“I was inspired by Native American culture at the beginning of my career,” says artist Cristin Richard.
“I was looking at how they used every little last bit of the animal. If they hunted an animal, not only would they eat the meat, but they would process the skins. They would use the bones for tools. Take the inner guts and turn them into wearable things. The Inuits would make parkas out of them.
That inspired me, and I started digging in. What do we have in our local community that’s a bi-product of the industry like those guts? I started using sausage casings.”
Richards work has evolved through the years from dresses made of skins to performance installations in some of Detroit’s most architecturally stunning and, often, inaccessible buildings. Such as the Detroit Club’s Presidential Ballroom, where she will be presenting, Point of Return, this Friday.
The allure, for those unfamiliar with the artist’s work, will be entrance into some of the members-only areas of one of the nation’s oldest private clubs. The reward will be Richard’s work, a multi-sensory experience, that invites audiences to question the concept of value in contemporary society:
“I’m thinking about the material and what it does to us. This material that I’m working with—what is it going to do to the rest of the world as it accumulates? Where does it go? How long does it take to go away? A cotton t-shirt takes about 200 years to break down. A typical cotton shirt.”
We sat down with Cristin over tea to learn more about her life and work. It was green tea, sweetened with local honey, and it’s worth noting that her shirt matched her curtains. If the costumes in her home studio are any indication of Friday’s performance, you are all in for a treat.
The following questions were submitted by email. We hope you appreciate this interview more knowing that it happened twice.
CV Henriette: For those who’ve never encountered your work, describe your practice.
Cristin Richard: My central focus is in communicating the human condition. I like to present the world in a new way—a way that reveals the beauty in the topics we often tend to avoid. Material plays a dominant role in my practice.
Typically, I work with natural materials. Organic matter sparks a dialog of what it feels like to be human. These materials, like the aging human body, are impermanent and degrade over time. I’ve been greatly inspired by Native American and Inuit cultures. Discovering Inuit in my distant family lineage has given me an even deeper connection to the research and practices. I must have been cosmically drawn to it, or perhaps it was embedded deep within my subconscious.
CVh: How has it evolved throughout the years?
How has Detroit shaped your work?
CVh: How has your time abroad shaped your work?
CVh: Can you specifically talk about how your time in Iceland influenced your work?
I was able to exhibit the product of my residency at Kunstschlager Gallery. It was the first time I had taken such a static direction, embedding a woman into the sculpture. At the opening, I was worried that I had challenged her too much, with sitting for such an extended period of time. I also found the Icelandic people to be a bit guarded, which added to my nervousness and uncertainty. After the performance, the performer seemed quite sweaty and frantic to get out of the sculpture. After getting dressed, she seemed to lighten up. She explained how demanding it was to become a silent, object of attention, having nowhere to channel her nervous energy.
On a more personal level, the exchange with the performer stimulated my practice. Each of our own fears and hesitations, gave me a closer understanding of my own creation. I’ll never forget the words spoken by that performer in Iceland: “I know it was a successful piece. I could see it deep within the eyes of each viewer when they first set their gaze upon me”.
Our future depends on our ability to exchange ideas and empathize with one another. With increasing tensions in society, the capability to openly discuss difficult topics has become blocked. I think that time in Iceland helped me to realize that art has the power to transcend barriers.
CVh: What do you miss about Detroit when you’re away?
CVh: Tell us about the role music plays in your work?
CVh: And architecture?
Point of Return is hosted by PLAYGROUND DETROIT in partnership with The Detroit Club. This one night only performance installation takes place this Friday, March 22nd. It is open to the public, with a $10 suggested donation.