Stephanie Patsula Artist Interview

Tell us a bit about yourself, your background and your work

Well, first off, thank you so much for the opportunity to speak with your team at MURZE! I appreciate this in a moment in history that can (sometimes) have me feeling untethered, and feel excited to discuss my work.

I am a visual artist who is currently living and working in Canada, as a visitor on Treaty Six Territory. Presently, I am on a leave of absence, until September, from the final year of the MFA program I am in at the University of Alberta -- due to the COVID-19 crisis. I tend to work across a variety of mediums, however most recently durational and installation-based performance art is central to my work. Formally our bodies can be such a relatable entry point and I often use my own as a site of exploration. I am also propelled by taking a somatic approach to art making and embodied research.

Tell us about the themes you pursue in your work

As far as the themes I pursue, I would say that I often find my body at the centre of my explorations, reflected or repeated across physical and digital environments. I find it curious the way that online platforms and technologies mediate performance and performativity of the human body. I have really leaned into that as a foundation for the narratives I explore. Displays of intimacy are hidden and revealed with every mediation of the “self”, whether that’s found in real world or online situations, so I constantly draw inspiration from critiquing the distinctions between the body-object-viewer dynamic.

Your work focused on the body, what image and concepts are you trying to convey? 

For this particular body of work explored in Issue Twelve, I riff off of the idiom: Does not hold water; A phrase used to dismantle a process or theory. This caused me to reflect upon what does in fact hold water – what is the affirmation that posits change in policy, movement of people or personal growth?

In this series of images, I attempted to distill a formal and conceptual exploration of “holding water” by working with the bodies of several individuals to create other worldly scapes. After asking each of the models to physically hold water with their bodies, a task as visceral as it is nuanced, we worked to quickly document this performative action. Over the duration of the shoot, it becomes clear how uniquely our bodies react after being asked to deliver the same basic task. The bodies of the models go on far after the project and live outside the Material. These images echo moments that are lost to the somatic body. In this project the material process in creating the final image acts as an analogy for the efforts and struggle that comes with self-realization and growth.

How has the pandemic affected you, your artwork and day to day? 

This question is tricky because I feel I would likely answer it differently depending on the day. This pandemic has affected me profoundly and asks so much of my ability to adapt and process mourning in a way I did not expect. I find myself letting go of expectations found in a pre-pandemic life. Today, the way I am processing grief, I am inclined to feel hope. Despite how difficult I personally find the switch in cadence brought on by COVID-19, I feel hopeful moving forward.

In saying this, I do not want to down play the negative aftermath this pandemic has had on so many. I guess I just see how folks can change and shift and pivot! This daily display of human adaptability alters my perspective in a positive way.

The notion that the world will never be the same post COVID-19, for me, holds many positive possibilities and as an artist. I find inspiration in this.

In addition, the changes that come from working out of a home studio definitely had their challenges. For much of the work I create, I have been reliant on an almost egalitarian relationship to the viewer or other live bodies I work with. Art creation, in a time of mass physical distancing, has provided me an opportunity to address different aspects of intimacy and togetherness.

What is your working process, what tools and mediums do you use?

My working process is a very intuitive one. I will find myself thinking through the formal visual elements first, and in some cases, images will become fully formed in my mind’s eye over the duration of several weeks. If I cannot seem to shake an idea, I trust in that intuition and know to pursue it. From this point, I will research materials, places and concepts. I like to manically produce many iterations and counterparts of the initial idea, and then sort through the fall out. I find I benefit greatly from editing, so the more I can sift through, the better.

I do work across mediums, but truthfully, lens and body-based explorations lay the foundation for most of my projects. From there, I choose additional materials and accompanying processes that uphold the concept of the individual series or body of work. Again, this is fairly intuitive, but I certainly have objects and motifs that I revisit consistently – for example, I use mirrored glass a lot; I love vessels especially when they allow for an ephemeral experience.

What do you feel the role of artists and photographers is in society?

I don’t know that I feel one way or another when it comes to this. Artists and art photographers do have a role; to explain the world from their point of view, using an extremely personal and visual dialect. Although, it is clear to me, that in so much of the world people have access to cameras and therefore anyone can be a photographer. I feel that the spectrum of skill and personal perspective is what I usually find most magnetic when considering lens-based mediums. For me, the “why” and the “who” of this medium is paramount and falls outside of the representation of the contemporary art world more often than not.

Photographers have so many roles within the greater media, and majority of those roles integral to how the world views itself. However, it’s important to note that these portrayals need not be acute in telling what is true or “real”.  I personally love editorial fashion photography and find myself constantly inspired by the formal polish of commercial work, but as a visual artist, I find my relationship to a still image to be different – most of my lens-based work is performance art documentation or stills.

Exhibitions and public events are currently on hold, have you any projects or goals you are working towards in the meantime?

Yes! I have many projects and goals I am working towards despite public events being on hold. I graduate from my MFA program in November of 2020, so that final show is looming in the back of my mind almost constantly. It has been really important to me to navigate the ways I can still stay active as an artist and organize exhibitions. I find this means adapting to a more online centric network or balancing real life performance and displays with digitally mediated actions. I don’t imagine that public programming will be the same for a long time after this pandemic though. I have been applying to and hosting online exhibitions, as well as, thinking about what a residency feels like when experienced virtually.

I do see an urgency to strike a balance between the real and the digital and look forward to the shift it creates in exhibitions and residencies I am participating in, that have now postponed by a year. I don’t really want a gap in my on-going artistic activity, but I have been trying reconsider the way I see productivity as it pertains to a capitalist relationship to time. I have a lot of privilege when it comes to my socio-economic constitution in the world and I want to make sure that I continue to thoughtfully engage and represent my research and thoughts throughout this historical moment as best as I can as an artist and human.  


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