Artadia Winners Jason Kokfe and Rocio Rodriguez Chat With Us

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Jason Kofke, After Effects 1970—Everything Will Be OK, 2010, Ink on Japanses Graph Paper, 8 x 10 inches. Image courtesy the artist.
Jason Kofke, Everything Will Be OK, 9 Options, ink on Japanese graph paper, 8 x 10 inches. Image courtesy the artist.

Earlier this month, Artadia: The Fund for Art and Dialogue held the attention of the Atlanta art community captive as it announced the recipients of a total of $45,000 in grants to local artists. On November 2nd, Artadia, who supports local art scenes across the country with a collection of unrestricted award grants and a national support network for its artists, announced that Atlanta-based creatives Rocio Rodriguez and Jason Kofke would each receive a staggering $15,000 in grant monies. BURNAWAY recently had a chance to catch up to these lion’s-share winners and discuss their experiences with Artadia and their reactions to the announcement.

Rocio Rodriguez, The Garden, 2009, oil on canvas, 90 x 141 inches. Image courtesy the artist.

BURNAWAY: Thank you both for taking the time to answer some questions for us.

Nancy Friedemann-Sánchez’s Casta Paintings on view at Halsey Institute in Charleston through July16

Jason Kofke: Of course. Glad to do it.

Rocio Rodriguez: Definitely.

BA: Rocio, looking at your biography on your website, I see that you have something of a history of being an award recipient. How does winning this most recent grant compare to some of your previous wins?

RR: This was really important, and it came at a very crucial time for me. The Artadia award is special as it’s an unrestricted cash award that comes with the support of the Artadia network. The other award that was very rewarding and made a real difference was the Southern Regional fellowship to the American Academy of Art in Rome for a three-month residency, 15 years ago. I think these two are comparable, but in different ways.

Jason Kofke, Everything Will Be OK, Children of Moscow after Chernobyl, 2011, ink on vintage grid paper, 8 x 11 inches. Image courtesy the artist.

BA: Jason, you, on the other hand, are still somewhat of an upcoming artist. How important was it to win this grant?

JK: It’s not somewhat; I certainly still count myself as an upcoming, emerging artist. I would be remiss to say that this grant is necessary for my work as an artist—I can’t allow myself to rely too much on funding to make work; otherwise, my attention would be in the wrong place.

With that said, however, this grant does change the entire playing field for my work. To say it’s important doesn’t convey how much this will change me this year. In the residencies I’ve been in overseas, I’ve learned the reality of living as a practicing artist and the degree of involvement that comes with residencies, grants, and awards. I was under the illusion that an artist is selected by a grant committee or residency program because they’ve already proven themselves successful. This isn’t the reality—it’s more the case that a residency experience or major award makes an artist of the person.

This grant is important because it puts a lot of pressure on me, which is a good thing. I’m now expected to go full-force into the studio. Also, I am conscious and humbled by the knowledge that the funding for this award is raised from patrons and benefactors in Atlanta. I view this award as an obligation to Atlanta, and Artadia, to really devote myself to the work I present and its development in Atlanta.

The timing of this award is just impeccable. I wasn’t sure how I was going to maintain my studio through 2012, and was considering letting it go. In a sense, this grant saved my art practice. Not only on account of the funding, but more so because of the relationship with Artadia and the artist network they provide, and most of all for the refreshing amount of expectation that it places on me. I love working under pressure, as it inspires the most creative output. I thus invite expectations for my practice in 2012. I don’t want to neglect the generous support I’ve received from Atlanta over the years. I’m excited to find a way to reciprocate via my talents and lots of all nighters in the studio.

Rocio Rodriguez, Totem, 2011, oil on canvas, 69 1/4 x 92 3/4 inches. Image courtesy the artist.

BA: I can only assume that most of our readers haven’t been through this type of experience. Maybe you two could enlighten us. I understand that Artadia required a visit to the finalist’s studio space. Is a studio visit typical of grant consideration or was it a new experience for you?

