E. T. Russian

E. T. Russian, the 2019 SU High-Resolution Media Art Production Resident discusses the work for their upcoming exhibition in the Hedreen Gallery

Written by Cay Lane
Photography by E. T. Russian
December 6, 2019

Can you please explain your journey which brought you to the Hedreen Gallery?
I work in a hospital and many of my clients have a terminal illness. I was also drawn to healthcare because I almost died when I was a teenager and have gone through extensive rehab. Also as a disabled and trans person I contemplate living and dying every day.

Two summers ago I had a transformative experience. I was sitting on a hillside overlooking the bay area of Ohlone land otherwise known as Oakland and San Francisco and was overcome by a vision of a gargoyle apparition that emanated out of me and floated over the bay. In my imagination this apparition encountered an entire journey. I was completely sober and it surprised me, because visions like this one are not common for me and this was so clear. I knew then that I would make a show out of this experience. I was also grappling with turning 40 at this time and what midlife represents for marginalized people who have few role models of elders who are thriving.

It was around this time Molly Mac approached me about a studio visit and offered me the Hedreen Gallery as a space. The show I felt moved to make with the most urgency was this one and luckily I had two years to make the piece. This was good for me because I move slowly with big projects; I like to have a careful process.

Which came first, the artistic shift and fitting that within the Hedreen space or the space inspiring a delve into the artistic shift?
In a lot of ways I already knew the show I wanted to make, but finding the right space is key. I felt so lucky to connect with Molly and the Hedreen because it’s hard to find gallery spaces that have all the things I need: a free-to-the-public, wheelchair-accessible art space that can support complex audio and video installations.

What has been a highlight moment in preparing this installation?
Making the touchable sculptures has been a joy.  I always look down at the ground when I'm walking or in my wheelchair - so I don't trip or fall - and I've become very acquainted with what's on the ground. Some if it is mundane and some of it is very special. For two years now I've been picking up off the ground: bits of metal, plastic, leaves, acorns - beautiful trash, basically. I’ve cast these objects in resin, like little fossils. I’ve never worked with resin before and the objects inside the resin becomes reflected against all sides like a miniature Kusama Infinity Room and it becomes something really special. One of my treasured objects is my grandpa’s paperweight, a dandelion head perfectly preserved forever in a little cube. My sculptures are a lot like grandpa’s paperweight - they capture a moment.

What would you say is your most important artistic tool?
I’ve cultivated (and am still cultivating) the ability to layer my storytelling so it can stimulate multiple senses: visuals (illustration, sculpture), sounds (poems, soundscapes), touch (sculpture), and space (interacting with each aspect of the exhibition requires people to move in relation to it). Layering the storytelling is important for deepening the story being told and it also creates multiple access points for the audience. For example, people with low/no vision can experience the soundscapes and touchable sculptures, and the imagery is audio described.

Which piece in DOUBLE CLEAR do you most hope everyone gets to interact with and why?
I am excited about the interactive sculpture because it's touchable. I want to make work that kids enjoy as well as adults, I want people of all ages to feel like they can play and have fun in this show. I am having a large shipment of gravel dumped into the gallery so my handmade sculptures can be mixed into this gravel heap. People are invited to sift through the gravel and the small little sculptures, like finding something cool on the ground and picking it up.

Artistically, what is your biggest hope for your time at the Hedreen?
To transport people, even if for a moment, into a transformative experience that brings them closer to their authentic self.


Find out more about the exhibition in the Hedreen Gallery