Pleasure Craft: A Conversation with Shake-n-Make – Jess Dobkin and Moe Angelos

Over brunch at Pictou Lodge in Nova Scotia, Jess Dobkin and Moe Angelos talk with Claudia B. Manley and Liss Platt of Shake-n-Make. A discussion ensues about art, craft, and working together as a collective while living together as partners. 

Jess Dobkin: Who’s warp and who’s weft, and why?

(simultaneously) Liss Platt: I’m the warp, Claudia B. Manley: I’m the weft

Liss: I like structure and organization, like the warp, and Claudia likes to freelance around a bit.

Jess: Who’s the shake and who’s the make?

Claudia: That’s a hard one. We can’t really divide the shake from the make; the Shake-n-Make is the fabric.

 

Liss: The shake and the make is what’s actually produced through the warp and the weft coming together. Shake-n-Make is one meal; and it’s a one-pot meal.

Jess: Which is interesting to me when thinking about your collaboration; sometimes with collaborations it is clear what each person contributed. But in Shake-n-Make you can’t really separate out the ownership or mark of one person or the other.

Moe Angelos: So that’s our next question – what can you do in Shake-n-Make that you cannot do in your individual practices? If there’s a Venn diagram…

Claudia: I wouldn’t have an art practice if I weren’t collaborating with Liss. I’m pretty sure of that.

Liss: And I make quite different work in Shake-n-Make than my own work, and I love that it scratches a different itch. My individual work can be very dematerialized. Photography and video, it’s mostly on the computer so [Shake-n-Make] allows me access to the tactile arts, and also, because we get to use these materials and forms that are totally loaded with nostalgia for me, it provides a sense of play as well as psychic return.

Claudia: Shake-n-Make allows me, partly, to physically manifest my writing practice as well as put my varied crafty interests together in one little basket. It’s actually a synthesis of a lot of the things I do individually – like sewing, knitting, beading.

Liss: I agree that the Shake-n-Make work is very much a composite, but I also like when Claudia and I bring different skills in, for example, with the diptychs – I’m a photo person; I’m a Photoshop person, and Claudia is writing, and it takes both of us to execute these pieces, which I really take pleasure in, and I think reflect psychically on that moment. I love that Claudia has written these stories that are really sort of painful but also familiar and have that kind of disjointed angst of the ’70s.

Jess: (to Claudia) I love when your writing is in the work.

Liss: It utilizes particular skills from both of us. I think that’s evident in a lot of our work. Though there is some bridging and gaining of new skills along the way; I learned to sew for this new project [The Hand of Craft], and I’m totally into it.


Prior to this all I did was sew patches on my jeans as a teenager (in the ‘70s! aha!).

Claudia: We’re both really into labour-intensive work.

Liss: And I’m all about repetition. You see that all across my work. I often talk about my work in terms of repetition compulsion. I’m really into soothing through repetition, and Shake-n-Make provides me with another outlet for this.

Moe: We are pattern-seeking animals. Our ability to see something that is out of place in the field is a survival mechanism. We look for patterns, and then when something’s out, it means “danger,” so our eye is drawn to it. It makes sense that our brain is pleased by pattern. It’s comforted by things being in regimentation and regular.

Liss: Pattern is pleasure.

Moe: Craft, generally speaking, is what women do, so it’s decorative; it’s not art capital “A”…

Liss: It’s functional.

Moe: But it requires the same amount of work, concentration, skill, and dedication to finishing something that then has practical applications. What is it about craft – are you elevating it? Are you recognizing it as art?

Claudia: The Hand of Craft (a large-scale, hand-sewn quilt top that spells out LABOUR in contrasting colours) really speaks to the question of what is art and what is craft while also exploring the hidden labour of both art practices and women’s work. So in a certain respect, we get a two-fer because we’re women and artists.

Liss: We’re very conscious that this is women’s work; that’s really important to us. We do want to elevate it, we want to bring it to a different conversation, we want to break down some of those barriers between craft and art. Certainly this is a link to my other practice where I’m always trying to create entrances for audiences to abstract expressionism or colour field painting through hockey pucks paintings and monumentalized candy images.

Jess: Super interesting, too, that there was the movement in the ’70s of women artists elevating craft to art and questioning that difference between art and craft. So I think it’s really interesting that you are taking work from the ’70s; it’s part of this conversation, this lineage of women artists, but I feel like you’re bringing in a new generation, a new piece of that conversation.

Liss: With a different relationship because 40 years have gone by, so it reflects differently. But certainly we are indebted to that lineage and it informs our practice. 