RR: Most grants don’t require a studio visit; they are awarded based on the application that you present. I was a finalist for Artadia two years ago and didn’t make the final cut. So, this wasn’t totally new to me. But I have to say that even with that experience two years ago this was a whole new group of jurors; so it was like starting fresh.

JK: Yeah, the studio visit is unique to Artadia and I really enjoyed it. However, studio visits are always somewhat intimidating (especially with the prestigious panel that was invited.) SCAD did well to prepare me for studio visits (if you can ever be prepared). I had a lot of reviews and ripping critiques in my studio throughout grad school there, and I noticed that the same format continued past graduation. I love studio visits and critiques because I become so immersed in my own ideas and environment. The visit is a breath of fresh air, and, with this panel in particular, very inspiring. I think more arts organizations should consider a studio visit as an aspect of their selection processes—as it’s so revealing and beneficial for the people involved.

Rocio Rodriguez’s studio. Image courtesy the artist.

BA: I would think that the type of studio you keep might play a factor in how you think about visits like this. Where do you guys keep your studios?

RR: My studio is at home.

JK: Mine is in the Metropolitan Warehouses out in the West End. I share the space (which is about the size of an aircraft hanger) with a few other colleagues that I went to school with. I love the spot, enjoy the neighborhood, and consider the Metropolitan the perfect place for a studio.

BA: Oh, so these must have been very different experiences. How did you prepare your studio for the visit?

JK: I cleaned a bit. We moved into the place a few months ago and it’s still a wreck, but my studio came together quickly.

RR: Yeah, I just cleaned it up a little, I vacuumed dog hair off the floor—that sort of thing.

BA: So I guess preparation wasn’t all that much of a factor. Sounds like you both sort of went au naturale. Did either of you have any concerns about the visit?

RR: I didn’t have any big concerns other than I wanted there to be a productive dialogue between me and the jurors. And what I mean by that is that I wanted it to be an honest conversation: not just me doing the talking.

JK: My biggest worry of the visit was that I didn’t feel like I had much work to show. I was in a show at the 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art in Sydney, Australia, and most of my equipment and recent drawings were on their way back from Australia. Thus, I was really worried about the fact that my most recently completed projects weren’t in my studio. I scrambled the old computers, slide projectors, Microfilm viewers, and 8mm projectors that I still had so that I could at least show images of video documentations of the projects that were being exhibited overseas. I was really worried that all I was showing was junk (moribund media I collect for projects) and no real work. However, the two seem intertwined with me. So it somehow pulled together for the studio visit.

Jason Kofke, Everything Will Be OK, Train Car, 2008, Polaroid documentation of installation, 5 x 4 inches. Image courtesy the artist.

BA: How would you say the visit went?

JK: <Laughter> I thought I was terrible that morning. We had a really good conversation about catastrophe theory and outdated media. But I recall talking a lot and am unsure if I made any sense at all.

RR: I was relaxed. The past two years have been very difficult for me in the studio as I have been in the middle of a major transition in my work. I have gone through a lot of questioning, a lot of soul searching, grappling with the work, so I figured nothing could be as bad as what I had already gone through with myself. My state of mind was sort of like, “have at me, ask me anything,” because I’ve probably already asked myself those questions and wrestled with them. So it was probably one of the best studio visits I’ve ever had, because they were receptive to where I was coming from and engaged with the work.

BA: Did they just ask you a series of questions or did they just let you do all of the talking?

JK: I just remember rambling a lot and wish I would have taken notes of the panelists’ input. There were a lot of questions, but it didn’t feel unnatural. It was a fast-paced conversation. I wish I had more studio visits like that one.

RR: Yeah, it was definitely a conversation. I made comments about where my head was at present and they made observations about the work and what I had told them. The best you can hope for in these situations is that there is a give and take. That it isn’t just you standing up there in front of your work talking and looking at a blank face, not getting a response. After they left I felt that it was a productive visit because I got something out of their comments and that was important to me.

Rocio Rodriguez, The Wall, MOCA GA Project Room, 2010, charcoal, 120 x 324 inches. Image courtesy the artist.

BA: Rocio, considering your history of winning grants, how confident were you following the visit?

