Our Art Editor, Regan Henley, conducted an interview with Artist Ashley Czajkowski, whose work appears in Issue 15. They discuss Ashley’s post-grad work, her artistic process, and her involvement with the Creative Push project.
Regan Henley: Last time we saw you you were finishing up your MFA within the School of Art, and completing your thesis show. Now that you’ve graduated, what are you up to?
Ashley Czajkowski: I’m adjunct teaching, I teach Photo II Darkroom at ASU which I absolutely love. The amount of energy I can put into teaching now as opposed to when I was in grad school is so much more that I’m giving a lot more to the students, and because of that I’m getting much more back. I’m also adjunct teaching at Scottsdale Community College which is a totally different and amazing experience teaching one large 5-hour studio class with Photo I, Photo II, Photo III, Photo IV, advanced projects and alternative process in one five hour block. I’m working on the Creative Push project with Forrest Sollis interviewing and editing women’s labor and delivery stories. It’s amazing. I feel like I’ve honed a lot of skills with that, but I’m also meeting people and talking to other other women and artists. It’s almost like a curatorial thing as well. I’m also an event coordinator for eye lounge now.
RH: Your thesis show “Unbecoming” was about animalistic instincts, and the human connection with “wildness.” You made a whole installation of found birds and exposed them on light-sensitive paper. Are you continuing the series?
AC: I am, but I started changing them. So, I’m exposing them on fabric with liquid light and putting them into these [embroidery hoops]. I’m not sure how I feel about them yet, but I’ve been thinking a lot about this idea of domesticity, and domestic acts. I think it’s interesting, the idea of taking something wild and making it tame. It’s that idea of domesticity as it relates to femininity, but also in the act or making them, and collecting the birds. Using the fabric, they become more abstract, which I like. They start to look like celestial bodies, or moons.
RH: Was it natural to just continue this work? Was there a struggle to decide to move on or forward with it?
AC: It was actually the easiest thing to continue doing what I was before, I think there’s a lot of pressure as artists to reinvent the wheel every time we make something. I was thinking about having a new show, and I definitely want it to be different than the way it was before, but there will be some overlap because I’m still thinking about a lot of the same things. Just because I’ve finished a thesis show doesn’t mean that work has been fully explored. There is a common thing though that happens after grad school, and I’ve talked to a lot of other people about this, but there is this weird lull that happens. But it didn’t take me long to pick it back up. I just have to be making, but I’m trying to push it further.
RH: What about your process now? You’re not in school, your schedule is very different and no one is making you create. What’s it like working with less structure?
AC: In some ways it helps to be home a lot more. I’ve found the video-making to be a lot more difficult, but the object-making has been a lot easier. It’s a weird sort of balance. The pressure to make in school is much different. But part of what grad school is, and I’ve had lots of professors tell me this, is that before you leave you should understand your studio practice and being able to perpetuate that without “goals.”
RH: Without that structure, how has the critique process changed for you now that you’re out of school? Now that you don’t have structured spaces to refine your work?
AC: That was the thing I realized I was going to miss right away, that community and those conversations. Luckily, my partner is also an artist so that makes it nice to bounce ideas off of. But that’s one of the reasons I’ve joined the eye lounge. We’re actually working on setting up some 17th century style salons, where people come and put up a bunch of work and have conversations. It will be early spring, it’s a cooperation between the art grads group and eye lounge. So I’m forcing that critique space to happen.
RH: Does your art making feel less intense now? Or, I should say, do you feel less pressure to create?
AC: In grad school you feel like you never have enough time, I always felt like I always have to be more prolific than I was. I think that kind of external pressure is gone, but I don’t want to say that it’s less intense because I feel like that implies it’s conceptually less intense which isn’t the case. I have more time to really investigate more. I’m making stuff, but really I’m feeding myself more, reading theory and external things but also reading into my own work more. Which I think is really beneficial.
RH: What have you been reading?
AC: It’s been a combination of lots of things. I’ve been reading some psychoanalytical theory about pregnancy and childbirth as I’m working on the Creative Push project. I’m also constantly referring to this book, “The Book of Symbols” by the archive for research in archetypal symbolism which I jokingly call my bible. It’s basically an anthology of archetypal symbols and imagery. Every time there’s something that comes up in my work, I look it up in this book. I’ve also been reading a lot of photography theory which I got in my last year of school, which goes into poststructuralist theory, which gets into some pretty heavy stuff.
RH: The Creative Push project seems to be particularly close to your heart at the moment. Can you tell me a little bit more about that?
AC: Forrest Sollis started this project called the Creative Push after she had her first child, and she was going to make a body of work about the experience, and she was having a hard time finding artwork out there that was about the genuine labor and delivery experience from a woman’s first-hand perspective. So, there are some stories out there and recent critique about it, but she wanted to create a platform where women could share their stories and artists could make work in response to those stories. The platform really is the website, which is creativepush.org, but we will eventually has some physical exhibitions in the spring. It’s been an amazing experience. The stories are incredible. I feel like this whole pool of knowledge used to be an oral tradition that women would pass on to each other, but it became really taboo in history, so it’s kind of something that you don’t really talk about. It’s just supposed to be this magical experience – which it is in many ways – but it’s also traumatic and transformative.
RH: Are you still looking for participants?
AC: Yes! That is a great question. We are still looking for participants as storytellers and artists, there is a participate form you can fill out on the website.
RH: Fantastic. Last question here: Where else can we see you these days?
AC: You can always see my work online on my website. Now that I’m a member of eye lounge, I will be participating in a group show in December, I will have my solo show at eye lounge in Phoenix in February, another group show in March. Definitely check it out.