“Following the Prescribed Path” is an exhibit that seeks to tell a story of many journeys, both near and far. One might say that following a predetermined road, as the title suggests, is less creative than wandering unintentionally. However, the artists suggest otherwise. Erin Mallea ’12 is one of seven artists that contributed to the overall exhibit. Having graduated from Loyola Marymount University in 2012 with a B.A. in studio arts and art history, she continues to follow her passion in art wherever it leads her. Mallea was interviewed by Glennda Hou, sophomore in communication studies.
How does your degree in studio arts and art history influence your work today?
My degree has been central to my work. I am balancing making art, developing an art practice, and working for arts organizations. The roles of artists are incredibly varied today, and that really impassions what I do. I live in Portland, Oregon and am working as the program coordinator for c3:initiative, a nonprofit artist-in-residence program and project space. I will also be starting as a Visual Arts Ecology Research Fellow with the Oregon Arts Commission next month. My liberal arts background and focus on both art and art history have really helped me think critically and work with a broad range of perspectives. At LMU, I majored in studio art with a minor in art history. While an undergraduate, I tried to take a breadth of classes, studio and otherwise. My art history and humanities classes affirmed and inspired my interest in the arts. Looking at art in the context of history and human experience was really inspiring – what art can do, how it has existed, and its shortcomings and politics. I think it made making a career in the arts seem more human and thus somehow more feasible. I was always really interested in my non-studio classes (literature, writing, history, anthropology, theology, political science). These courses have all informed the direction of my practice. I realized that there are a lot of topics and issues that I am interested in, but art is the method I want to approach and explore them. In addition to my degree, the LMU community and relationships I built while a student have been fundamental in shaping my career path and conceptual interests as an artist. Community became increasingly important to me while a student. I think this is evident in my art practice and work history. Since graduation, I have worked for nonprofit arts organizations that have a focus on community engagement, accessibility, and reaching diverse audiences. I am thrilled that my “day job” is in the arts. I collaborate with artists and organizations to organize and produce arts, community, and educational programming. This has been incredibly beneficial to my work as an artist, and I consider it part of my art practice.
What is the inspiration behind your portion in Following the Prescribed Path?
The body of work that I am exhibiting, “From Maine to Georgia,” is a collection of mail correspondence I sent to family, friends, and mentors while I was hiking the Appalachian Trail, a 2,180-mile trail extending from northern Maine to Georgia. A friend and I undertook the five-month-long trek in 2012 after graduating from LMU. The correspondence included letters, drawings, poetry and found objects mailed in envelopes I constructed from found paper.
For me, my primary goal was to complete the hike. “From Maine to Georgia” is a document of a lived experience and a product of circumstance that evolved throughout the five months. The correspondence was in part inspired by and an extension of previous projects. It explored ideas that were central (and continue to be) to my art practice: history, archiving, memory, place, identity, ritual, and language. It initially developed as a method to share fragments of my experience with others when my usual means of communication were inaccessible. I could not always rely on cell service, but every small town we stopped in had a post office. The USPS was a tool used by many hikers to pick up supplies, send things home, or send gear ahead. Hiking all day breeds repetition and thus habit. My desire to share and document through the mail became woven into my experience and ritualized like packing my backpack and setting up camp.
I was also inspired and influenced by the culture of “through-hiking.” Written documentation and oral histories of previous and fellow hikers were very present. Theses narratives and personas were recorded in trail logs, hiker notebooks at various trail junctures, and on the walls of hiker hostels in towns. I was already very interested in artifacts, ephemera, and exploring the complexities of historicizing – the blurred boundaries between fact and fiction, the roles of memory and perspective, and the existence of self-aggrandizing narratives. The heightened presence of documented histories on the Appalachian Trail prompted me to consider these ideas and send fragmented artifacts of my own personal history. Rather immediately, I became interested in my reality versus idealized notions of “wilderness” and “Americana.” I began to explore this more with the mailings. The notes and objects were often unpredictable and unexplained echoes of my reality on the trail. For some recipients, these gestures demystified components of my narrative. For others, they mystified further blurring the lines between history and myth, the routine and the romantic.
Additionally, my experience hiking prompted me to let go of certain illusions of control. I became excited by the ephemerality of using the mail as an art form. The correspondence might get to its destination, or it might not. I loved that the pieces transformed over time. The mail evolved in transit and gains physical markers of the journey. Stamps, folds, and bends become part of the work. The recipients’ experience of opening the mail also evolves as they physically open the envelope and pace through the layers.
When I began the project, I did not anticipate exhibiting the work. “Following the Prescribed Path” presented an exciting opportunity to revisit and consider the work for the gallery setting. To speak to the project’s original participatory and intimate nature, I was able to build a display table that invites visitors to take a seat and spend more time interacting with the mail correspondence. I was very grateful for the chance to work with Laband Director Carolyn Peter, think about the project more in depth, and examine it in relationship to the other exhibiting artists and the history of walking.
Which artists or organizations would you love to collaborate with in the future?
There are so many incredible artists and organizations that I would love to work with or get to know.
Close to home (and on the more realistic side) there are some Portland organizations and artist-run spaces I have my eye on: Publication Studio, Container Corps, Surplus Space, and Know Your City. Other organizations that I would love to work with one day (this includes varying degrees of feasibility): The Women’s Studio Workshop, Elsewhere Residency, Knowledge Commons DC, The Fabric Workshop and Museum, The Center for Land Use Interpretation, High Desert Test Sites, and The Center for Art + Environment at the Nevada Museum of Art to name a few. One of my very favorite spaces in L.A. is Machine Project. It would be a dream to collaborate with them one day! And finally, on the impossible side: The Lab at Belmar — I really loved their programming and identity, but it dissolved into the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver and no longer exists.
What’s next for you? Any upcoming projects or projects currently in work?
I am a very process-based artist and am constantly working on several projects at once. Generally, one project or idea will inspire or inform another, so I operate within a web of moving parts. For the past few years, I have been excited by work that is made in conjunction with lived experiences. I have continued with this focus as I moved away from L.A., became increasingly interested in identity in relationship to place, and navigated being out of school and pursuing a career as an artist.
Right now, I am mainly working on a series of quarterly printed matter and artist book mailings that explore personal history. In addition I am archiving the series and creating a library in my home that will open by appointment. On a different tangent, I have become fascinated by the presence of palm trees in Portland. I have been documenting this incredible and fascinating (arboreal) anomaly of place. That project is in the early research and production phase. I also have a few other ongoing projects and potential collaborations in the background. Separate from my own work, I am organizing artists’ conversations and a film-screening series at work.
I would love to continue with my education and pursue a graduate degree. I am researching M.F.A. programs, and my goal is to attend in the next few years.
Installation view of Laband Art Gallery’s Following the Prescribed Path with works by Erin Mallea, Diane Meyer, Gabrielle Ferrer, Mark Ruwedel, and Kim Abeles. Photo by Brian Forrest.
Erin’s work can be viewed at “Following the Prescribed Path” at the Laband Art Gallery through Nov. 23, 2014. Find Erin online at erin-mallea.com.