3 Questions

3 Questions with Tracey Cockrell


Tracey Cockrell, the chair of PNCA's Low Residency MFA in Visual Studies, on why we make art and art forms that embody continual change.

3 QUESTIONS is series of brief, three-question interviews with PNCA’s visiting artists and lecturers. Each year, PNCA attracts innovative, thoughtful, and creative makers and thinkers who share our belief in the transformative power of creativity. In three short answers to three short questions, these artists offer perspectives on career, motivation, and transformation. When available, we include links to audio recordings, transcripts, slideshows, or video.

The MFA in Visual Studies welcomes Tracey Cockrell as part of the 2012-2013 Graduate Visiting Artist Lecture Series. Cockrell, along with Gregg Bordowitz and Julie Ault, traveled with Visual Studies students to Caldera for a two-week residency. She is also the founding chair of PNCA’s Low Residency MFA in Visual Studies.

“Enjoy and make use of
the consternation each
may have given you.”


Photo by Kaija Cornett ’12.

What advice would you offer current students about to embark on a career in the arts?

Be persistent in your passions; nourish and fuel your own curiosity; advocate for yourself; find, employ and refine practices to keep yourself honest about what you wish to achieve; root out every possible resource that could support your efforts and understand the potential of each relative to your practice; be sincere, informed, and professional with your colleagues and peers; cultivate and maintain relationships with trustworthy critics of your work.

This is all fairly pragmatic advice and I set all this along side the importance of knowing what you need/desire from art. A teacher of mine who influenced me a great deal believes that there are only three reasons why anyone would be an artist, that no matter what kind of artist you are you are driven by one of these motives: to make money, to get laid, or because you have to. He furthers this explanation with the thought that if you are making art because you have to then you are damned. I have since had many imaginary arguments with him over this. As you mature into your own creative practice and the voices of your teachers linger, enjoy and make use of the consternation each may have given you.

How do you maintain your creative practice? What keeps you motivated and engaged?

I do everything I can to close the gap between my initial impulses to make and the actions needed to make the work. This is something I continually strive for and struggle over with myself. I shift between studio-based and non-studio-based practices depending on the projects I am involved in and the time that I have to devote to these projects. When working in the studio and relying on hand tools to build my sculptures, I immerse myself in daily studio work for long periods – weeks at a time when possible. This I can do on breaks between school semesters. During school semesters it is more difficult for me to find extended periods of time to sink into such labor-intensive working methods and so I work in shorter bursts, doing research, shaping/editing ongoing projects or drafting alternatives, and generating new ideas. Being one of the damned, I look for conversation with others who enjoy their own suffering as I do mine. Aside from good dialogue, I feed myself with reading, watching films, listening to experimental music, looking at art that challenges me, etc…

Could you describe a moment or experience that profoundly changed the nature of your work?

Listening for the first time to “I am sitting in a room” by Alvin Lucier changed not only the physical form of my work, but also what I wanted my work to accomplish. At the time I was a student of sculpture and the complexity of this piece confounded me. I fell into infatuation with Alvin Lucier and discovered sound art. I had been pushing at the edges of sculpture, a discipline that I felt an affinity with because it seemed to me a field that embraced experimental practices, and allowed me to really wrangle with myself. I found it beautiful that such a demanding and potent work could exist purely as sound, could be both self-referential and site-specific, could move from expository to highly personal to utter abstraction, to become one thing, then another, then another, and so on. This was a form that could embody continual change, or so it seemed, in contrast to the tangible and fixed materials that I was using in sculpture.

Tracey Cockrell completed her MFA with a focus in Sculpture at the University of California at Berkeley in 1991. An interdisciplinary artist, Cockrell has cultivated a studio practice that synthesizes sculpture, experimental music, linguistic theory, and collaborative strategies. She has taught in MFA, BFA, and nonprofit institutions including Maine College of Art and The Crucible. Most notably, her work has been featured at Boston Center for the Arts, Institute for Contemporary Art in Portland, Maine, Oakland Arts Council, and the San Francisco Arts Commission. Reviews of her work can be found in Sculpture magazine, Art New England, the Boston Sunday Globe, WGBH TV’s ‘Greater Boston Arts,’ and Maine Public Radio’s ‘Maine Things Considered.’ Her studies include a fellowship to Skowhegan School for Painting and Sculpture, post-baccalaureate studies at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Sculpture Department, and a BA from the College of William and Mary. She is currently an Associate Professor and Associate Academic Dean at Pacific Northwest College of Art, and recently completed a Senior Residency in Woodworking at Oregon College of Art and Craft. She is the founding chair of PNCA’s Low Residency MFA in Visual Studies. Her work was most recently seen in the exhibit POEMOPHONE: a cacophonous collaboration and reading series at WorkSound in Portland, Oregon.

— Posted on 11/05 at 02:28 PM

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