Monica Dixon’s work centers on “relationships between living bodies and the forms that protect and comfort them.” Comprised of images found in used fashion magazines, her hand-cut collages transform fragments of familiar-looking textures into irregular images. Why fashion magazines? “When I look through these magazines, I experience a lot of disgust, repulsion, and sadness. But, I also see beautiful shapes, textures, movements, and colors draped over human bodies. Those are the things that I pick out from the pile so that I can open space for new meaning.”
You describe your work as something that explores the elusive. Can you tell us a little bit about what you mean by elusive and what attracts you to it?
There are things that we experience all the time that are always there, but when we try to pinpoint them they seem to disappear. Feelings and beliefs are the main things that come to mind. You cannot be in the experience of a feeling and describe a feeling at the same time, so it's elusive. Emotions and physical sensations can take over us and change the way we perceive a situation and the thoughts we have. We experience feelings in our bodies, but they aren't objects, they are things that move through us.
I'm always trying to understand my own experiences better and how I am perceiving them. With the collages, I make images that are bodily and animated, but what exists in the images are not objects. They're more like movements or gestures, so you can't possess them, you have to experience them, and let them pass.
How has movement such as dance and yoga influenced your work?
Yoga has given me an understanding of how motions and shapes held by our bodies can transform how we function physically, and as a result, how we function as individuals. Shifting between expansion and contraction, building tension and then consciously releasing it are things that I lead people through in my classes, and they’re also strategies I use for transforming my materials. The idea of movement as a form of prayer is something that is present in both my movement practices and my visual art practices.
My experience with dance is less structured. It's about relationships to what is internal and external.
Another conversation that exists between the yoga/meditation practices and my art practice is on intentionally placing one’s attention on a focal point, and observing what emerges out of that.
You mention in your statement that you look for moments that are beautiful and ugly, seductive and repulsive. Is there something that inspires you to examine opposites?
I like working with opposites because they charge each other. You can't really experience one without the other. I go after the things I am attracted to just like everyone else, but I think it's helpful to take some time to look at the things that are ugly or repulsive and spend a little time understanding why it has that effect rather than just dismissing it. That being said, most of the collages I make I find quite luscious and attractive. If there's an element of repulsion in the collages, it's the uncanny or the unknown. And by that, I mean that the imagery is simultaneously familiar (because we are used to looking at clothing, bodies, and advertisements) and incomprehensible. They're removed from their original context and recomposed in a way that does not quite belong in our everyday realities.
What do you feel is your role as an artist?
I think my role as an artist is to be observant and receptive to the materials and spaces I am working with, but also just as a way of being in the world. I'm always trying to broaden my perspective. I'm always looking for ways to understand my experiences differently, or to uncover blind spots. It might be indirect, but those pursuits translate into the strategies I use to make art.
Do you face any particular challenges as an artist?
There's a lot of instability for me. There's a lot of juggling and balancing. That can be really exciting and motivating, but it can also be really scary and exhausting. Generally, I think being an artist requires a lot of vulnerability and accepting discomfort. There's always criticism. I think it's good to be open to it, but you also have to shut it out and hold onto what's true to you.
Is there anything specific that you would like to mention about the work on view at the Cedar Roe Library?
The collages are all made by hand from images I've cut from magazines. The images are scanned so they become digital. Through their digital form they are displaced from the materials they originated from and then materialized again as digital prints. The process of making these collages is an example of my interest in opposites that you pointed out earlier. I go through used fashion magazines to find these images. I think the fashion industry is generally quite ugly, but there are beautiful things that come out of it. The things that are ugly to me are things such as people at every level of the industry being treated like machines, its products being used to define social status based on economic wealth, and promoting the use of clothing as disposable objects. So when I look through these magazines, I experience a lot of disgust, repulsion, and sadness. But, I also see beautiful shapes, textures, movements, and colors draped over human bodies. Those are the things that I pick out from the pile so that I can open space for new meaning.
What other writings do you recommend reading to have a better understanding of your artworks and your art practice/process?
Sacred Economics: Money, Gift, & Society in the Age of Transition by Charles Eisenstein
Radical Acceptance: Embracing your Life With the Heart of A Buddha by Tara Brach
A Field Guide to Lucid Dreaming by Dylan Duccillo
Is there any where we can go to see more of your art?
I'll have a collage on the ceiling of one of the downtown streetcars this summer as part of Art in the Loop, and you can find out more about me from my Website and Instagram: monicajdixon.com and @m.o.n.i.c.a.d.i.x.o.n