Moe: You’re also revisiting styles of your early lives, and why those contents, those aesthetics? For example, the Amber Fondues recipe card is kind of porned out, perved out in a beautiful way.


-laughter-

Claudia: There’s a familiarity, but there’s now also an adult reinterpretation of it. For example, my parents frequently made Swedish meatballs for parties. My parents aren’t having those parties now, but I can imagine the world they were made and what they possibly represented.


Liss: I would say, also, for me, there’s the nostalgic pull, but there’s always a return and a mastery as well. For example, when I was ten and in grade 5, we were given cardboard silhouettes of the Wise Men’s heads, and we actually macaronied them in class, and our teacher spray-painted them silver. My mother still displays them.

Claudia: Every Christmas.

Liss: They’re still intact. This is 40 years later.

Moe: It has staying power, macaroni, aesthetically.

Liss: For me, there’s something about going back, being an adult, and being able to redo the past (laughter) and re-imagine it. When I was ten, I was just participating in a class project, but now I’m able to go back to macaroni, and we’re going to blow it out of the water in Master Chef Boyardee.

There’s that deep pleasure; taking something that feels like part of your life to the core, but you can shape it, control it, and make something new out of it in the present. I think it’s beyond nostalgia. Nostalgia kind of closes down. To me this is an opening up, a revisiting, and it’s about possibility…

Moe: …and going forward

Liss: It’s about going back and going forward.

Jess: I want to note, too, that you are the same age, and so when you’re talking about looking at the ‘70s, and in terms of warp and weft, it’s worth noting that while you have your individual childhoods, you sync up in terms of age and cohort.

Claudia: And we had very different childhoods.

Liss: But still the pop culture touchstones and the kinds of crafts that were popular are consistent. Those are in the background of our childhood, and our work is imbued with the kind of crafts and the kinds of food that were around. Shake-n-Make takes things out of the everyday and resituates them and allows the viewer to re-experience them. But this stuff was just the backdrop, the fabric of our formative years, and it is the lens through which we engage with the world. My mother even has a joke about this, she says, “My children were raised by the zeitgeist,” and the punch line is “but people think I mean they had a German nanny.”

Jess: Shake-n-Make is a collaboration between two people, but it’s not just between two people, it’s between two partners. It’s really different from other collaborative work. When you’re collaborating with your partner, it’s a whole other thing.

Claudia: Well, it does mean that we work all the time.

laughter

Claudia: I mean, partly, there’s no “We’re not talking about art right now.” We have a lot of our discussions in the car, on long car rides. We’ll be in silence for a long time, and one of us will go, “You know, I have this idea. What do you think of…?” or “I’d really like to work with this material.”

Liss: Since we are a couple, our conversations about Shake-n-Make projects are just woven into our everyday exchanges. So Claudia and I were at a London Knights hockey game, and it was between periods, and you’ve got 17 minutes while they’re cleaning the ice. Somehow we ended up talking about Soylent Green – a dystopic thriller from the ‘70s we both love.

Moe: Soylent green is people.

Liss: And what developed was our piece called The Table Has Been Set


which is a giant banquet table covered with yellow and green wafers (which Claudia actually baked and we painted). So there are these soylent yellow and soylent green wafers, and there’s around 800 of them on the table in a grid, and they spell out “Eat Local.”

Jess: What happens when you have a difference of opinion about the direction of a piece? How do you negotiate?

Claudia: What happens organically is that if both of us aren’t into the idea, it just kind of sits on the side until one of us can develop it. If we’re not agreeing on it, then the idea is not ready.

Liss: Exactly. Because I do think the projects usually start with ideas and conversations, and then we go looking for a medium. But there are instances when projects are in the collecting phase – it took a couple of years for Claudia to drink all the beer so we would have bottle caps to create Domestic Brew: Craft Beer Garden


And I have been collecting Tootsie Pop wrappers for six or seven years – still trying to figure out what they will become.

Jess: How do you imagine Shake-n-Make might evolve?

Claudia: Well, we’re going to make a film about lesbian intentional communities together.

Liss: And we undertake larger scale projects that take longer to develop, like The Hand of Craft. We’ve been actively working on The Hand of Craft for almost two years to bring that one to fruition.

Jess: What’s the difference between Liss Platt and Claudia B. Manley just making a film rather than it being a Shake-n-Make thing?

Liss: Hmmm, haven’t really thought about that, but I do think that it’s the tie to the ’70s because a lot of these lesbian intentional communities come out of ’70s lesbian and feminist movements, so I think that’s an important tie-in.

Claudia: Yeah. I wonder if we should make something physical that accompanies the film. Like every time we visit a community we gather inspiration from that visit in whatever way and create an object of some kind.

