On the corner of Shelby and Cruft street, just a few steps away from Garfield Park, Listen Hear is both physically and culturally a niche space. Though it serves primarily as a radio station, it doubles as an art gallery. From now until February 21, Brittany Fukushima’s solo show, Enclosure, will be on display. PATTERN Intern, Bryn Foreman, had the opportunity to sit down and chat with the up-and-coming artist and discuss the collection. You can follow Brittany on their Instagram for more of their work.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Bryn: So in the interest of journalistic integrity, can you explain how we know each other?
Brittany: Well, I think we first met either at a tea party or at a church shark dissection in kindergarten. So that was the first encounter.
Bryn: I forgot about the shark dissection!
Brittany: It must have been the shark. The smell, the formaldehyde, it’s still in my nostrils. I feel like I had seen you around, but we didn’t really make a connection until we went to school together in middle school. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Bryn: Well said! Can you talk a little about your art education?
Brittany: Should I include high school?
Bryn: If you want to, do you feel like it influenced your art?
Bryn: I mean, you’ve been drawing forever.
Brittany: I am a – is it “autodidact”? Is that what it is? Where you’re a self-taught person? There’s a word for it, but I’m not that. I started my college career in Chicago at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and I was there for about a year before I couldn’t afford to go anymore. But it taught me enough foundations to set me up for, I wouldn’t say “success”, but critical thinking throughout the rest of my college career, because that education was very focused on developing ideas and concepts and the different ways in which you can represent that in your work. Coming from a high school where we didn’t really talk about that at all, it was really helpful for me to sort of understand where the art world was at, at the time. Then I transferred to Herron School of Art and Design and it was very, very different. Not as many resources, just a smaller school in general but, I discovered some stuff that I like, like printmaking, and I made a lot of good connections. Then I graduated and now I’m doing this.
Bryn: What did you say your show is called?
Brittany: It’s called ‘Enclosure’. I was trying to expand upon the work I had at Hoy Polloy in November with Alyssa. I’m referencing more images that you would find in a garden. I was doing a little bit of reading and I discovered that the idea of a garden originated as an enclosure – like the british enclosures. And so that’s why people started having those to like cultivate and curate their own land that they had stolen from the commons. I realized that’s still what they are. And I chose that title because the grid is really prominent in a lot of my images, and I feel like a garden is an extension of the grid, which sort of represents human civilization as this monolith.
Bryn: Nature is a pretty big theme in your work; your last show was ‘Fifth Season’, would you say that the natural and the human intervention elements have been common throughout your entire career or is that more of a recent thing?
Brittany: I would say that it’s been a subtle constant. When I was in high school I would incorporate flora and fauna and not really think too much about it. When I first started college I drank the identity politics kool-aid really hard, and so I was only making work about that. That period served its purpose I think because it helped me work through a lot of things, like being mixed race and non-binary. Somebody in one of my critiques said that it was really selfish that I was making work like that, which I dont think is completely untrue. It felt a little bit selfish to me. It wasn’t the kind of work that I really wanted to be doing. But at the same time it was stupid because you can’t ignore that self-portraiture is an important tradition, and there’s nothing wrong with that. You probably take selfies all the time, millennial. It’s just fun for me to draw stuff like this, and I feel like the other thing with doing portraiture like that is it’s really easy to hit a wall, or just keep making the same thing over and over again. With this I’m able to explore both the abstract and representational in ways that are sort of dynamic and interesting.
Bryn: I remember your show right out of college, your senior show, being about trauma. Would you say that this show is about organic trauma or earth trauma?
Brittany: Perhaps. That’s definitely part of it. Another conceptual theme that I’m carrying with me from my November show is trying to reckon with climate anxiety, and climate grief, and trying to process that in a really personal way. They’re different ways in which I’m trying to grapple with the loss, or new relationships that are emerging from this pretty rapid change that we’re all going through.
Bryn: We both grew up as poor kids of single moms. How do you think that has affected you? I mean, economic insecurity is a real thing, and being in an economically insecure field like art is also a real thing. Do you think that if you had grown up under different circumstances your career would look different?
