Q & A with Rebecca Armstron

Catawissa native Rebecca Armstrong spent this past summer as an artist-in-residence at the Pajama Factory, 1307 Park Ave. The space suited her needs so well that she decided to stay for a while.

Recently, Armstrong chatted with the Sun-Gazette via email about the Factory, her art and her next residency program in Stuttgart, Germany.

MATTHEW PARRISH: Why did you want to participate in the Artist-in-Residence program at the Factory?

REBECCA ARMSTRONG: The space is amazing- it’s huge, flooded with beautiful light. I was also interested in having a formal, structured way to enter the community- a way to get to know people.

MP: What is it like working there?

RA: The community is incredibly supportive- everyone is willing to help you figure out how to get what you need, whether it’s tools, information, equipment. There’s an attitude of openness, that everything’s possible. It was a great environment to work in.

MP: Why did you rent out a space there for the year?

RA: Having a studio shifts what’s possible in workmaking. For me, being able to finalize work is important right now. Though I can do most of my video and soundwork at home, I can’t install and document it in the way I can in a studio. I also don’t have as much freedom in terms of the physical objects I make. With a studio, especially a big one, scale shifts, I can make larger objects and installations, I don’t have to deal with domestic architecture. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes getting out of the whitebox is useful. But it’s important to have access to what contemporary art thinks of as a “blank” space. Having a clean, blank space to use for shooting video, especially one flooded with natural light, is also a huge benefit. Plus, it’s nice to be in a building where other people are working. It shifts things, even to be able to say hello in the hallway. There’s a different energy than working in isolation, and it changes what it feels like to work. I love being in big studio buildings. Being reminded that other people are also doing things makes it easier for me to do things.

MP: How did the AIR exhibition go from your angle?

RA: I was surprised by how many people came, actually. It’s a very different conversation than I’m used to – I got to talk about my work with a lot of people who don’t have a comprehensive understanding of contemporary art, or a deep relationship to art history. I love being reminded about how art can interact on its own terms with anyone, not just folks who spend our lives absorbed in its language. A lot of folks who knew me as a kid came, too, so it was nice to try to knit my past community to my current intellectual and artistic life. It’s a very different lens, that people approach the work through – a personal relationship is first, then they try to find a way into the work through that – rather than approaching through the work, or on the work’s terms. I like the change, it’s a nice reminder about the expansive potential of art.

MP: I know you have an AIR program in Stuttgart next year. Are you excited? What are your plans for that?

RA: I’m incredibly excited. It’s great to have any support as an artist, and the Akademie Schloss Solitude offers pretty comprehensive support. Residencies are structured all sorts of ways, and this one is set up like a fellowship. There’s a budget for work, a stipend. It really frees up all my time and mind to focus on the work. And as an artist, getting paid for our work is actually pretty rare, especially if you’re making primarily installations with sound and video. To get the same respect and compensation as other jobs is a huge relief.

MP: How long will you stay at the Factory?

RA: The plan right now is to stick around until I head off to other residencies – maybe the full year, maybe something else will come up between now and Stuttgart. The decision to leave New York for last year’s residency in Belgium was also to free up the possibilities of applying to shorter term residencies, as well as to set my life up for the work to be central- something that’s really hard if you’re also spending energy trying to survive financially in N.Y., though a lot of what I did there fed my practice in interesting ways.