a part of this community means a lot to both of us. Nothing beats the collective energy of artists.

Tell us about your art education and background in your specific field.... Why did you choose to specialize in this area, what captivates you about this art form?

My arts education began at the age of 14 in Austria when my father put a 35mm camera into my hands. It was then that I begin to understand the power of the frame. I became fascinated with composition and the ability to tell story through pictures. Being dyslexic, this method of communication translated more easily to me than written language. The only problem was… I didn’t like the dark room. The name of the room says it all. No light… no interest. Not to mention the chemicals drove me nuts.

Luckily I had the privilege of being noticed by a well known mural painter from my home town and a new love affair with large images, paint, composition, and abstraction became the focus of my first degree in art. For the next 7 years this was my “form” though my paintings were often inspired by my photography. Wherever I traveled I still had my camera and still loved the frame. My primary focus was strong lines and contrast. Architecture, abstraction, and vibrant colors, were the stylistic tendencies of my paintings.

Train Station, Madrid, Spain, 2002, Oil on wood, 48” x 48”

In 2004 this focus would change when a 90 foot wall of water killed 200,000 Indonesians. A country I had just spent a year in and the home of my father and little brother. The tsunami rippled across the ocean to Thailand and India dragging men women and children out to sea. Not two months later the devastating Hurricane Katrina that tore through New Orleans Louisiana.

As I began to become aware of the magnitude of these events and the frivolity of the media to chase the newest disaster, forgetting the old, I quickly realized that it was up to artists, documentraians, and historians of all kinds to continue telling the stories left behind by our tabloid news agencies.

Around this time high end digital SLR cameras became affordable. Along with advances in Photoshop, these technologies enabled me to began to college my photography and translating the complex images in to large-scale paintings. Finally I could focus on photography without being stuck in the dark room.

Without intending to I had began to created documentary paintings. In the case of New Orleans I went down to take part in the first Mardi Grass after “the storm”. The festivities were full of political discourse about the inadequacies of the government. A somber yet lively group of hard core New Orleans loyalists marched through the streets defiant and proud. I also witnessed the devastation in the 9th ward. It looked like a war zone. Roofs were rumpled like paper on the top of houses; over turned buildings; and the Live Oak trees once covered in lustrous foliage and Spanish Moss were striped bare. They looked as if they had been burred upside down with their roots sticking out of the ground. My friend was working there as a social worker at the time and was also very much involved in the local artists seen. Tagging along with her enabled me to see the entire picture. The energy from both the festivities and utter devastation were so clearly linked that the colliding worlds became the focus of my piece NOLA (New Orleans Louisiana).

NOLA, 2006, acrylic on canvases, 72” x 60”

The success of this kind of wok however did not propel me forward into more of the same variety. I was frustrated with the limitations of trying to cram complex situations into one picture. It was after crating NOLA that I realized I was trying to reach a broader audience that than of the gallery goer. I desired a more universal method of distribution. Lucky for me the age of social networking, and user generated media sources was just beginning to blossom.

Two days after taking down my first solo show in Philadelphia I headed out on a year long trip through Asia. First stop was in Aceh to volunteer at a free women’s clinic for 10 weeks. I learned a lot about delivering babies, Islam, and political corruption. I also noticed how even Aceh, one of the most devastated places in the world, was connected to the web and accustom to consumer technologies like cell phones. They were connected! Most did not know how to use it but the infrastructure was in place for public use.

Then on to China to investigate the type of culture existing within the worlds most notorious adversary of free speech. Here the Internet cafes were enormous, packed, and all the windows were blacked out leaving no reference to the passage of time. If Ached was connected then China is completely addicted. The computer culture there is one I have never seen anywhere else. While in Beijing and Shanghi I was shocked to find a fairly well known group of out spoken artist that mocked Chinas politics through humorous pop art. This was not only interesting but inspiring.

A quick stop in Malaysia on my way back the west exposed me to the corruption of the UN. A community of Iraqi refugees welcomed me into their lives and showed me how they had been completely abandoned by the United Nations, their own government, and the international media. This community gathered around a little internet café in the heart of Kuala Lumpur. Here they were spectators of the world. They had access to all the YouTube footage coming out of Iraq. They spoke on skype with their loved ones back in their war town countries, and spoke solemnly as they reveled how utterly voice less they felt in the world. This marked the beginning of my interest in citizen journalism, open source media, and Creative Commons.

Exactly one year after completing NOLA I began a graduate program in Documentary Media at Ryerson University in Toronto. I entered this school with a better understanding of how important the individual voice was to our international checks and balances. I was determined to find a way for disenfranchised people around the world to utilize technology as a mechanism to push back against the on slot of senseless TV programming and celebrity gossip. Soon I made the switch from studio arts into the world of documentary film, public art, citizen journalism, freedom of expression, and illegal art.

My current work varies significantly in form but has one underling goal. I celebrate individuals who use their creativity to speak truth to power and inspire others to be engaged with the world around them.

