Abby Donovan is an avid world traveler, splitting her time between Newark, Delaware and Eugene, Oregon. She is a Professor at the University of Delaware and works independently and in collaboration with The 181.
LR: You sometimes work in collaboration with your group the 181 Collective. Can you talk about being the only woman in the group and your process within a group dynamic?
A: The 181 operates very much within the realm of what right now I would term an aesthetic of curiosity and trust. When we converge for a composition none of us has much idea what any of the others is going to do, exactly. In search of resonance. I think I read somewhere that arrows have to be separate from the coordinate system in order for them to be what we think of as arrows.
If someone says “there’s a see-saw movie the pacific wants to view” someone else might say “what does 500 gallons of clay slip sound like” while someone else is busy following a rolling glass sphere across the flow floor/trying to open a hole in space-time………so we put on candy-striped life preservers and set sail. It is an important time in the garden right now (it is always an important time in the garden. However I will note that Tom as our resident scientist is often tasked with identifying when Newtonian laws might prove unfortunately relevant (=cause bodily harm).
LR: Have you noticed any trends or changes since you’ve been working as an artist, related to women in art?
A: Until we have pay equality in this country with its fountainhead spout of capitalist rhetoric, any change will not be and has not been enough. It’s ridiculous really. That being said, let’s celebrate Beyoncé. Lemonade.
LR: Do you feel your work is gendered in any way or has been in the past?
A: It is because I am. Because it makes a difference that I as a self/society-identified woman choose to focus on this or that, choose to do that or this. It is in fact crucial to note these things. I do not recognize any supposed institutional right to validate art; yet I highly value the rich revolutionary resources of the intellectual tradition. For this reason I enthusiastically participate in artistic and academic institutions, while abjuring the authority of those communities to dictate the terms of my individual artistic practice. For me the expansion of human culture depends upon this sometimes-contradictory vitality of exchange, subversion, and participation.
LR: Do you have a methodology to making your work? What is your process like?
A: Methodologies bore me, I mean, why limit what you might see?
“I am alive and I am trying my hardest to pay attention and not miss anything.”
To me art is experimental philosophy. A necessary implicating in, or indictment of, the material world as we form whatever it is we form de umbris idearum—of or about or pertaining to the shadow/cloud of ideas. What exactly is a letter? What exactly is a color? Books are very important, music and sounds are very important, my sense of sight and what I think I see is very important, and trying somehow to record/transmit all of these things is absolutely essential. What is happening right now? I’ve just returned from shooting video of William Edwards’s The Butterflies of North America at the Boston Athenaeum as a follow-up to the video I shot in Russia of Vladimir Nabokov’s butterfly collection, I am starting to re-read The Pelopponesian War, I am making porcelain lattices to incorporate in a future version of my cosmic/corporeal orrery, and over the summer I will be constructing glass constellation echo reflections mapping ancient Mound Builder forms for an upcoming exhibition at the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University.
LR: As a professor in the arts, how do you approach topics of gender in your classes?
A: One example: when I give a presentation or talk that involves showing historical artwork, I always take time at the beginning to discuss all of the work we are NOT seeing. I make a point of saying that we as a society, a culture, (actually let’s lose even those limited limitations: we as humanity!) don’t even know who some of our best artists have or could have been because of issues of gender, race, socio-economics. I take very seriously the idea that I should be a role model. I also take very seriously the idea of honesty. If I am asking students to be honest with their work–because I believe that is the only way art can go anywhere interesting–then I must be honest too.
For more information about The 181 and images of Abby’s work: abbydonovan.com