Meghan Van Alstyne
Interview by L. Valena
First of all, can you explain to me what you responded to?
I guess my approach is always inherently analytical, because when I got the video, it was a cooking tutorial, and I said 'What are they cooking?' and they're cooking fish. And then I was thinking about where fish come from, and how you secure it, and the process for getting food onto the table. I started by running through all of those ideas, and decided where to go from there. There were a couple of renditions, and one failed project, and it was fun to kind of wrap it around. I think the failure was really essential because it kind of arrived at the final product, which is a 2D work. It was fun to kind of run through different avenues, try something, and then more into a different direction.
Tell me about the first time you watched the video, and what your first reaction to it was.
I really enjoyed it, I liked the music- it was fun. And so initially I had taken kind of a fun approach to what I was doing, too. The failed project that didn't come to fruition was kind of a staged photograph riffing on the artwork from a Captain Gorton's Fish Filets box cover, in a really haphazard kind of way. My friend Jessie was completely wrapped up in syran wrap, draped over a boat. This was also in the middle of February, so everything was frozen and terrible looking. The boat was parked in front of a dumpster, in front of a restaurant that had been abandoned. We were a little tongue in cheek, which I think the video was as well- the music about eating fish, things like that. And the video editing didn't work out the way we had hoped, so that I had to kind of go back and revisit that process.
So I saw a cooking video, and we responded with kind of a performative action that was about securing food, and then I started thinking about what happens after, when the food gets processed. So I have my little painting of my ghost fish- part of the processing is slaughtering and cleaning.
It's a 2D work done in gouache and graphite, on cold-press paper. It's a painting of a carp that I illustrated. I was feeling a little frustrated and lost when I had gone through part of the project, and it didn't come out the way I had hoped, so I really decided to just let myself be a little playful with materials, and see how it would just kind of move along. I started with a rough sketch, which turned into a stencil, which ended up being kind of an ethereal wash, which I kind of like. And from there I really started to get motivated and did another, transposed image that I sketched in with graphite. It kind of came together on its own, with a lot of that back research and concept running in the background.
I felt like it was also a bit of an homage to the failed project, we were certainly excited about it, and we're still kind of hoping we can recover some of the footage to make that come back around again. I think it gives a little bit of a nod to that failed project, with the white kind of ethereal outline of the fish, it's kind of a reference to the two-phased process that came around to this piece.
How do you feel about fish?
I actually have a really tenuous relationship with fish- I kind of dabble with sushi. Especially in the field of work that I'm studying right now, I get really concerned about environmental issues. Right now up where we are, Indian Point is a nuclear plant that has been leaking nuclear waste into the Hudson river. I live on the river- you could throw a football off my porch and into the water, and it's really heavily contaminated. You're only allowed to eat one fish a year from the river, it's really pretty tragic. You have to check the bacteria count from the water if you want to go swimming, because sometimes the health department puts out a ban on swimming in the water.
This is kind of a blue collar working class community and agricultural district, where a lot of people at one point in time really depended on the river. People harvested ice from here, they fished, they ate the fish, and that's an element that has really be removed. So I think about that a lot when I'm looking at the consumption of fish as a food, and that a lot of it is just inconsumable now. On a grander scale, when people look at Fukushima, and all of the damage that was done for the ocean's ecosystem, those currents are hitting the west coast, and they're finding tuna and salmon with tumors and growths and some of them are becoming inedible as well. So, it is something that I think of quite a bit, and I'm very wary about consuming fish. I do have a tumultuous relationship with seafood and the relationship with environmental damage.
What advice to you have for someone else doing this project?
I think it's absolutely great, for someone like myself, who has been at a bit of a stall in making new work. I think I was a bit ambitious, because I was just so excited. Taking a step back and reframing your concepts a little more thoroughly, to fit within the time constraints, is definitely a reference point that I gained. Maybe I shot a little high, and the project didn't go the way I was hoping for, and so I kind of came back around again, but I think that's also a really great part of it. The unknown point of receiving a different work is really exceptional and you should indulge yourself in exploring content and concepts that maybe aren't normally your focal point for your body of work- I think that's what makes this project really valuable.
Call Number: Y8FI | Y12VA.vaFi
Meghan van Alstyne is a visual artist based in upstate New York.