Punchlines for Progress, Toronto, 2009

My documentary Punchlines for Progress assembles some of the best American political satirists to highlight the power and importance of the court jester. From the 50’s Red Scare to the 2011 Unions Struggles, this tradition continues to inform American culture by speaking truth to power. Stand up comedians have opened doors for our first amendment rights by reveling our cultural hypocrisies. I focused on Jon Stewart, Steven Colbert, Lenny Bruce, George Carlen, Amy Goodman, and Marten Luther King Jr. among others.

This documentary is a form of “MashUp” video. A reflexive art form that allows the person to create their own meaning out of media based cultural artifacts. This video collage technique utilizes fair use policies in order to help people surpass passive consumption by becoming active producers. Through the act of reappropriating, recontextualizing, and mashing up, media awareness becomes less of a bombardment and more of a conversation. “It is a type of literacy and a form of expression that is increasingly defining young generations.” (*Lawrence Lessig) This language is a digital call and response culture where source material is recycled repeatedly to expand on ideas and provoke further social discourse.

The movie was created during my studies at university with forethought into the democratization of media. This form of media is important because levels the playing field of public discourse by utilizing the worlds largest digital library.

After documenting graffiti throughout the world for years I found that each culture used it in a way that exposed some of their underling social issues. In China a lot of the graffiti I saw was simply a phone number and characters on a wall translating to … higher me to take your final exams and ace them for you! Apparently it happens all the time there. In Jakarta Indonesia a city of 20,000,000 people, and fairly culturally diverse, the graffiti ranged from purely beautification to highly political. In Iran the most infamous street artists are anti nuclear proliferation. In Rome Italy unfortunately anti-Semitic and racist graffiti was a regular occurrence. These are just a few examples.

My most recent piece is another type of digital college titled Collective Voice, It is a 65 foot long photomontage of a community in Queens NY that allowed graffiti artists to rejuvenate their run down neighborhood with sprawling murals. Each artist made a section of the concrete landscape come alive with graphic art representing their individual political message. Subject matter ranging form police brutality, to government corruption, environmentalism, and anti consumerism. Those who participated literally brought there voice to the streets. I thought this particular act of reclaiming public space was worthy of recreating and bringing it to Vancouver.

Collective Voice 4” x 65” 2011- 8 x 11 paper + Photoshop + 564 photos + printer and a lot of ink!

In Vancouver the graffiti murals seem to be A-political and resigned to back ally ways while advertising takes president, bombarding people with consumerism and self-entitlement. It is not surprising that riots are happening all over the world because of corruption, torture, and enslavement. What is surprising is when a portion of a culture collectively engages in mass hysteria because of a sporting event. How much is repressed for that much anger to be bubbling just beneath the surface. Which is a more appropriate way of voicing frustration… art on the walls or burning cop cars?

The Piece I’m currently working on is called In Site Out of Mind. It is a new media documentary instillation made of metal, glass, electronics, and digital media. The picture below is a 2D mock up of this narrative time based piece.

If you had to summarize your ultimate dream that would realize your full potential as the artist you are in your selected form, what would that be?

My ultimate dream is to be a full time professional documentary filmmaker and contemporary artist. One medium alone will never satisfy me.

Throughout history artist have been afforded the opportunity to speak truth to power in away that others have not. We leave behind relics of social commentary that capture the essence of our world in that moment and create another view of reality than the world of academia. History needs both of these. I wish to fallow in this tradition by documenting, informing, and pushing the boundaries of social commentary and public discourse.

What 3 pieces of advice would you give to other artists?

Do not pidgin hole yourself in one medium. Exploring many helps you to understand all of them better while developing your own unique stile. Remember there are no rules in art.

Develop other lucrative skills that will allow you to support yourself out side of your art work. The term starving artist has been around forever for a reason. The art world is fickle and you can’t eat most materials used for making it.

If you do decided to invest in an art education make sure you choose a program that requires internships and courses in business. If you want to be a professional artist you will also have to be a good sales person!

I am, as you know, a big believer in self care - especially for artists! What do you do to nourish your self and soul?

I am inspired by those who use there personal talents to create change the world, comedy, journalism, dance, etc. Every day I have the routine of watching Democracy Now, the most authentic news source in North America. I begin my day this way to keep abreast with world events. I then watch the Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report to keep things in perspective.

Taking time to rest is also very important for me as I can be a bit of a workaholic. Once again balance and perspective are key to maintaining focus and a sense of humor.

How would you define success as an artist and what has been a key factor in your success?

For me being a successful artist is meeting the goals you set out for yourself and your work, just like any other pursuit. My art is indented to be eye catching and pack a powerful sociopolitical punch. The success of each piece is determined by my satisfaction upon completion and its ability to speak for its self.

What’s the best thing about being and artist?

Having a license to be different.

Not worrying about standing out.

Having the freedom to express yourself.

What 's the most challenging thing about being an artist?

Finding creative ways to market your work with out selling out completely.

What do you do when your stuck or blocked?

Look at other artist work.

Break routine.

Have a brain storming session with a friend.

Focus on helping some one out with something, what ever that may be.


Basically just get out of my head and look to the rest of the world for inspiration.

If someone reading this blog would like to see more of your work, visit an upcoming art show, or get a hold of you, how would they do so? What recent or upcoming shows/and or gallery representation can we look out for or go and see of your work? (you can also find me on face book)

Marie, Thank you for taking the time to partake in this interview!