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How artist Maggie Simic is using creativity to get through lockdown

The bead queen’s graduate show might have been cancelled, but that’s not stopping her from making her bejewelled work

Graduates on show is a series by Issey Scott interviewing art graduates whose degree shows have been cancelled or postponed to give them the spotlight they deserve.

Now that the world has slowed down while we focus our energies on combating the global pandemic we are faced with, projects that have been months and years in the making have been thrown into uncertainty. As we can’t gather in public spaces, universities and higher education facilitators have had no choice but to cancel or postpone degree shows. Online initiatives have popped up, especially on social media, to bring artists together for networking and potential sales opportunities, but for many graduating artists, this is nowhere near the opportunity of the degree show, despite their global reach.

I chatted with a talented pick of women artists graduating from art schools across the UK and USA to discuss their practice and how lockdown has had an impact on their future plans.

First up is Maggie Simic, who has been studying on the BFA program at University of Kentucky. Based in Louisville, Kentucky, she will be starting the MFA in Fiber Arts at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago later this year.

Courtesy of Maggie Simic

What is the art scene like in Louisville ordinarily?

Louisville is actually quite the art scene. The city lives right at the border with the state Indiana, so the city gathers influence between multiple states. Inside the city there is street art everywhere, including an Alley Gallery that stretches all over downtown showcasing different painted alley doorways. Kentucky is considered a southern state, which also adds this interesting contradiction between the southern qualities of the state, and the rather urban qualities of the city. This influences a lot of political art such as my own.

That’s really cool, I had no idea. In what sense is your art political and at what point did you decide that was the route you wanted to take?

I think my discussion of class in American society – with the use of beads and objects – of the domestic or the working class is the main goal in my art. I make work in response to current policies and government power relating to Kentucky, such as the Anti-Gang Law passed in Louisville, and Mitch McConnell’s position on the Green New Deal.

When I started working, most of my work was very personal. I made pieces that mostly discussed my experience growing up with a single mom and three siblings. As I started researching some of the ideas that I was intuitively talking about, like single-income households, households with family members incarcerated, mass incarceration, and other themes that appeared in my work, I wanted to explore the topics generally and not necessarily just my personal experience. I got in touch with more activists in my community and created discussions that led to my work today. My work is also very intuitively political in that I am a woman, and my work is predominately fiber; all of these factors motivated me to pursue this side of art and activism.

My discussion of class in American society – with the use of beads and objects – of the domestic or the working class is the main goal in my art.“ – Maggie Simic

It’s so good to see an active social engagement in emerging artists' work. So can you talk a bit about your use of beads? Where did that come from and what is thier symbolism?

Yes, beads to me are a direct relation and symbol of wealth. Beads in history have always represented wealth, whether it be through the cost of the beads, the way they were used as currency during trading, or the way that they were stolen from some and kept as treasures by others. For these reasons, the presence of beads in my work is to add value or wealth. By adding beads to an old shoe, or a wet floor sign, it takes a somewhat functional thing, and turns it into an adorned item of wealth and importance, or a relic. This juxtaposition brings attention to the topics at hand in my art, and deems them important in the eye of the consumer.

Courtesy of Maggie Simic

How has the cancellation of your degree show affected the morale and creative process of both you and your classmates?

I left campus before the lockdown to be at my home, so I am without the pieces that I left in my studio before knowing I won’t be able to return for a while. Creating a studio in my mom’s living room hasn’t been the best, but I am making it work. I no longer have easy access to documentation necessities such as clean wall space, studio lights, and high definition digital cameras, so this makes new work hard to document.

Besides all of these circumstances, I am having more consistent working time with my artwork now. I have really realised how before social distancing, like most people, I was rushing. I thought that I was known for my insane productivity, and that putting extreme hours into my work was the thing that made my art successful. Now that I am in a more difficult position when it comes to displaying or documenting my work, I realise that the work also needs to exist regardless of the viewer. That is the importance and urgency of art, not proving a hard work ethic. I have started to focus more on the creative process of making art, and less on the final outcome and its success.

As for my classmates, I still see them creating new things everyday. There has been a flourish of creativity since we have started social distancing, and I think it’s given us art students the time that we’ve always needed to make the art we make. Unfortunately, this lack of resources, funding, and supplies can make it very difficult for art students to continue creating outside of the University. I believe this is a time for good creativity and humanity to pull through.

“I believe this is a time for good creativity and humanity to pull through.“ – Maggie Simic

What online/social media alternatives are you looking at while in lockdown for inspiration or exhibition possibilities? Are your peers working on anything collaborative?

The main thing I am looking to accomplish while in lockdown is a website. This would be one way for me to create a digital presence of all of the pieces that were going to be in my BFA show.

Participating in the Social Distance Gallery on Instagram was very rewarding and exciting, and I’ve seen other galleries posting current exhibitions, so I’m researching other online exhibitions to enter into. I am also interested in maybe creating my own online gallery for fiber artists wanting to exhibit their work on Instagram.

The lockdown is also a perfect time to apply to everything. Most calls to artists are months to years in advance. Applications take a very long time, so I’ve been dedicating some of this time to also thinking about how I can exhibit my work in the future.

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