Artist Spotlight, Boston Hassle Flea, Interview

5 Questions w/ Allison Tanenhaus ahead of Boston Hassle Flea

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Allison Tanenhaus is a Boston based Glitch Artist who has been active in the GBA for years. You may have seen her cat stickers plastered around Somerville, Cambridge, and Boston or someone carrying a double cat tote bag that made you think ‘where did they get that?’ Well the answer to that is probably Allison Tanenhaus’ store on Etsy. Allison will be tabling at the upcoming Boston Hassle Flea this SATURDAY at The Elks Lodge in Cambridge from 12pm – 6pm.

We caught up with Allison to talk about her recent gallery exhibition at the Emerson Contemporary Gallery, oil paintings, and yes, the cat tote bags.

Tote Bag Designed by Allison Tanenhaus

BH: I was at the GlitchKraft opening back in September—it was an amazing show and the first time I’ve been to that gallery. What was it like having a show there?

Allison Tanenhaus: Thank you so much! I’m so psyched when people tell me they went to GlitchKraft because I can see my art all the time…but when it’s on exhibit, everyone else can enjoy it, too. 🙂

My experience at the gallery was truly a dream come true. Leonie Bradbury (the curator of Emerson Contemporary) and Jim Manning (the exhibition manager, who’s an awesome glitch artist himself) had complete faith in my vision and were 100% supportive of what I wanted to do, and had awesome ideas for how to execute upon them. And witnessing my work—which I normally only see on a tiny phone screen—blown up to fill a whole wall was mind-blowing. Plus they were super game to have me develop all kinds of merch, from postcards to stickers to totes, some of which will now be in circulation at the Boston Hassle Xmas Flea!

Another fantastic element of the show was the chance to collaborate with so many staggeringly talented artists in the Boston area, including Ben K. Foley, Alex Kittle/Pan + Scan Illustration, Lauren Klotzman, DebStep and J. Bagist of Property Materials, Christopher Konopka, stickipictures, Robin Amos, Blaik Ripton, Doug Bielmeier, and Anda Volley/LIMBC.

I loved being able to make it a group shindig, start to finish, to benefit not only the Emerson community, but the public at large. From live electronic music concerts to artists talks to workshops to live video art performances, I’m so proud of the programming we were able to present as an electric friends collective. It made the experience so much richer and deeply community-oriented. A win for everyone!

BH: One of the postcards on your Etsy says ‘Long Live Obsolescence’ over an old payphone. Care to tell us a bit more about this project and why you chose the phrasing and placement?

AT: My artistic trajectory actually began with words. At the start of 2011, I got really into writing jokes on Twitter. (I’m hardly active anymore, but my output still gives me a chuckle.) This led to trying out typographic treatments of some of my favorite quasi-philosophical phrases, in the form of street art cards, flyers, and magnets. (Word art street art, essentially.)

“Long Live Obsolescence” was one of the phrases I came up with (in 2013, apparently) that really hit the sweet spot for me: short ‘n’ snappy, and the perfect blend of brain-bendy, yet logical. I did make some magnets with it, but knew it was fated for a more conceptual purpose.

Back in those guerrilla art days, some of my favorite spots to tag were payphones—the more derelict, the better! The decaying, silent vestiges of what were once live, buzzing hubs of communication intrigued me. (Omg, that sounds so pretentious. Sorry.)
One particular phone box in Davis Square was particularly appealing, since it no longer had the handset or the buttons, but still contained the “exoskeleton” of where the keypad used to be. I found it haunting (but kinda cute?), and after tagging it with magnets several times over the years, become attached to it.

After seeing tons of cool Phone Art Box Projects around Somerville, I finally put the phrase and the ideal location together. The Somerville Arts Council was super supportive, which was rad, because this was my first time asking permission to put up art (vs. my more traditional street art activities)! So it was a cool milestone to transform a funny thought into a physical public art installation that—some cosmetic damage aside—is still on display today.

The postcard came about because Urban Endangered, one of my Instagram payphone photography friends, visited Boston and made the trek out to see and document it. His shots were killer, so he was nice enough to let me use one for a collectible postcard (with credit, of course).

BH: Do you find your favorite pieces are also the best selling?

AT: My cat art tends to be a steady staple, which I somewhat expected, but am still awfully pleased about. (Particularly because the cats behind the art are my real kitties.)

When it comes to the glitch art, it’s a total gamble! I really have no way to predict what people will gravitate towards. But that’s OK. Some of my work is more colorful and trippy, other pieces are more muted and contemplative. And now my more recent works incorporate collage elements, which attracts a different segment of customers.

I try to make a variety of work where the only commonality is that I dig it and want to share it. I will say that there are a couple of postcards that are among my favorites, but hardly anyone wants to buy them! They’re gloomier and maybe less “fun,” but that’s what I love about them. Several markets ago, a boy of about 9 or 10 immediately snatched up those exact two postcard designs without hesitation. I was like, “Right on, my gloomy little dude.” Totally made my day.

BH: What does ‘glitch art’ mean to you?

AT: I consider glitch art to be anything electronic—typically visual or musical—that’s created by fucking it up! Usually intentionally, but of course glitching happens in the wild, and can be presented as art, as well.

The main ethos (at least as I see it) is about embracing errors caused by electrical flukes, whether analog or digital. Disrupting and deconstructing the regular pathways that a piece of data normally takes, and making something new and individual out of it.

There’s a lot of unpredictable spontaneity in glitch (I often can’t replicate a piece I previously made), so I see an element of ephemerality to it. In essence, each glitch is documentation of a particular time and circumstance; a snapshot of a set of parameters and experimentation that a certain person made with certain software and certain source material…

So while some of my work may look quite deliberate and even traditional (in an op art vein), behind the scenes, there’s a unique confluence of details that can only be captured in that very moment of technological and human interplay. Pretty wild!

BH: Do you ever find yourself mixing paint in front of an easel?

AT: I wish! Sadly, that is not my medium. (My dad is one of my favorite painters, though—he just started getting into gouache, and I’m so psyched to see him creatively active again after several decades since his oil painting era. Hoping to wrangle him into some markets soon!)

I’ve taken a few painting classes here and there and never gelled with the approach. (Though I did find some of my childhood watercolor pieces and am strangely captivated by them…) My technique is rudimentary and I feel anxious, rather than inspired or excited, when I work on canvas or paper. I’m much more comfortable in a medium where not only is it OK to make a mistake—it’s encouraged.

In particular, working with existing material, whether it’s my original photos, my previous glitch works, or public domain imagery that I can put my own spin on, has proven far more fruitful. I find myself feeling much freer and inspired when I can remix and be reactive to pieces of the world around me, rather than trying to create work exclusively from my headspace.

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Chris Hues is a human & writer from Boston, Ma & Art & Extra Editor of bostonhassle.com. //// They can be reached at chrishughes@brain-arts.org or @crsjh_ via instagram & twitter.

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