Q&A: Talking soak stain bleed bloom With Artist Kristen Cochran

Pollock Gallery Curatorial Fellow Danielle Avram Morgan talks with artist and 2010 Meadows M.F.A. alumna Kristen Cochran about her exhibit, soak stain bleed bloom, and the fluid nature of her art

Actions such as soaking, staining, bleeding and blooming were a part of the process that produced the art objects included in the exhibition

Danielle Avram Morgan (DM): The first piece in this exhibition is a text panel featuring definitions of soak, stain, bleed and bloom. Can you describe the role language plays in your work, particularly how it affects your process, given that each of these words implies an action that is then visually repeated throughout the show?

Kristen Cochran (KC): Like Richard Serra's verb list, the words soak, stain, bleed and bloom describe actions and physical phenomena related to the act of making. Much of the work in this exhibition began this past summer during a time when direct mark making methods didn't make sense to me. I began exploring “hands off” processes and ways of documenting and indexing the material phenomena that I had set into motion. Soaking fabric and paper in various dyes and solvents, folding paper and using it as a means to absorb the residue from earlier processes resulted in the stained sediment drawings. Witnessing the diffusion of wet iodine, ink or dye onto a wet surface (blooming) or the dissolution of pigment into flower-like blooms by way of various solvents were the actions and the byproducts of private production. For me, these are the delightful things that happen behind the scenes and they result in really interesting marks. Underscoring these actions with language is a way for me to further document my process, a way of valuing creative meandering, material testing and my movement in the studio.

DM: Your practice is very fluid and responsive. Do you see the pieces in this show as being “finished” works, or as more ephemeral assemblages that will be reconfigured or adapted depending on the context?

KC: This show emphasizes the fluid nature of my practice and creative processes in general. As for whether or not the works in the show are "finished," I'll liken the work in the exhibition to a family that has come together for a reunion. They interact within the context of the Pollock Gallery for a set amount of time. They are complete in that each discrete work has been curated to be in dialogue/proximity with other specific works.

Assemblage is important to me — it’s a natural way of organizing information. I like to think about each object that I find or make as being a piece of information to be catalogued, paired or piled to create order amidst chaos. In The Savage Mind, Claude Lévi-Strauss writes about a type of pseudoscientific play called “bricolage,” pre-linguistic play in which things are pushed around and paired in various ways to create new meaning. I think I'm a bricoleur playing with concrete language and then calling into question our systems of naming and knowing.

DM: One of my favorite works in the exhibition is the pairing of the group of small plaster “rods” with the neon BLOOM sign. It’s unexpected, given that the majority of the works in the show are loose and organic. What compelled you to work with neon? Why the emphasis on this particular word, “bloom?”

KC: I've admired the neon works of Bruce Nauman and Tracey Emin for a long time. I hadn’t considered working with it before this show, but the idea of signage made sense to me, and the glow of neon relates well to the X-ray like qualities in the works on paper in the show. I also like that the luminosity of neon is synonymous to the definition of a bloom as radiant or lustrous. I wanted to reference signage because signs are often declarative: Buy Now! Grand Opening! Signs tell us what to do and not do. BLOOM, uses a word with soft and sweet associations in an all-caps command form. Here, "bloom" is emphatic.

Its relationship to the group of plaster props is a bit comedic. The bright, declarative sign addresses dry and bone like objects – which owe their uprightness to the gallery wall – and directs them to grow. The sign beckons them to “bloom.”

DM: A lot of visitors have drawn connections to your work and the act of being female. How do you deal with this push/pull, being a female artist who is working with materials, symbols and forms that can easily be classified as “feminine?”

KC: This exhibition, like much of my work, relates to the body, specifically to the body in action. I'm female, so the work is filtered through my femaleness —whatever that means. While I can understand viewers’ interpretations of soaking, staining, bleeding and blooming to be particularly feminine, that was not my interest or intention in making the work. The words, which relate to my process in the studio, are as I've mentioned before, charged because they can be read/interpreted in many ways. There is an obvious relationship to the body – soaking ones body in the bath, staining a shirt with sweat, staining a handkerchief with blood – which are human experiences, natural phenomena. Soak, stain, bleed and bloom relate to processes of being human, to the collective, messy experience of living within our skins and acting out of fragile yet resilient temporary containers. The wall text expands definitions and pushes them out of a narrowly feminine read.

Kristen Cochran earned her M.F.A. in art from SMU Meadows in 2010. She has exhibited her work in Texas, Arizona, the Pacific Northwest and New York and has works in private collections in Italy and London. In Texas, Cochran has exhibited at the Dallas Contemporary art museum, Talley Dunn Gallery, Blue Star Contemporary, Central Trak, Oliver Francis Gallery, Barry Whistler Gallery, Eastfield College, the University of Texas at Dallas and WAAS Gallery and has participated in the 2011 and 2013 Texas Biennials in Austin and San Antonio. She has been awarded residencies in Long Island City, N.Y., and Mittersill, Austria, and more recently received a Jentel residency in Wyoming. Cochran presently teaches drawing and sculpture at the University of Texas at Dallas and has taught at SMU, the Nasher Sculpture Center and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.