Brittany: I think about this all the time actually, because it haunts me. Before we started recording I was telling you about Dance Moms, and Dance Moms actually got me down this train of thought, too. It’s really intense, the kinds of competitions that they’re doing, and there are just so many opportunities for confidence building, or learning how to ask questions, or stick up for yourself. Poverty is really humiliating, and throughout my childhood and early adulthood it left me in a spot where I was feeling undeserving of anything. I feel like that’s often the narrative; you’re poor because it’s your fault, right? Not because of the system or because of something that somebody else has done to you. Being disadvantaged at the Art Institute, and even at Herron, there were a lot of things that were closed off to me; more specifically at the Art Institute because that name has a lot of clout. It’s one of the best art schools in the world, and I think that if I had stayed there it would be different for me. There are so many opportunities you can get in a city of that size. The art world is just so much larger, and there are so many different career paths that you can take. I think it’s a little bit easier – it’s not easy, but it’s possible – that you could get represented by a gallery and you could make a living that way. And that’s not really a thing here as much. I just applied to Yale, and I didn’t actually get an interview with them, which was frustrating. I think part of it – and maybe I’m just making excuses for my bad application, and that very well might be the case – but I feel like it might have been a different story with some of these more prestigious universities, if I had graduated from a place like the Art Institute and actually had the capital to do that. Pretty much everyone that I know that has graduated from that university, regardless of their income, is really killing it. I know part of that is hard work, and part of that is the name. That’s why you go there.
Also not having access to materials is a thing. When I was at the Art Institute I was having trouble finding a job. Nobody wanted to hire me, not even the school. It’s probably more expensive to be an art student than any other kind of student. Textbooks are expensive, but you pretty much have to be buying things constantly during your entire time there. And that shit adds up really fast. While I was here in Indianapolis it was a little bit easier because the cost of living is lower, not by much, but I was working. While I was in Chicago it was definitely a struggle, and I had to get creative in gathering some of the materials that I needed.
Bryn: You’re also really involved with Hoy Polloy. You were kind of my gateway into the community here, so where do you see yourself fitting in with the Indianapolis arts community?
Brittany: I just try and pay attention to what’s going on. I can’t say that I have a huge role.
Bryn: Do you feel you’ve outgrown it?
Brittany: No, I think that there are things that I wish I had the confidence to do more of. Like, public programming is something that I had the opportunity to do at Hoy Polloy, but I didn’t really take advantage of it as much as I could have. I did a few things but mostly I just try and keep up with what everybody else is doing. When I am feeling social and not agoraphobic in any way, sometimes I’ll go out and try to go to the events. I first learned this from Justin when I was first getting to know him. He told me that all he used to do was just go to events and not talk to anybody, and eventually people started remembering him, and approaching him, and offering him things. Maybe it’s not my story to tell, but that made me feel a little bit better about what I was doing, which was that. I didn’t make it to every event, which is cool because now there’s so many events that I can’t go to them all. That’s really exciting. I talk to people sometimes, but I still go to events and just not talk to people. I just sniff around.
Bryn: Who or what inspires you? Are there any particular artists? Obviously the natural world makes a lot of appearances.
Brittany: Many things. Specifically for this body of work I was looking at classical sculpture. Sculpture that has been liberated from a High Art setting, that now just exists in a garden. Funerary sculpture, and just garden figurines were things that I was looking specifically at. In terms of artistic style… I could do a better job with keeping up with other makers. I look at a lot of people on instagram. I also really like Sigmar Polke’s work from the 90’s. He was doing a lot of gooey, splattery kind of stuff. I feel like I’m still really attracted to that look, so I’m often looking towards that and trying to incorporate that goopiness into my work in some way.
Bryn: What can Indianapolis do better to support you and artists like you?
Brittany: More art supplies stores, first of all. This is changing for sure, but in the past couple years most of the opportunities that have been “publicly funded” via philanthropy have all been for creative placemaking, and nothing really for anything else. The only opportunities that I’ve ever really seen with money dangled in front of you were doing art for the Lilly lobby. It all revolves around Eli Lilly. I saw a graph recently of the top corporations funding climate denialism, and Eli Lilly is actually on that chart. They haven’t spent as much as the Koch brothers, but that’s a low bar. Lilly is bankrolling the art scene. Especially all the stuff that’s happening on 10th street. It’ll be interesting to see what that area looks like even in a year from now. That’s all from that huge Lilly endowment or grant or whatever that was given to the Arts Council. Like $13 million dollars or something big like that. A couple years back there was a big emphasis on trying to do like public sculpture, but now I see that changing a little bit. They’re looking for more diverse artists and programming. But I think there are a lot of really talented people here in this city, a ton of hidden gems, and we need to make it known to people outside of Indianapolis that this is a thing. There was a really nice article written in The New York Times I think, talking about how Indianapolis is an underrated arts destination. We need more stuff like that. I don’t want to say “make it into an arts tourist attraction,” but it could be. We need a way for artists to support themselves. And the easiest way, not through grants, is by selling work. I think that people need more opportunities to do that beyond audiences here in the city. I think it’s really special that there is this community of artists that are willing to show and not always sell work, that’s not always the case, but for the most part if you’re not selling to your friends you’re not really selling work at all. And we just need a wider audience in order to sell stuff, cause people here aren’t buying stuff unless they know you.
Bryn: Maybe when your apartment gets turned into an Airbnb in June, Indianapolis can turn into the tourist destination we’ve always dreamed of.