While searching for our next Kickstarter project obsession, we stumbled upon multimedia sculptor Emily Bowser, an ambitious young artist who creates tactile pieces from unexpected materials, combining space, poetry, texture and ritual into an immersive and overflowing experience.
Bowser studied sculpture and English simultaneously, earning both an M.A. and an M.F.A. from the University of Iowa. Her sensitivity to language and the ways we make sense of the world around us shows in her inventive works, which range from playful to unexpectedly grotesque. Her darkest works are made of, strangely enough, bread dough, although it looks more like an alien body part than breakfast. Loaves of dough slink and rot in a mature work reminiscent of the bodily creations of Eva Hesse or Louise Bourgeois. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Bower's cotton candy environments are as sugary and weightless as we hoped they would be. Seamlessly moving between moods and materials, Bowser creates multi-sensory fantasy spaces out of the stuff of our everyday life.
We quickly joined Bowser's fan club and when we read Bowser was just invited to attend a highly selective residency at the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, we wanted to help. Read our conversation with her below and you will be a believer! Scroll down for a slideshow of her works.
HP: Aside from having a very impressive art resume, you have a BA in English and an MFA. How do literature and writing affect your artwork?
EB: Oh my, my first answer to this question is filling out applications for exhibitions, proposals, etc., all things that every artist does all the time. Most artists spend a good chunk of their time writing and researching for upcoming projects. But, on a more personal note the English and literature background have aided me with the tools in conceptualizing my work. To be an active participant in the acute matters happening around me. I must admit that I am addicted to my OED. It goes wherever my sketchbook goes – they have an intimate relationship. Words are always being defined and redefined in the pages of my sketchbook. I recently started listening to “The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary,” because I my relationship to words and wording. It is a fascinating story about how words came to be throughout history, especially for someone like me who thinks about the how we as people are consistently trying to define what is around us with such abstract things as words.
HP: You have a knack for bringing out the darker, almost grotesque sides of innocuous, sweet materials like cotton candy and bread dough. Is there a symbolic message to these materials or are you more interested in their physical properties?
EB: Sensitivity to materials is the prime influence when conceptualizing my work. For the most part I am naturally drawn to materials that are food related. Food is something that everyone has experience with on a daily basis. We need it survive. We use it as a way to relate to one another as people. Sharing a meal involves all of the senses and is one the most common and intimate ways you can get to know a person.
It’s true, I am drawn to the physical qualities of what bread dough and cotton are capable of, but it is because of those materials inherently conceptualize is what peaked my attraction. Cotton candy is fun, playful, full of saccharine goodness, and comes is all sorts of colors. It’s this sweet cloud in the palm of your hands that can turn into a gooey mess if held onto tightly. Cotton candy represents hints at amusement parks, child hood, laughter – momentary.
"I’d Kiss You On a Porch, Because It’s Only a Façade" is the first time the cotton candy appears in my work. The pieces is essentially about the idea of a first and/or last kiss - whether it’s being shared between two people or just an individual’s short glance at the welcoming architecture of a home. Within that small unit of time distortion, disruption, and re-imagination are likely to occur. Pastel silhouettes of painted banisters, columns and stairs alongside a fractured foundation are paired with a cotton candy waterfall. Viewers are urged to partake in the cotton candy, taste its sweetness, and let its flavor dissolve across their tongue. Here, the cotton candy acts as a way to sweeten the senses of the viewer, to pull them into the scene and to perhaps provide a memorable experience.
Bread, in its various shapes and forms, is a food staple in most cultures. It is a form of sustenance. Breaking bread: sharing a meal together or one’s assets with another. Bread is one of the elements of the Eucharist. Bread means money, but who is the “bread-winner.” There is a long and full history of bread and what it can symbolize throughout the world, and I am interested in every bit of it. "Trough" attempts to touch on those subjects. As well as the idea of consumption, the abject, the family unit and this abstract idea of the body and gluttony once it becomes fully engorged.
HP: Since you work in perishables, how impermanent are your artworks? How do you predict and deal with the changing and/or rotting of your materials?
EB: There is the issue that the pieces I create with ephemeral materials do not last forever. I am 100% ok with that. Both the bread dough and cotton degrade over a shorter amount of time. The bread dough starts out frozen and then if kept at a controlled temperature will complete its rise and fall within a week’s time. The process is quite beautiful. It’s as though the bread dough is taking this vast breath and then slowly deflates like a balloon.
The changing and/or rotting of my materials acts like a time line. A performer. Once the last loaf of bread dough is laid or the last fluffy clump of cotton candy is strung up, the sculpture/installation has just begun. Over time the bread dough rises. The cotton turns bright green, pink and blue and begins to crumble. I love that once you look at any of those works on a day to day basis they are not the same. You have to come back and peek in on what seems to be unraveling. They surprise me every time I try out something new. And I love surprises!
HP: Do you have a concept for a piece you would create at Taliesin? In your Kickstarter video you mention something about removable parts…
EB: Usually when I have the opportunity to work for a month at a residency I do not have particular project in mind per say. Being placed a new environment and community allows the self to be open to fresh or even uncomfortable ideas that may have not come to the surface before. Typically, I use that gift of space and time for stitching together pieces of ideas in hopes of reaching a new stage in my studio practice. I have started compiling a list of things that I have been attracted to/interested in lately. That list ranges in items from hobby horses and trampolines to sports equipment and silly string. Recently, I have been researching different types of motors in order to start adding in movable sections within my sculptures and installations. Thank goodness for community yard sales and thrift stores, where you can find a three speed fan motor for four dollars!
HP: We have to ask…where do you get all of that cotton candy?
EB: Believe it or not, I make all of my own cotton candy. There have been days upon days where I would make cotton candy for hours on end. Everything in studio would become lightly dusted in a glistening sugar coating from that much candy production. For the porch piece, I made & filled 8 large contractor bags of cotton candy. (Your arm starts to get tired after a few days! And I have found that the banana flavored cotton candy is the best around.)
(The history of the cotton candy machine: Back in 2008, when I was still in graduate school at the University of Iowa, I bought my own cotton candy machine because I had few ideas relating to the material. However, I never had the chance to use my machine until much later, because right before my last year at Iowa the Midwest had experienced that horrific flood during the summer. Consequently, some ideas for projects got put on hold for me and many other students while we were trying to figure out how to reconfigure the Art department in a new location.)
Bowser was accepted to the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture: The Taliesin Artist Residency, in which 1-3 artists are chosen each summer to participate in this unique program, where the focus is to create new works centering on site-specific installation. Check out her Kickstarter and help her get there and make more sculptures, hopefully involving candy!