Interview with Catherine Forster: Nature in a Box

A woman is in her kayak on Crystal Lake, at dawn before anything else has had a chance to stir the water or cut through the early morning silence. She paddles around the lake for an hour or more, having uninterrupted time alone with nature and her own thoughts.

Finding peace at dawn
Finding Peace At Dawn. Courtesy of Catherine Forster.


Catherine Forster is the artist in the kayak. In her work, she addresses the influence of mediation on our relationships, whether with nature, loved ones, or our wider community. Forster says that this daily morning exercise helps her separate herself from the man-made environment that runs our daily lives and forces her to pay attention to her surroundings and her own thinking. Not that this is all new to her. Before she became an artist (SAIC, 2002), she was a microbiologist, got bored, studied business, and became a management consultant. Her interest in systems and how organisms (micro and macro) behave within those systems is still with her, but now her curiosity and questioning are from an artist's point of view.

Golden Oldies Bubble
Golden Oldies: Tiny Bubble, video installation
still from 2007. Courtesy of the artist.

Before her 6-year-old daughter, Kyra, was born, Forster admits that her interest in our need for packaged existence and the intrusive power of media was merely intellectual exercise. Becoming a mother of a young child changed her outlook, and a new awareness entered her work. She placed her video camera on top of the TV set and studied her daughter's response to the programming. (Videos can be viewed here.)

The transition from canvas to camera was a gradual process and a bit of a surprise. I was not interested in video while at school. I actually found much of the medium frustrating, but I had an idea for a piece called The Other Parent and, to my surprise, it needed to be a video. I thought it was a one-off and I worked with an editor to create the piece. The piece became a long-term project exploring the impact of media on identity and personality. I have been filming my daughter once a year as she watches her favorite TV program; The Early Years (series) have been completed (The Mentor, The Babysitter, The Play Date, and My Space); Tween Years (series) begin next year, and if she is willing, Teen Years will begin in 2012.

Once I began using the camera I found the lens to be an ideal way to expose lost or missed moments. Video also provides a “presentness” and sense of participation you can't get from painting that I find valuable in communicating my work.

ArtStyle: How does your training as a painter influence your work and do you think it’s a blessing or an obstacle not to have trained in the media arts?

Catherine Forster (CF): I’ve learned what I know about media art from lots of research, looking, and experimenting. I wish I had been interested while in school and had taken advantage of courses while there, but it didn’t happen. I did take a sound course at Columbia College’s film school, which was invaluable. My work is sometimes conceptualized in sound initially. At one point Box Set (new video project) was a sound project. I was in a passionate search to find pure ambiance of nature without man-made intrusions, an interesting exercise that can only be achieved if you bring nature indoors (to a sound studio) or box it up.

My work is very painterly; painting informs the work at every stage. Issues of space, color, and texture are as influenced by the history of painting as they are by watching film, which I do a lot of.

StaryStaryNight
Golden Oldies: StaryStaryNight, video installation
still from 2007. Courtesy of the artist.

ArtStyle: Another aspect of your art practice is your gallery, LiveBox, and the curatorial work that goes with it. Why did you create LiveBox and what role does it play in your creative process?

CF: Soon after graduating from SAIC, I looked for opportunities to create an alternative space. I envisioned a collaborative project, but struggled to find partners. Once I found someone to work with, I couldn't find the right space. In 2006, I asked myself, what did I really want to do and whether Chicago needed another alternative space. I came up with the idea of a nomadic gallery focused on media arts, an area poorly served in the art scene. LiveBox has been an amazing venture. I've been introduced to extraordinary work and artists from around the world. The curating process had been an eye-opener for me, informing my education of the medium, and also liberating another artistic path. For me, curating is like creating an art piece, and the canvas is alive with the work of all these amazing artists. The process of conceptualizing a show and finding the work always excites me, and I'm thrilled to see an exhibition take on its own presence. It's just like a painting that, at some point, becomes what it wants to be.

Box Set 2007
Box Set 2007. Installation of boxed nature, book, and prints. Courtesy of the artist.

Mediation and digitized wonders have forever changed our relationship to nature. Nature is revered, but raw nature no longer dazzles, unless it is packaged for the optimum experience. Choose your season, turn on the box and you have an indoor nature at your own leisure, and no bugs, poison ivy or weather concern.

Her newest work Box Set and Intelligent Design will be on view at Kasia Kay Art Project Gallery in a group show entitled Intelligent Design Project III and opens October 12th. The box contains five DVDs with shots Forster filmed in nature.

Through the process of filming this project, Forster has come to realize how hard it is to find in nature a silent place without human interruption (car noises, airplanes, or distant screams of soccer parents seem to be impossible to escape).

Intelligent Design
Intelligent Design. DVD, 2007. A child plays teacher come newscaster presenting the different between Neanderthals and humans. Courtesy of the artist.

Catherine Forster has worn many hats in her life, tossed some and kept others to find her way to where she is today. In the end, we can only ask if LiveBox is yet another hat to juggle or is it just a new colorful feather in her already existing “art hat”?

For more of Catherine Forster's artwork, click here ArtStyle Blog Gallery.

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