3 Questions with Stephanie Syjuco
Museum of Contemporary Craft Artist-in-Residence Stephanie Syjuco on crafting an earnest, conscientious art practice.
3 QUESTIONS is a 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.
Museum of Contemporary Craft welcomes Stephanie Syjuco to the Fashion Safehouse Artist Residency in conjunction with its latest exhibition Fashioning Cascadia: The Social Life of the Garment.
“Find your colleagues and
support your community.”
What advice would you offer current students about to embark on a career in the arts?
1. Develop a thick skin, be open to critique, and get used to pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone. I’ve seen a lot of artists fall off the career track by getting discouraged that things aren’t “coming their way” rather than taking the initiative and making their own opportunities. The art world and art system is set up to appear impenetrable but it’s actually more DIY and needs people to invent and build upon the existing models.
2. Be prepared for YEARS of work with not much in return. I think the big benchmarks are making it past the 5-year mark of being out of school (grad or undergrad), then 10 years, then after 15 years it’s like you’re a “lifer” — in it for life and will keep making work no matter what.
3. Find your colleagues and support your community. This includes advocating and fighting for adjunct faculty rights, fair wages paid to artists for their participation in exhibitions, and the ethical and economic implications of high student debt in the art schools and larger universities. We are all in this together and if we don’t start realizing that our collective support of each other can impact how much we are paid and help sustain our practice economically, then we are really in trouble. Student loan debt, especially for art degrees from private art colleges is crippling our future artists and will directly impact the type of artwork that will be made. We should all strongly advocate for a different financial model for art education.
How do you maintain your creative practice? What keeps you engaged and motivated?
I am incredibly adamant about making time for studio work, as well as setting aside time to just “process” and research my ideas. If I get too busy with other things I get pretty unhappy and have to hole up for a while in some way. This can be hard when so many things are pressing upon you for your attention (job, life, family, etc), and its still a struggle to keep that balance. What motivates me is moving through the world and seeing how other people live, make, and find space for themselves in society. Most of my work is influenced by the history and politics of globalization and the effects of capitalism upon society, which thankfully isn’t hard to observe or follow in the wider world. I honestly believe that an art practice can contribute towards an alternative viewpoint on our reality in such a way that it can pose alternatives or challenge the status quo — even through metaphor and visual fiction, which itself can galvanize and pose important questions that other fields can’t address in the same way. This larger picture is what motivates and sustains me to keep making work.
Could you describe a moment or experience that profoundly changed the nature of your work?
Traveling overseas for exhibitions and being able to see how the context in which one works changes depending on audience. There are so many assumptions we make about what is visually “legible” as artists, most of it based on our regionalism as Americans. Being able to experience firsthand how other artists and arts communities operate in Asia, Europe, and beyond has vastly challenged my viewpoint on the nature and impact of art making in the 21st Century. The U.S. is just one extremely tiny portion of the art world and I thoroughly believe that even if you are addressing local concerns in your own work, it behooves you to search outside of what you consider to be your audience to find the connections and surprising intersections with those that you wouldn’t immediately consider in parallel with your practice or interests.
Stephanie Syjuco received her MFA from Stanford University and BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute. Her work has been shown nationally and internationally, and included in exhibitions at MoMA/P.S.1, the Whitney Museum of American Art, SFMOMA, ZKM Center for Art and Technology, Germany; Z33 Space for Contemporary Art, Belgium; UniversalStudios Gallery Beijing; The Contemporary Arts Museum Houston; and the California Biennial at the Orange County Museum of Art, among others. In 2007 she led counterfeiting workshops in Istanbul and in 2009 contributed proxy sculptures for MOMA/P.S.1’s joint exhibition, “1969.” She has taught at Stanford University, The California College of the Arts, The San Francisco Art Institute, Mills College, Carnegie Mellon University, and currently, is on the faculty at the University of California at Berkeley as an Assistant Professor in Sculpture. A recipient of a 2009 Joan Mitchell Painters and Sculptors Award, she lives and works in San Francisco.
During her two-week residency in Museum of Contemporary Craft’s Fashion Safehouse in June 2014, Syjuco created garments inspired by an array of concepts: the influence of surveillance technology, the problematics of authenticity and brand identity, and the WWI phenomenon of dazzle camouflage, a graphic process applied to battleships to confuse enemy aim.