Julie Schenkelberg is a New York-based installation artist who has participated in ArtPrize three times with SiTE:LAB, including her 2014 entry “Symptomatic Constant” which won the juried award for Best Installation.
ArtPrize: Tell us a little bit about your first experience with ArtPrize. How did you hear about it? What made you want to travel all the way to Grand Rapids to participate?
Julie Schenkelberg: I was invited by SiTE:LAB’s curator Paul Amenta to participate in ArtPrize 2013, when they had the 54 Jefferson Old Museum as a venue for a few years. I was so excited to be a part of the project with SiTE:LAB because of how they occupy untraditional gallery spaces and the specificity of the artwork for the site that I created. I was living in Brooklyn at the time making larger sculptures, so I was thrilled to come to Grand Rapids to do this project — mostly through the encouragement of SiTE:LAB. When I arrived in Grand Rapids, I then found out more about the excitement of ArtPrize.
You've participated in ArtPrize three times, each in collaboration with SiTE:LAB—at the former public museum on Jefferson, at the Morton House, and at Rumsey Street. What drew you to keep participating year over year?
I was drawn in by the enthusiasm and support of the community around SiTE:LAB — including founders Paul Amenta and Tom Clinton — and the chance to work with other accomplished installation artists is also pretty rare in one show. I really appreciated being able to grow in my practice as an installation artist. I found everything I needed to make my work and to push the limits of my vision. The materials I had were mostly donated or found. I had so many options to complete my work, with there being an endless amount of inspiration and palette for my sculpture. I am also originally from Cleveland, so I enjoyed being back in the Midwest for these long periods of time. I respond to art that is outside the norm and the opportunities they presented to me allowed me to expand beyond what I thought was possible. I won the installation award in 2014, which was a very exciting moment for me. This helped me to accomplish and receive other awards and grants from different art foundations across the country
Tell us about TransMigration—what went into transforming an entire house into a sculpture?
First, SiTE:LAB decided to move the house. I then took the 1910 house and worked with it for about three months. I brought interns from other states to work with me for parts of the summer and I also worked with interns from the surrounding community and art schools. We worked like a construction crew each day while deconstructing the house. It had many layers on it such as vinyl and shingling. I took this off the whole house using scaffold and a telehandler, which I loved learning how to drive. I also removed all of the plaster in the interior of the house to expose all of the lathe woodwork. I treated the whole building as I would construct one of my drawings on paper. The only difference was that this was a three-dimensional house I was extracting in a very accumulative way. Usually my sculptures are the opposite, being totally additive, and here I wanted to do the reverse, but still have the same effect. I cut into the exterior of the building in strategic ways to create light coming through and out at night. There was also a lot of cleaning. I was stripping away so much material that this became a very important task to make the artwork stand out and look how I envisioned. I had never done something like this. It was a huge undertaking that I had fantasized about and here it was in front of me – real and massive and amazing to work on. I repainted a lot of the interior wood work and floors a glossy white; this made the rest of the raw wood lathe walls shine in contrast.
What was really interesting was living and working at Rumsey Street; I lived across the street from the house. I became a part of the community for a little over a year – getting to know my neighbors, making this project, working with SiTE:LAB, assisting them with the other artists living in the house, while also completing their projects on the Rumsey Street site.
During the run of ArtPrize 2016, I was also able to meet the previous owner of the house, she had owned it for about 30 years, and we walked through the project together discussing what I had done and her memories of the place. I was worried what she would think — but she loved the project and was touched to tears that I would transform the building and the history around it.
What would you say is different about the creative community in Grand Rapids compared to New York City?
I enjoy being a part of the global and NYC art community where I also show, however the people, the support, and optimism is a very unusual combination in Grand Rapids and the rest of the worlds I move in are very inquisitive about the city. There is also a chance to try very outrageous things like moving a house — which would be impossible in other communities — there is a lot of freedom and chance to try things with out a lot of resistance and there is a great sense of curiosity here- even if there is limitations in other areas.