PART II Sites of Interest: an interview with Meg Turner

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"Sugar Factory," Meg Turner, b&w silver print Sugar processing factory, Louisiana. 2010

CP: I feel like you’re so interested in architectural spaces in your visual work. It’s interesting to think about how building the infrastructure of a print shop references a different type of architecture maybe?

MT: Yeah, it’s everything except the bricks and the stone, which is funny but then I’m finally going to learn how to build tables. It’s like what do you want in a perfect print shop, let’s build it.

CP: Also it seems like a lot of your posters are of specific buildings like in Providence…

MT: Yeah, and now New Orleans, and Pittsburgh I definitely obsess over one building and I just want to explore it, draw it, know it. Focusing on the print shop has felt like a similar obsession.

CP: Do you feel like New Orleans has like influenced your aesthetic?  Or your approach, I mean just because the architecture is so different there, history is so different

MT: It’s brought out the wonder of decorating again. Like I used to do a lot of wallpaper and there’s a lot of that down there. That’s have been floating in the back of my mind more but in some ways I just love the architecture of New Orleans, every day I just walk around being like I’m in the most beautiful place on Earth absolutely and everything is crumbling. It’s helped me solidify my aesthetic. One of the things I’ve been drawn to is abandoned spaces being able to read into them the history of what they were and this sense of why time kind of stopped for a certain building when it was no longer profitable, when it was no longer useful. Going to New Orleans where there was this huge mark in time when everything stopped. As I explored more and more, I realized I don’t like exploring people’s abandoned houses. I don’t need to see children’s pictures and clothes and teddy bears;that’s not what I’m into. It’s voyeuristic and they it’s always the same. That recognition solidified my interest in industrial ruins. Ruins that I loved in New England — there are a lot down there as well. Buildings that basically got caught in a slower economic storm over the last forty years; they epitomize the same problems all over the country: industry going overseas, infrastructure that’s no longer profitable.

CP: That’s sort of like a common history; it belongs to everyone in the country whereas I have to imagine that anyone who has moved to New Orleans in the last couple of years is totally conscious of being outside of Katrina; as new comers they are becoming a part of a new history —

MT: There’s an interesting divide present of before and after; were you here before or have you just come? There’s a sense in the air: Don’t come here and make art about Katrina if you didn’t live through it. Because so many people did, and so I definitely felt, “OK, I don’t want do that.”

CP: I was just thinking about the terms of your medium too and how it ties to a post-industrial history. It’s sort of like you’re printing in analog, and maybe recreating images from Katrina that way would illicit an inappropriate nostalgia around tragedy…

MT: Exactly. Working with glass-plate nickelodeon it’s a technique that comes from industrial practices popularized in the late 1800s, or the early 1900s. My interest in buildings, printmaking, photography, is all located in the same 1850 to 1950 window. Sometimes I wish I could get in a time machine, but it’s more fascinating now that those techniques are derelict. There’s nostalgia and there’s also a sense of preservation: you want preserve what these buildings look like now, just like you want to preserve these practice., I want to teach people to make art using these techniques. To take on this torch of knowledge, of technique and a tool and giving it to somebody else because that’s a link in a chain. If too many links are broken, techniques get lost forever. Buildings are turned into condos or torn down, and I love the moment right before that, when a building’s just waiting. It’s becomes this sanctuary for exploring and asking questions. There is this factory down in New Orleans, it’s just all steel, cast-iron, and A) buildings aren’t built like that anymore, but B) power isn’t produces like that anymore either. That’s what’s so fascinating

CP: What do you mean?

MT: It’s a power plant, but that’s not how power plants work anymore.

CP: Oh I see, I see.

"Powerstation", Meg Turner, photopolymer gravure Market Street Power Station #2, 2011

MT: And it’s funny because our machinery and industry has gotten smaller and smaller and smaller and harder to look at and understand whereas this building is enormous. It’s absolutely enormous. The turbines are the size of a room and you can feel that sense of like, man is harnessing metal. You can look at it and begin to understand that things are huge instead of tiny and you have this sense of, “I’m in a goddamn cathedral” and then I have this gut reaction where I want everyone to see it. I’ve had similar thoughts when I’m in other buildings because I’m usually either breaking in or sweet talking my way in, and then people are surprised to hear you can still get inside such a place. And it feels so wrong to not be able to share those places, these moments for people who also love them. I’ve been thinking about a big installation in there. I’m going invite the whole world to come and say goodbye to it and to tell their stories about the building kind of like in those, with Andrew [Oesch] and Magic City, a way for people to record their story of the building and it’s less what do you want to happen but more in the past, what has this place meant to you and have it you know open for a night so yeah this is an interesting conversation, I haven’t,  I think about my life as pretty divided, like the community organizing and then what I do for myself as an artist, but they are very interlinked.

 

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