Jeanine Oleson Just Might Believe in Bigfoot and Mythos of the Lesbian Peoples
Interview by Nelson Santos
The Journal of Leslie/Lohman Gay Art Foundation
Nelson Santos (NS): You Grew up outside of Astoria Oregon. What was it like?
Jeanine Oleson (JO): It was a small town on the coast. I have huge extended family and had dogs, cats, horses, and cows as pets. It was pretty cool, though I really wanted out.
NS: That is a lot of pets, do you remember some of their names?
JO: Yes, dogs: Taffy and Sheba; cats: Knappa, Puffy, Fleo and Twinkle Toes; horses: Smoky Lee, Bun Bun, and Jenny; cow: Calf-Calf.
NS: Did you make much art as a kid?
JO: Yes, tons of drawings of horses, my ranch, my survivalist hut and I also made forts and tools. The first drawing I remember was a self-portrait painting made in pre-school that hung on the door. I was wearing blue pants, a yellow shirt, red suspenders, and a black top hat.
NS: What was school like in a small town?
JO: I had just turned 17 and graduated from high school. I went to Alaska for the summer and then moved to Chicago to go to the Art Institute, thanks to the prodding of a wise high school art teacher who took good care of me.
NS: How would you describe you work to someone you met at a bar?
JO: Well if it appears to be someone I don't really want to talk to, I just explain the mediums I use. If I like them, I might broach subject matter with comments like “it's about recasting fantastical cultural narratives and art movements from the last 40 years.” If its someone I don't want to deal with, I might have to say something off-putting about a “Matriotic gyno-vison” and “mythos of the Lesbian Peoples.”
NS: Tell me more about your fantastical cultural narratives. What role does mythology play in your work?
JO: I've always zig-zagged between the rational and fantastical. I read tons of Sci- Fi, and in my work, I use fantasy and humor as a way to give viewers access to larger topics at hand. Mythology and stories of fantasy are not often taken seriously outside of a new age gift shop, and yet they are interesting as cultural dreams for change or caution, and potential for humor.
NS: You often reappear in your artwork as a sort of Bigfoot character. Whats the fascination with this story?
JO: I like the idea of a race of big hairy humanoids who we STILL cannot prove-or disprove. On a theoretic level, it seems like a modern myth to remind us of our non-”civilized” origins. A fear of the primordial. I am curious why we're afraid.
NS: What do you think about the resurgence of feminist artwork?
JO: Just a few years ago, everyone was still grossed out by the essential notions of Feminist artwork, but now it's come full circle into the limelight. I think it's great to see people unafraid or the F-word but sometimes it seems like an almost fetishistic venture. And there seems to be a difficult pull between the older generation and the new judging by all the recent conferences, panels and exhibitions. It is a complicated relationship between understanding and respecting history (or in this case, herstory), a fear of erasure, and hero-worship. Maybe those original tenets of Feminism will make another round in contemporary at. I really identify with the urge to re-assess the Seperatist drive, spirituality, a re-alignment of priorities in out culture- all of these things with a little humor, a mix of criticality and love.
NS: What about your work is queer?
JO: I feel like my work is referential, but it's not the main topical focus at the same time, it just IS. Its like when I was a kid and my mom would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up and I'd say, “I'm gonna BE Dolly Parton” and she'd say “You want to be like her?” and I'd say, “NO, I'm gonna BE her.” Pure embodiment of the idea.
NS: What is your most recent work about?
JO: I'm in the beginning stages of two projects. One is an experimental opera with Julia Snapper initially situated in people's bathtubs. The other is a film project in collaboration with my family. Its a slow and oblique look at allegorical connections between he landscape and their actions with it.
NS: Tell me more about the bathtub opera?!? Are you a closet opera fan?
JO: I've always been interested in opera, but also aware what I do not particularly like about the tradition. So when Juliana, who is an amazing opera singer, asked me to work with her, I was really excited. I love the epic range of tales and the sheer beauty of the human voice. We are workshopping underwater singing in people's bathtubs to create scores with input from each specific host. This is basically about displacing the tradition of opera into an interactive situation. Its still is completely experimental.
NS: Do you see the direction of your work changing?
JO: Yes. I've been getting more into interactions, more interested in making things as a sustaining practice. I hope my work is always changing a bit.
NS: Where do you see yourself in 20 years?
JO: My childhood fantasy was to have a ranch, but I'd settle for a little farm. Who knows? I have no idea what I'll want then. I hope I feel secure, happy and content in what I'm doing and what I've done.
Nelson Santos is an artist, curator, Associate Director for Visual AIDS, and a Pisces. He lives in Brooklyn with his dogs a frequent collaborator Sparky.