In Conversation: Meagan Hepp and Claire Ogden

In the following interview, outgoing Emerging Artist Meagan Hepp discusses the conclusion of their residency and what they learned in the process.

Image by Meagan Hepp.

Claire Ogden: How are you feeling now, as your Emerging Artist residency comes to an end?

Meagan Hepp: In short, I’m having mixed emotions! I am really proud of the body of work I was able to produce, but in a lot of ways, I feel like I just got started and now it’s over. Bittersweet is truly the best word to describe the feelings I have. I am excited for what is to come in the future, but I will miss everyone at Kingston! I truly came to enjoy the monthly meetings and the amazing community they have. I am so grateful for how welcoming and supportive they all have been.

CO: What were your intentions when you first went into your Kingston residency? 

MH: When I first went into the residency, I didn’t have an exact plan of what I wanted. I was very focused and excited on experiencing the community and getting involved with the “back end” of the gallery. 

I knew that I wanted to use this platform as a way to create a larger body of work around the Companions series that I had already started making, but it wasn’t until about a month in that the idea for the playground emerged. I had a couple of ideas on how to tie them together, but at the time, I wasn’t sure what that would look like. I just kept building what I felt inspired to build in the moment, and then the ideas came. 

I was also very concentrated on enjoying the process for the year. Knowing that this opportunity would eventually come to an end, I wanted to make sure I was able to experience everything I could and also get involved in the Kingston Community in many ways.  

CO: In the past year that you’ve been working on this show, what differences have you noticed in your work? 

There was something about this residency that allowed me to feel very free. When I was working, I sort of ‘got rid’ of the definition of what sculpture has to be and how it is shown. I was willing to let the work tell me what it wanted to be. And after I decided I wanted to make the playground, it became about the balance of complete abstraction, while also having the work be somewhat referential to kids on a playground. 

I normally have a couple of works developing at the same time. I bop in between each- that part didn’t change- I think the quantity of how many I had going at once was something I had to get used to. Knowing I had to create a fairly large portfolio by the end of the year, I had about 6 pieces going at the same time, which is a bit more than the 2 or 3 I have normally. That being said, even though each piece does have a personality of its own, I knew they had to relate back to the same goal. So I would allow each piece to grow at its own pace, but I had to constantly check back in to make sure they were relating to the others, which I don’t always have to do if the piece is meant to be on its own. 

CO: When you first started planning Play Date: Companions Club, what were some of your intentions for the space/exhibition? 

MH: I really wanted the space to feel different than a traditional exhibition. I wanted visitors to be excited to explore and walk around and find things along the way. So when I was working, I knew that some of the work would have to be housed in non-traditional locations, like the bird on the top of the swingset, or the chair piece in-front of the electrical box, or the rocks on the floor. They are sort of normal to the outside world, but for the gallery setting, if it isn’t the normal, 60”- on-center, it’s different. 

I was hoping the viewer would feel like they were in an iSpy book, finding new things every time they looked somewhere else. I also wanted it to feel like kids on a playground at recess or after school. Usually there is a lot happening, kids are running around and have a lot of energy, so by placing work all around the space,  that felt like a creative solution for how I could make my sculptures and the space feel energetic. 

CO: What mentoring/other relationships have you nurtured through your residency with Kingston? 

MH: Community is so important. I feel so fortunate to have been surrounded by these incredible artists for a year. I have a free-lance installation business and do install for some members at Kingston. In the past, I have sort of been the sounding board when it comes to hanging and layout, but now, with me being on the other side, I was able to get that from the members. They were all so generous to share resources and information with me. I feel so blessed and am forever grateful.

I also could not have done this without my friend and colleague Audrey Goldstein. She was my thesis advisor in undergrad and really understands my work and where I am coming from. So I know I can always count on her to help me shake up my ideas and make them more dynamic and visually exciting, while still relating to my goal. There are also a handful other folks who have been my rock throughout this process.

CO: Did you collaborate/talk with Ilona at all leading up to the exhibition? What did that look like? 

MH: We talked a lot! My relationship with Ilona is one that has many different hats. She was my professor when I was a freshman in Undergrad, a long time ago, and since then, I have become her co-worker at Suffolk and I have been her preparator for about 6 years. But, this was the first time that we’ve been able to collaborate in this way and honestly, I had so much fun. We would constantly send each other images of what we were working on and talk about how the work was developing. Eventually, I gave her some documentation of my work that would be in my show, and she was able to use that in her animations. When we were installing, we ended up hanging the mutual work, on the opposite sides of the same wall. I think having this relationship prior to this exhibit allowed the work to really talk to each other, in some intentional ways and some unintentional ways. 

CO: I’m fascinated by the miniature galleries / exhibition dioramas you showed on your Instagram story recently. Could you explain a bit more how they fit into your practice? What do these miniatures do for you, and how do you use them? 

MH: Yes! Honestly, I am also fascinated by them 😂. It’s like ‘playing dolls’ with my own work. The miniature version of Kingston did start as a way to plan out the show. I am a very visual person and I had been drawing many different angles of the gallery, but it wasn’t enough. I am a very tactile person and I realized in about April that my background in public art could help me.  For the public art I have made and the pieces I have worked on with Harries-Heder (Mags Harries and Lajos Heder, a local public art team), we have always made a model to scale. That’s when I realized, I would need to make a model to really think through the larger work in the space.

If everything was small and around the same scale, I probably could have just played when I got into the gallery, but for this show because I had the larger swing set, slide and see-saw, I really needed to have an idea of what that would look like and to make sure it would all fit. I rearranged the gallery so many times. I tried to think through every solution and then I would “walk through” my document camera, that I used to teach drawing during the pandemic, to see what it would look like if I was that scale. It really helped me see through the major hanging issues before I had to actually worry about them and come up with solutions for install day. 

CO: How has your home studio (and its setup, location, etc.) affected your practice?

MH: I have had to get very creative to say the least. I live and work in a space that is essentially the same size as the middle gallery. I also have furniture that I live my life with, which makes it feel even smaller. I couldn’t set up the show beforehand so that’s sort of where the tiny gallery came from so that I could see what it would look like.  I also had to think through storage issues. Every piece actually comes apart into smaller pieces so they can fit in my storage unit in a more efficient way. I am now realizing this is actually a blessing in disguise because I was able to build the work in an intelligent way for shipping and storage. I know it will save me in the future. As an art handler myself, I also sort of “nerd out” when it comes to packing, shipping and storing of artwork. 

The small space has also allowed me to see the smaller work in many different ways. I usually have a bunch of the work displayed around my home as I am building, but I have to get creative about where I put them. For example, I might need to house a sculpture on a shelf one day, and then move it to be hanging from my curtain rod the next, so this helps me to see the sculptures in different ways, allowing me to get more creative about how I display them. There are no right answers, just different solutions and this is actually a blessing because it helps me from getting to set on one solution. 

CO: What’s next for your practice? any exciting upcoming events, exhibitions, etc.? any new directions for your work you’d like to share?

I found that working on this larger idea for a year made me miss working on public art. I have been working on a couple of proposals for different public work, so we will see where that leads! I am also working on something that is loosely related to public art that is inspired by the pet rocks. I am hoping to share some images of this before the weather gets too cold, but it is still too early to share! 

1 Comment

  1. Doris Hepp says:

    Meagan, I loved this interview! We are so proud of your work. Can’t wait to see what comes next.

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