Photography by Shelby Hettler
Interviewed by Jewel Britton
Erin Reid is a visiting student at Barnard College from Middlebury College, in her second semester of senior year. She majored in sociology and gender studies and did her thesis on the ways that black women represent themselves on Tumblr. Her artwork centers around finding ways to combine visual elements with each other, and with text.
How did you get started in the arts?
I made art my entire life. It was never really a conscious decision, just something that carried on from childhood doodling into a more regular practice. When I was really little I really wanted to be a novelist, and I would write these long-winded stories about my cats. My mom would always support me and she would bind these stories and I would draw images with them. I had taken visual arts classes all the way up from middle school. I hadn’t taken them recently, since about sophomore year, but I’m taking 3 right now. So I hadn’t been institutionally doing that much art, but I was always creating, even if it wasn’t in a class.
It shifts as I move between mediums. Alison Bechdel’s comics are really great, but just looking through Tumblr serves as a huge inspiration to me.
Your Tumblr page was also a part of your Ratrock featured artists page. What are your thoughts on it as a medium for sharing art?
I am obsessed with Tumblr- that’s the short of it. It’s not the most effective platform if you’re trying to get a large public following, but what I do like about it is that it does feel kind of private. Even though it’s online, there’s something about it that you engage with very personally. I don’t always post stuff that’s polished on my Tumblr, sometimes I’ll be like “I doodled this while I was watching TV, here it is”. There are things that I wouldn’t necessarily submit for an artist residency, for instance. I think it’s a helpful medium in the fact that it’s almost like a visual journal that I can share with people publicly, but it’s also somewhat internal.
Can you talk about your thesis?
Yeah! So I wrote about the ways that black women represent themselves on Tumblr. I’m black, so I was thinking about how to represent myself and my racial identity through non-dominant imagery. Tumblr is something I see as a space where people are creating an alternative aesthetic that opposes patriarchy, racism, and white supremacy. I was interested in the space- analyzing certain images as well as the overload of images and how they interact. Thinking about how that changes the experience and what is the value of interpretation. I also got to justify spending a lot of time on Tumblr.
What drew you to collage?
I like a lot of things about collage. I like the immediacy of it. Sometimes when I’m doing collage it’s just that I’m feeling super anxious and I need to do something with my hands. I also like the idea of layering things, kind of like Tumblr! I feel like Tumblr is just one big collage where there are all of these things that you are connecting together- that’s something that has always connected with me. Even when I draw or paint, there are elements of multi-media. I never just do a pen drawing, there will always be other elements or layers. So collage just seemed like the most natural thing. It is inherently made of different things coming together.
I also like to be able to collect weird magazines. Collage has allowed me to see things differently. Like I’ll be at my friend’s house and see a weird pamphlet for a foot massage clinic and the image on it will be really funny, and I’ll be like “can I have that?!” So I kind of developed these weird obsessive collecting tendencies through that, but it’s fun thinking all the time about what I could juxtapose an image with based on what I already have. I’ve also recently gotten into creating poems from cut outs of text, and juxtaposing them. Especially in absurd collages, text becomes really important- I’ll see a strange headline and I’ll think it would look hilarious with this pig or something! Collage always makes more sense to me because I’m always processing all these images and this is a way that they can come together.
Is your artistic process usually based in finding an image and then deciding to create a collage from it?
That’s definitely one way I do it. But sometimes I’ll sit down with a very specific idea in mind of what I want to do a collage of. For example, one day I was trying to figure out what spirituality meant to me. I knew I wasn’t a religious person, but I have certain spiritual beliefs that I never knew how to describe in words. For that I thought about ‘what would this look like if I was to create a collage for it?’ So sometimes I start from an idea and then I try to find things that I think resonate with it. Sometimes I’ll also just be watching TV and I’ll collage because I’m bored. So there’s definitely different ways that I collage and how the process comes about.
How much does chance play into your art creation?
I think it relies pretty heavily on chance- in the fact that what I have depends on what I come across. There's an element of chance when I’m flipping through a magazine and something will randomly catch my eye and become what I will gravitate towards. That being said, the decisions of what I create are very intentional. What I choose may be based on chance, but I am very intentional about where it’s placed, what it’s placed on, and the color scheme of the whole collage.
How important is it for the viewer to know where your collage pieces came from? Is that a part of the message you’re communicating to the viewer?
I don’t think that I’ve ever said explicitly where the pieces come from, but it’s something important to think about. Recently I got a lot of funny retro housewife magazines, so I’m always thinking about the politics of that type of magazine when I’m making a collage. There are all these questions like, if I have an image from the housewife magazine interacting with an image from Jet magazine, what does that say?
