Interview with Megan Burchett and Maddie Zerkel

Megan Burchett and Maddie Zerkel are MCBA’s spring 2018 Artists in Residence. Collaborators since their time at the University of Georgia, Megan and Maddie create paper and textile-based art that touches on themes of domesticity and how objects function within the home. We spoke with them about their creative process and how their time at MCBA inspired their art.

Interview conducted on 2/23/18 by Kyle Krym

What led you to become artists?

Maddie: When I started making art as a kid, I was shy and quiet and didn’t speak to anyone, not even family members. I would engage by drawing my friends and what I wanted my future to be like, and that resonated with me. It also made me become more outgoing and intentional and clear, and that’s why I continued making art. I enjoy tedious work and working with my hands, and that’s a way for me to work through a lot of life’s struggles and emotions. It helps me balance it all out.

Megan: When I was growing up, my mom loved the arts, particularly printed patterns on cloth or paper, and every surface of our house was covered with a decorative textile piece or some other intentional, aesthetic choice. I grew up feeling like making choices with color or composition was the way you created an identity for yourself.

What inspires your work?

Maddie: The home. We want to reference the domestic space in all of our work. We will go to thrift stores together looking for cool objects that we can incorporate into what we’re making. Right now, we’re trying to cultivate a dialogue about the relationship between the home and its objects.

Megan: The reason the domestic setting as an environment is very stimulating is that humans drag homes with us wherever we go, even when we move. We live with certain inanimate objects that we feel as connected to as other living things.

How did you begin working together?

Megan: Maddie was finishing her BFA and I was in Grad School. We were both working in the studio late together, and we would find each other at 1 a.m. asking for help and looking for feedback.

How does collaboration affect your process?

Megan: Maddie has a very real wildness about her work and her relationship to material that I find very liberating, and it coaxes me to open up to new possibilities in my own work. Besides the natural synergy that I’m enjoying while working on a project together, I’m not individually responsible for the outcome either. I don’t scrutinize our collaborative projects as much as my personal work because I need it to exist alone because it’s not 100% mine. It’s liberating and it encourages me to think about the work that we’re making as a living thing with its own destiny rather than something I’ve created and own. That’s a more fun relationship to have to my work.

Maddie: When I’m working by myself, I can be my own nightmare, and it becomes very difficult to work through something completely. But when Megan and I work together, we are very communicative. We can decide to go back in time, or move forward in a new direction, and it’s a fun, loose, and not draining way to work. We keep it really fresh, and I don’t feel any pressure. It’s like always having a cheerleader when you work.

Megan: You’ve got this, Maddie!

Maddie: I learn a lot of lessons from watching Megan work because her process is very different and more deliberate, and it’s really nice.

Megan: We imitate each other on certain aesthetics or compositional details. There’s awkwardness as an artist to not want to recreate another artist’s work you like, but Maddie and I can see something the other does, love it, and feel encouraged to use it in our own way. It’s fun to have a relationship with another artist that is completely non-possessive. If she makes something good, that speaks well of me too.

What are you working on right now?

Maddie: We just finished an installation for MCBA’s Outlook Gallery called Twizzle Lift, and now we’re creating a collection of fiber and paper work that references furniture. Ultimately, we want to combine these works into a final product, potentially a book.

Megan: We are relying on the qualities that both weaving and paper have, the ability to trap or embed, to create our work. We’re incorporating a lot of found or recycled materials that make reference to archaeology and the domestic environment.

How is MCBA supporting you as an artist?

Maddie: What we’re making here at MCBA requires tools and space we wouldn’t otherwise have access to back home. It’s also a very informative and educational experience to be around people who use these studios and equipment all the time. We’re very fortunate to be here with the expectations that we actively create and integrate ourselves into the community. That added motivation and inspirational has been monumental.

Megan: We applied for the maximum residency with the idea that we’d have as much time as possible to prototype, experiment, and try new processes. Having an extended welcome at a new studio is an amazing opportunity to attempt things we haven’t been able to attempt before. Particularly, our projects are very reliant on MCBA’s paper studio, which is a unique tool to have access to. It’s exciting because paper is such a versatile material, and we can use it in so many different ways. Creating work within and for a public space has also made my work become more communicative than if I were to have made it at home myself.

What’s your favorite artist tool?

Maddie: I like the loom because no matter how old the loom is or what you make on it, the basic process is the same. Someone figured out a warp and a weft and it’s been essentially the same ever since. The process of weaving is also slow and the setup is very tedious, which I like, and once it’s set up, I can just flow into it.

Megan: It’s pretty grand in terms of a tool, but the letterpress is one of the most amazing machines on the planet because it’s so precise and efficient. It’s absolutely nailed how to produce printed material. They’re fun, it makes a great sound, and it’s exciting because when you’re on the press, as an artist, you can see it as a tool to create an individual piece or take advantage of its production capabilities to produce an extremely prolific job.  You’re straddling a line between being an artist and being a producer, which is rare in terms of traditional processes.

What’s on the horizon?

Maddie: Tater tots at Grumpy’s.

Megan: Tater tots at Grumpy’s.

Maddie: Other than food, we’re going back to Georgia to install a show. We’ve also been talking about grand scheme questions, like how we’ll sustain ourselves on our artwork, but the one guarantee is that we’ll continue to have fun.

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Learn more about MCBA’s artist-in-residence program and about Maddie and Megan’s installation.