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The Aesthetics of Every Moment: Q&A with Alumnus Patrick Mohundro

Posted February 1, 2017 in AlumniDigital Art and Design

This interview originally appeared in the winter 2017 issue of Portfolio magazine. Read the complete issue here

Patrick Mohundro (’07, Digital Media) discusses navigating the layered relationship between creators, communities, and culture. Considering that the medium is laden with message, the New Yorkbased multidisciplinary artist’s practice is just as rooted in working to understand art’s social implications as it is in the act of making. 

Alumnus Patrick Mohundro installing an exhibitionAlumnus Patrick Mohundro installing work for Sharkbait, an exhibition he co-curated wtih Jessica Langley in 2016. The trans-oceanic exhibition was displayed off the back of a moving boat. (image courtesy of Patrick Mohundro)

Q: You went to Mozambique as a Peace Corps volunteer for 27 months after graduating from KCAD. How did that experience shape you?
A: A close family friend visited my home after his volunteer service in Cameroon. I was the only one around so we ended up talking for a couple of hours about the Peace Corps. His enthusiasm got me pumped! I wanted to save the world too. I still had much to learn about what art’s function was in relation to community or how it functioned in my life. There was this idealization of the studio as a kingdom or someplace where you could lock yourself away and create your own rules. Looking back, my Peace Corps service was actually pretty selfish. I stood to gain the most, being generously hosted by a nation and smaller community while having the freedom to fail. But in a way, the experience was an introduction to failure. That was really important — to set out with intention, try to do something, have very little impact, and then come back with all of that perspective.

Q: You’ve since become embedded in NYC’s thriving community of emerging artists. How does the idea of community manifest itself in the work that you do?
A: The community provides fluidity or freedom for the artist. The more conversations you have, the more you figure out whose “no” or “yes” is important. Ultimately, the dialogue is infinitely encouraging because you select the yeses — the people who keep telling you to go for it and who challenge you to try harder and have more fun with your work. 

Q: In 2011 you were selected for a residency with the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council (LMCC) based largely on an ambitious community health project you were working to get off the ground. Can you talk a bit about that project and how it impacted your experience in the residency?
A: The project I proposed to LMCC was developed in collaboration with social workers who saw a community demand for access to healthier foods and awareness of what a healthy diet for an HIV-positive person looked like. The program planned to use culinary and visual arts as a way to promote and practice healthy eating habits. Ultimately, the project failed to come to fruition for logistical reasons, but the residency ended up being my entry point into a shared studio space and a community of practicing visual artists. The funny thing about some of these projects is that they expose you to new situations, new challenges, new environments, new friends. They are never a waste of time. The failing just opens up something else to invest in. 

Q: Do you see artists as having a responsibility beyond art-making? If so, what does that responsibility look like?
A: Yes, they do, but the question is whether or not their work needs to include ethics beyond the individual. I still find myself wrapped up in idealism and can get lost in impossible expectations. My opinion, or expectation, doesn’t really matter, but I find that art is part of a larger conversation and that each choice you make within your practice suggests a set of values. So the responsibility ultimately is cognizance -- to be cognizant of the ethical and political implications of your approach. What does it mean to be a painter and follow a trajectory that has been exclusive, colonial, and patriarchal? Oil paint has a politic. 

Q: How have you personally grappled with that sense of responsibility as you’ve developed as an artist?
A: Grappling with responsibility becomes the practice. Criticality tows a cynical line that can be depressing and eventually paralyzing. I’ve been trying to identify the necessary moves to advance through those feelings. Making from an emotive place seems to help. 

Q: Your next step is graduate school at Hunter College in NYC. What do you hope to get out of your experience in graduate school?
A: The access to a group of people paid to care about your work is pretty interesting, but more valuable is the diverse microcosm of focused individuals. In terms of schools in and around New York, I think this is specific to Hunter, as faculty, classes, and resources are all shared between disciplines. This unique community provides myriad perspectives, which I hope would create a more well-rounded dialogue around the development of my work. My hope is that working with the different faculty will provide some sort of real-time access to other existing communities and means to engage with them. Lisa Corinne Davis, my current instructor, recently moderated an interesting conversation on the role of artists in the development and disintegration of communities, specifically Bushwick. There is a pattern of artists experiencing a bitter nostalgia after investing in communities that continue to change outside. The cyclical nature of being part of change and feeling bad about more change is a bummer, but really important to witness and acknowledge, particularly in relation to starting a new community with my colleagues at Hunter.