Liss: I have an idea – it goes back to Man Quilt (an earlier idea we had). We could collect fabric from these the communities we visit and be quilting the pieces together along the way.

Claudia: It’s amazing. See, this is how we work – voilà! Creativity in action, man.

Jess: I’d like to know how working in a collaborative enriches or creates challenges in your relationship.

Claudia: Well, Liss can be really bossy.

laughter

Jess: Now we’re getting into the raw, intimate…

Liss: Liss is bossy.

Claudia: And Claudia is a little flighty. I’m going to say it’s more enriching than challenging to our relationship. Mostly we keep having fun. But also, I think that in the art practice, in the same way we understand materials in a different way, we also understand each other on a deeper and deeper level, by exploring what touches our psyche. How do these things speak to us? And why do they speak to us in that way? Or why does it speak to me in this way but to Liss in that way? I think that helps us to understand each other better.

Liss: I can talk about the challenge. What am I again? I’m the weft? The warp?

-group- you’re the warp.

Liss: Yeah, as the warp. I can be very structured, and I’m not a procrastinator, and I always build in a lot of time. And so sometimes, I’m imposing what I need to feel comfortable, which is a lot of order and starting early, and I’m kind of spilling that over on Claudia who is on a different time frame and does not have the same Chicken Little approach. So I need a lot of planning, structure, and time built-in for failure because art is full of failure (Image 9 – fail better). Everything always takes way longer than you thought it was going to. So that’s an area of conflict. Interestingly that pulls in some couple things; you know, one person moving through the world differently from the other, and how do you negotiate that and not just create conflict?

Claudia: Or make it that you have to do it one way and not the other.

Liss: Yes. That it has to be done my way. Because I need it to be done my way or I’m not going to be comfortable so I have to handle some discomfort, work on trust, and Claudia…what’s your part in this?

Claudia: I need to start working earlier (laughs).

Liss: Part of Shake-n-Make is that we want to have pleasure. This is a pleasurable practice. It’s a material and conceptual engagement that we find sustaining.

Jess: Beautiful.

 

‘The Hand of Craft’ will be exhibited at the Cotton Factory in Hamilton, Ontario from November 3 – December 1, 2017.

Shake-n-Make (members: Claudia B. Manley & Liss Platt) is a Hamilton-based queer art collective whose work directly references the 1970s while elevating craft and subject matter beyond kitsch to speak to our current moment. Initially inspired by the discovery of a set of Betty Crocker Recipe Cards (circa 1973), Shake-n-Make artworks take the form of felt banners, embroidery, photo-text works, macaroni portraiture, beaded gas cans, installation projects, and more. We are particularly interested in creating tension between the domestic sphere (a primary site of crafting) and the public sphere (the world outside the home), undermining high/low divisions, and questioning what is appropriate as an art material.

Shake-n-Make’s first solo show, I Can’t Stop This Feeling: Crisis, Comfort, and Craft was exhibited at MKG127 in Toronto in 2009. Since then, the collective has exhibited at numerous venues in Ontario, including The Art Gallery of York University (Toronto), Rodman Hall Art Gallery (St. Catherines), b Contemporary (Hamilton, ON), and The Artists Newsstand (Toronto). Shake-n-Make has also participated in A Handmade Assembly in Sackville, New Brunswick, as well as Supercrawl and TH&B2 in Hamilton and received two visual artist grants from the Ontario Arts Council. Shake-n-Make is represented by MKG127 in Toronto.

Jess Dobkin: Jess Dobkin is an internationally acclaimed artist. Her performance and curatorial projects are presented at museums, galleries, theatres, universities and in public spaces internationally. She was active in the downtown performance art scene in New York City before moving to Toronto in 2002. Recent projects include her 2017 Dora-nominated performance, The Magic Hour, which was developed through The Theatre Centre Residency program with support from the Canada Council, Ontario Arts Council and the Toronto Arts Council. She created The Artist-Run Newsstand (2015-2016), a one-year artist-run newsstand that operated in a vacant subway station newsstand kiosk. Her photographic images, created to accompany her performances, are also published and exhibited as stand-alone works.

Moe Angelos: Moe Angelos is a performer and writer who has worked with The Builders Association as a performer since 1999, spanning two centuries, several productions and many a hotel room mini-bar. In addition, she has written six plays with her collaborative theatre company The Five Lesbian Brothers, who have been published and won several awards. As a performer, she has appeared in the work of Carmelita Tropicana, Anne Bogart, Holly Hughes, Lois Weaver, Zack, Peg Healey, Dominique Dibbell, Lisa Kron, and The Ridiculous Theatrical Company, to name a few.