Can you talk about your work with zines?
Some zines I make are just compilations of collages I’ve made. It’s a good way to distribute my collages as a physical thing. I also use zines as an autobiographical process where I can reflect on my own life and experiences in an artistic medium. For instance, I’ve made a zine about my experience of being biracial. I love zines because there’s such a community surrounding them. I just went to the Feminist Zine Festival that was here (and awesome!) There were so many people that were creating things and sharing their ideas. I’m involved in this zine collective exchange, they’re only on their second edition. It’s this group of people that send zines to each other through snail mail- it’s so riot-grrrl 90’s, I love it.
There’s also a way to create networks through zines, and for me they are inherently political as a medium. My politics are very important to me, so zines are a good way for me to engage with these ideas that I’m very interested in and turn it into art or informational art. I’m very Interested in bodies and how they interact with structures of power, so politics always comes through in my work. I also have a huge zine collection myself!
Are there ways that you see zines as a physical form of Tumblr?
I definitely see that in many ways. I follow a lot of Tumblrs that are looking for zine submissions so it facilitates that network of online and physical zines. The aesthetics are also really linked. I also think of Tumblr as a feminist space (of course there are other things going on in Tumblr that aren’t as feminist or libratory) and there’s something about it that makes me think of teen girls in their rooms writing about their feelings and how they relate to politics. There’s this vibe of creation and things not having to be a complete product, processing things and sharing ideas/thoughts/feelings.
How does all of this relate to comics for you?
Yeah, zines and comics are in such a similar world- the alternative press and print world. Comics are a relatively new medium for me, though. I only started making them in the last year or so. I began creating them because of my involvement with zines. And sometimes zines will have comics in them, there's just so much overlap between the two formats. With both, and this doesn’t always apply to either- but I'm really interested in writing things down by hand and pairing them with images. I like how physical that is. The idea of people having to draw out the panels by hand, and outlining the whole process.
Is your art inspired by any different mediums?
Definitely film. I think especially with comics- film and comics are so similar. When I’m creating comics I think about how a film would be shot and framed- would the camera zoom out or focus in on this scene?. In my collage I’m using photos and filmic images as well. A lot of my influences come from TV too. I feel like I am constantly being bombarded with all these influences from TV and the internet, so collage is kind of a way for me to engage with all those images or acknowledge the stream of images that I’m experiencing.
I know you just got here this semester, but have you joined any of the arts groups on campus?
Barnard zine club! My old school didn’t have a zine club so this has been super exciting for me. Slight side note, but in Middlebury I planned my school’s first 24 hour zine fest. It took four months of planning, primarily by me, to organize 24 hours of programing. There was lots of people that were into zines on campus, but there was there wasn’t a basis for a club that would be reliable. Part of the reason I came to Barnard was because their zine collection is well known and they have a zine club.
Any art classes you are really enjoying?
I’m taking Freestyle and Displacement with Professor Leslie Hewitt. It’s such an incredible and exciting course. It’s like art history and visual arts combined, so we get a lecture and studio time to work on ideas each week. I’m also in a studio drawing course that’s more structured, so we draw models each time. But it’s really good to build up skills.
What is your project for Freestyle and Displacement?
I’m doing an analysis of my family history, so I’m creating kind of an alternative archive through images I receive and documents I have. I have these official archives from my step grandfather who was an integral part in establishing the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and served as CEO and vice president to Coretta Scott King at the King Center. My dad’s dad was an important black judge in Chicago, and there’s this interview with him about his experiences. So I’m working on curating an exhibit of the images I’ve found and captions that I create. I could have a photo of my grandfather at the steel mill he worked at and then have a caption from his perspective about what it was like to work there. It’s cool because I’ve always been really interested in my family history and I’ve always wanted to know more, especially being a multiracial person.
Have you been finding out new information through this project?
Yeah, so much! There’s this story that I was told my whole life, that my grandfather on my Dad’s side of the family killed a white man and they left and drove to Chicago. But in the process of doing research I found the true story. My grandma wrote this narrative about him (her dad) and what he was like. The real story is that he slapped his white neighbor and they came looking for him. They said he wasn’t there, and then they put him on a freight train from Mississippi to Chicago. So I’ve been finding all these really interesting details that I had never known. I don’t have a photo of that obviously, so I'm going to try to create an image that represents that story. It’s amazing that I get to think so much about an art project that relates so directly to me.
If you could consume one medium (writing, film, visual arts..) for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Oh this is so hard. I feel like this is kind of cheating but it would definitely have to be TV. Mostly because I’m a massive TV junkie, and I would get elements of film and good music. Yeah, definetly TV- I already watch it for 90% of my life anyway.