February 2020 Unicorn Of The Month: Heather Renée Russ

Heather is another splendid soul I met while at the Vermont Studio Center a few months ago. Much like last months Unicorn David Temchulla, Heather Renée incorporates materials and methods I would never consider. Obviously I dont mean that in malicious way, I mean it in a this is another artist dealing with real issues...perhaps I need to expand my approach if I want to be more effective kind of way. I have no idea what I would even do, I am currently in "purist paint mode," but Heather Renée wowed me when I saw her work, and that is why I have chosen to feature her here.

"I have become obsessed with the tidewrack."

"The tidewrack is the evolving space on the shoreline where the mixture of seaweed and synthetic materials are deposited by a receding tideline. This creative tangle may survive—churned and changed—or be decimated and swept out to sea. The tidewrack is temporary, collaborative and evolving."

"In this work, anxiety meds, wig hair and false eyelashes combine with sea water and marine detritus to create liminal forms. Queer femme signifiers—the safe water markers— are important in this work. I make this work while contemplating what it’s like to create and hold space together in celebration while simultaneously holding anxiety for the next displacement."

Anxiety Meds on the Halfshell. If you look closely you can see the imprint code on the pill

"I completed a residency on Governors Island in New York City last May where I began to really flesh out the concept of Tidewrack and began to play with installation including using old school overhead projectors."

Installation views Heather's  Governor's Island Residency.

"On Governors Island it was strange to be surrounded by water but not to have access to it as the island was surrounded by a sea wall. I used a bucket- with a rope made from hair that was tangled by the sea. I used this rope to go over the sea wall to collect water for my installations. You’ll see this rope of hair show up in video performance, photographs and in primary form in my installations. In this photo it is being used by Dust Tea Shoulders, pictured below,  to collect rainwater from a puddle on Governors Island."

"In the past three years I have expanded my practice to include installation, projection, performance and printmaking but for much of my art career I was a portrait photographer and I am always trying to find fresh ways to loop portraiture back into my practice."

"Recently I’ve been working with wig parts that I put into the tide at Riis Beach, a queer beach in New York City. The wigs picked up bits of shell, mussels, a bra strap, fishbones, a friendship bracelet and lots of sand."

"The wig sheds some of its detritus over time and I make work with the sheddings-I project them on overhead projectors and make mono prints with them. These wig parts also show up in photographs and in projections."

Light Refracted Overhead Projections of Sand -MASS MoCA residency from Heather Renée Russ on Vimeo.

"I’ve been working a lot lately with light refraction-I first started experimenting with this in November while at Vermont Studio Center. The projections depict queer femme artists, activists and sex workers frolicking and struggling to stay afloat in the tide. I shined the projector through a tank of salt water that refracts the light-changing the shape and color of the projection. The refraction provides the viewer with an interactive experience as they begin to understand how the effect is made. Showing the video this way gives an ephemeral feel that serves to remind the viewer the video is in the past and the other elements in the installation are what remain, but they too are changing. "

HeatherReneeRuss_Tidewrack_MASSMoCA from Heather Renée Russ on Vimeo.

"This January while in residence at MASS MoCA I built an installation around these projections.I also added sound. The sound is made from recordings of waves underneath the sand. There is also a foghorn captured from a ship’s distress signal-meant to forewarn the viewer of something unknown that is to come. It speaks to the precarity of the future and engages with queer ecology, femme identity and environmental vulnerability."
Installation view from MASSMoCA.
"At MASS MoCA I also learned some printmaking from fellow resident Susan Camp and incorporated monoprints and collagraphs made from synthetic hair and wig caps. The images take on an organic feel-the viewer often confuses them for marine life such as jellyfish and sea sponge but on close examination they realize that they are still looking at wig detritus."

"These residencies have provided me a much needed space to experiment. So far I have been very happy with the viewer’s reactions when I’ve installed this work at open studios. I hear conversations about toxic algae, sea level rise, how they feel when they put on a wig, the first time they felt comfortable in their skin on a queer beach, the fear they are experiencing during the Trump administration and so on. I‘ve had people cry about loss of creative spaces and make connections between the loss of space our community is facing and the loss of land we are all facing."


"In my installations I strive to create a soft interactive space that feels good to be in where folks can mourn, draw connections, and experience the complexities of emotion that surface while they are reminded to collaborate and play."

Studio Tour-MASS MoCA residency January 2020 from Heather Renée Russ on Vimeo.

To see more of Heather Renée's work, visit her Website, IG, and her Vimeo Page. 


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