Stephanie was born in Grass Valley, California, in 1984. After a childhood of frolicking in the woods, riding horses, doing community theater, and generally raising a bit of hell, she became punk-ish, politically active-ish, crazy-ish teen with an interest in photography, social inequity, and beer. These interests followed her through undergrad at Humboldt State University, where she met her future husband, a bekilted Viking that followed her to a graveyard and told her dirty jokes to woo her. She graduated with bachelors in anthropology and art in 2007, while studying “abroad” in Baltimore. From Baltimore, she and her now wedded Viking, Jeriah, moved to Chicago so that Stephanie could attend graduate school for photography at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. After two years of indoctrination and madness, she received her MFA in 2009. Since then she has been teaching, writing, curating, exhibiting, and making work in Chicago. In the beginning of 2012 she began a tenure track position in photography at Harold Washington College. When not doing art “stuff” she likes to hike, backpack, moon gaze, target shoot, bird watch, read, imbibe with comrades both new and old, and sit on porches, watching the sun go down (and sometimes up) with good friends.
Parlour Room: I have had the pleasure of knowing you for the past few years and have often described you to others as a powerhouse of artistic energy. Can you talk a little about your various roles in the art world and what being a creator, curator, critic and teacher has meant to you and your practice?
Burke: Over the past five years I’ve performed most of the roles one can in Chicago’s art scene. I came to the city originally as a student, to attend the MFA Photography program at SAIC. At the school I was introduced to the greater Chicago art community, and decided that I needed to make myself a part of it, in an active way. I began writing a weekly listing (which I still maintain) of everything opening in the city, and just started pounding the pavement every Friday night. This initial activity, both the writing and the gallery crawling, opened up most of the other opportunities I’ve had for participation in the Chicago scene. Being out all the time, and acting as a human clearinghouse for exhibition info, provided me with the opportunity to meet with, and eventually work with, a lot of people. I’ve written columns on the Chicago art scene, written catalog essays, organized and curated exhibitions, and spoken on panels, all as a result of connections I’ve made initially while out gallery crawling.
Teaching has been a part of my life since undergrad. I worked as a TA beginning in community college, and continued through graduate school. I’ve always enjoyed teaching and knew that post graduate school, I wanted to pursue it as a career, not by default as a money making avenue, but because I actually loved doing it. The act of teaching and engaging with the Chicago art scene in so many ways keeps me on my toes. I constantly have to consider my opinions and outlook on historical and contemporary art, and this inevitably affects my practice.
PR: Documentation is defined as “Material that provides official information or evidence or that serves as a record.” Can you speak about the role of documentation in your work as a whole and specifically in this series?
Burke: A great deal of my past work has involved documentation in one form or another. My practice in heavily influenced by the observational nature of cultural and forensic anthropology, adapted to a narrative style I use when making work. This body of work functions as a record for posterity, a series of images recording the final state of a house that holds historical significance foe me. It is not, however, a “straight” documentary series. I’ve transformed the space through the introduction of materials that serve as physical metaphors for my feelings toward each space. Thus each image is a temporal and emotive document of a space.
PR: There is a beautiful handwritten version of Edgar Allen Poe’s poem,The Haunted Palace in your installation at The Parlour, is this the first time you have used literature as an actual element or inspiration in your works?
Burke: No, literatures, or at least documents, have been influential on many of my previous works. Again, anthropology, and specifically the way in which an ethnography is documented and written, directly influenced the structure of my series “Baltimore.” My two bodies of work, “Well, It Happened Like This…” and “Synonym/Antonym” are interested in looking at how language can be translated visually, either in the form of a fractured narrative or linguistic oppositions, respectively. In the series currently up at The Parolur, I wanted to explore how a pre-existing written narrative could provide a point of balance for a visual narrative, as well as providing an additional point of access for viewers in deciphering the piece.
PR: Can you walk us through your creative practice a bit? What inspires you to make-work and how do you go about transforming an idea into a finished product? Are there any certain rituals or circumstances that you find yourself performing/needing in order to work?
Burke: I have not rituals, per se. I find it hard to make work in Chicago, so I wind up doing moth of my shooting while out of the city. I bring everything back home and prepare it for printing, by the actual visual grunt work happens elsewhere. As far as what inspires me, part of it is seeing so many people making work around me, and part of it is just a drive I’ve build up over the past twelve years of making art. I just became something I do. Sometimes I have to force myself to work, but most of the time it’s just something I love, and a way for me to dialog with the world around me.
PR: I think it is fair to say that the installation of your work at The Parlour, which includes 7 images and wall text, is meant to be experienced as a whole. What are your feelings about how one shows photographic series, would you exhibit just one or two of the images form this body of work and why or why not?
Burke: This exhibition was an opportunity for me to show all the work together with contextualizing artifacts. I have shown individual images from the series, and alone they function in a visually pleasing way, but the effect of them together, with the text and the snapshot, adds to the context. To return to the anthropology thread of thought, things, images in this case, exist in a matrix. The matrix informs upon the individual particles within. An artifact can be appreciated outside its matrix, but understanding of the artifact expands exponentially when seen within a matrix.
PR: What projects are you currently working on?
Burke: I am currently working on collaborative sculpture and video projects with my husband Jeriah. I’m also working on a series of images using The Devine Comedy as a reference point for my interactions with places I spend time.
PR: Thank you for showing in my parlour. If you were to be immortalized as one object what might that be and why?
Burke: A horse skull mounted over the fireplace. Cus’ Mary and I both know horses are AWESOME, and we both are horses deep down inside. It’s has to be a skull because, have you seen that fireplace? It needs a skull hanging over it.
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