Artist Martha Poggioli talks about IUDs, CPR training manuals, and her current show at Extase Gallery.

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It Came From the Medicine Cabinet

An interview with artist Martha Poggioli.

By Arts & Culture, Featured

Photograph by Jesse Meredith.

In the research-based work of Martha Poggioli, well-informed has never looked so sexy. Poggioli, whose sculpture practice involves the history of medicine and the body, graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) in 2019 (MFA Designed Objects). She works between the conceptual and the material, using her technical skills and machine fabrication to produce sleek, smart objects. Her work always comes off as fresh and never overly contrived.

Poggioli’s current show, “Rational Behavior,” is on view through December 15 at Extase Gallery, an apartment gallery in Ukrainian Village run by fellow alumna Budgie Birka-White (MA Art History 2019). From a nook that resembles an exposed closet, soft mutters of dialogue emanate from a red pedestal-like form with a hand-blown glass piece on top. In this sculptural sound piece, “Lovely Love Song” (2019), the glass functions as an amplifying funnel, with the widest opening facing towards the ceiling of the nook. The sculpture uses dialogue and sounds from the 1998 movie “You’ve Got Mail,” conjuring memories of opening an AOL inbox.

Poggioli was recently awarded the John Michael Kohler Arts Center arts/INDUSTRY 2020 Residency, which she will begin in January 2020. In mid-November, I sat down with Poggioli to talk about her current show.

Photograph by Jesse Meredith.

Chava Krivchenia: You recently completed a summer fellowship at Ox-Bow, the school and residency program in Saugatuck, MI that’s affiliated with SAIC. What were your reasons for applying for a session post-graduation?

Martha Poggioli: I looked at it as a bonus semester. I applied before the end of school in order to have time to think about concepts, rather than going immediately into just making. It was a really excellent experience spending time in a hyper-creative community.

CK: What are some ways your time in graduate school informed your studio practice?

MP: Graduate school gave me discipline and a way to make a working methodology, which I am sure I will refine over time. There was something pre-existing before school, but it gave me the structure I needed to define and fully form a method.

CK: You just transitioned to a new studio space. What are your primary needs from a workspace? What are the first tools you unpack?

MP: I like to work with expensive machinery, so my studio is more of a staging space.

I use external vendors and fabricators to make most of my work. One place I have used to make work, for example, is Pumping Station: One, which has CNC machines for cutting wood and metal. It’s also Chicago’s oldest hackerspace. But, for example, I made the silicone piece in Budgie’s gallery apartment, where it’s now displayed.

What I really need from my studio is a white wall, basically a white cube, in order to actually think about my work.

CK: Some of your sculptural work implies or is meant to be engaged in movement. How does performance factor into your sculpture?

MP: I have a performance practice, it’s just not something I have shown yet. All of my work is about my body, and my experience in my own body. Performance and thinking about the body and movement is more and more a part of my practice. It isn’t yet a part of the finished product; it’s kind of veiled.

CK: How did you approach creating work for an apartment show differently from a gallery space?

MP: This space worked well with the works that I was wanting to develop. I don’t think I’ve exhibited enough to really think that through yet. I am really just starting to exhibit.

CK: How did you come up with the idea for this show “Rational Behavior”?

MP: A number of disparate ideas came together for me after the summer at Ox-Bow, many of which were parallel to my thesis work. The first big lead from my thesis had to do with stereotypes and coding with gender and color. We had CPR training sessions at the start of Ox-Bow. I studied the colors of the dummies and the manuals, which had CGI graphics representing the CPR process. I love anything that is presented in that way.

My thesis work is about this relationship between object and body: What it is to access an object or idea, how you approach it. That’s why I do work with IUDs, because the IUD does it well, it inhabits you but is also separate from you. It’s within you but you can’t access it. The CPR manuals do a similar thing. They depict a situation that you might or might not be forced into. You have these imaginary bodies which are fake in themselves. But they describe and simulate the motions you have to do.

In the CPR manual, the gestural elements are always yearning for something; they have a romantic or seductive quality. All the hands of the characters are covered in these aqua-colored gloves, the ones we all know from the TV show “Grey’s Anatomy.” They’re all wearing red shirts. This red has been popping up in a lot of my research for the past year or two. It shows up if you look at historical documents, exit signs, and emergencies, but it’s also the color of love. This summer I started collecting paint chips; I started with pink and then began to collect reds.

With lips wanting for kisses (2019), Martha Poggioli. Photograph by Jesse Meredith.

CK: Please tell us about a particular work in “Rational Behavior” and how it engages with or exemplifies the show’s message.

MP: These [components of “With lips wanting for kisses” (2019)] are all isolated hands from the CPR training manual. I catalogued all of the gestures, much like I have been cataloguing IUDs. So I pulled them out of the manual at Ox-Bow and made a photolithography print, but it didn’t feel quite finished. This is essentially a print, but obviously not a print on paper. They are 3-D printed resin and they act as components, similar to parts in a game like Battleship. I’m thinking of this work as the first in a series of pieces which function in this way.

CK: Now for the artwork . . . Are we supposed to touch it?

MP: No, but I want you to want to touch it.

“Rational Behavior” is on view through December 15, 2019 at Extase Gallery, 2523 W. Chicago Ave., Apartment #2. The closing reception is Sunday, December 15, from 4pm – 6pm.

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