RR: All grants are different. Some require proposals or a project. And the jury is always the variable. Meaning you don’t always know who is looking at your work. I’ve been doing this for a long time, and believe me I have gotten more rejections than wins. It’s always a crap shoot. You never know, even if you feel good about the visit. Especially when you know there are other artists who are very good and deserving that are also being considered. I am hopeful, but I never assume anything.

BA: What about you, Jason?

JK: After the visit, I was actually quite dejected. I took a quiet drive around Atlanta and camped at a coffee shop with my sketchbook—mapping out how to make my work better because I was so sure that what I showed in my studio wasn’t up to par with the audience I had there that morning. I was certain with absolutely no doubt that I wouldn’t be considered for the award.

BA: <Laughter> Well then, winning must have come as a real surprise to you.

JK: I am quite certain I turned ghost white. I missed the call on Monday, so I saw a voicemail from a New York number and knew this would be the call thanking me for participating and letting me know which artists were selected, which I was excited to find out. Lila Kanner’s voice came through on the message and let me know I had been selected as an award recipient for the $15,000 award and my stomach sank.

BA: And you, Rocio? How did you react when you found out that you’d won?

RR: I was thrilled given that I had wrestled with not applying for the award this year and changed my mind a week or so before the deadline. It is very meaningful to me; it felt like a great vote of confidence.

Nancy Friedemann-Sánchez’s Casta Paintings on view at Halsey Institute in Charleston through July16

BA: I can only imagine the feeling. Well, now that you’ve received the grant, how do you intend to use it?

RR: I just went to New York City and my first stop was an art supply store. Part of the funds will be reserved for some travel. I think it is important to go look at things not only here but elsewhere. I need some equipment, some new software. Like most artists, I know how to stretch a penny so I will make the most of it and put it all into my work.

Jason Kofke, Everything Will Be OK, 2006, vinyl sticker, 2 1/3 x 8 1/2 inches. Image courtesy the artist.

BA: And you, Jason?

JK: Calmly and with surgical exactness. <Laughter> When I was at a residency at the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou (PRC), (I had taken a job as a teacher at the college to help the grad students there) I was paid Chinese wages, which was not bad by Chinese standards, but was 1/7th the rate of a similar part-time job here. So, I ran out of money often—a practice that was common for me in art college. It’s entirely different, however, when you are in another country and, say, traveling in south China when you realize you can’t afford the sudden price spike in train tickets home. So I learned to adapt, and that money is just one type of resource amongst many others: Creativity, resourcefulness, and friendships are more sustainable than cash.

Thus, I expect to use the grant money in situations where the other resources fail, and not rely on it to get everything done. I’ll certainly take time off of teaching to buy myself time in my studio. Being aware of festivals and biennials overseas, I see this as an opportunity to get work or projects from Atlanta to other major cultural cities worldwide. A personal agenda is to represent Atlanta beyond Atlanta. The reason we think of Berlin, London, New York, Tokyo, or Beijing as art hubs is because we see the work of artists from those cities promoted beyond those cities. For the art scene in Atlanta to grow, it needs to be seen beyond Atlanta. Thus, I’ll use these funds to apply to shows and festivals overseas, but will promote Atlanta as my studio city. Also, of course, I’ll throw some killer exhibitions in Atlanta this year.

BA: Before we wrap up, would you like to tell our readers about any upcoming projects you might have in the works?

RR: I have no immediate project planned, which is great because I just want time to be in my studio developing this new body of work. There is a solo exhibition being planned at the Columbus Museum for next year, but that will be a survey of 20 years’ work, so it won’t be all based on new work.

JK: Christopher Chambers and I have a group show planned at Beep Beep Gallery sometime around April 2012, and a show to follow after that at Kibbee Gallery. I’m also starting to organize a loosely collaborative arts group out of our new studio space in the West End. But this award has really opened the door, and things are just beginning. I expect 2012 to be an amazingly busy year in Atlanta. As of now, two shows; hopefully more toward the end of 2012.

BA: Again, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to us about all of this. Congratulations and best of luck to both of you in the future.

JK: Thanks a lot!

RR: Thank you very much.

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