Heather Brammeier is a sculptor, painter, and installation artist based in Peoria, IL. In addition to maintaining her very active art practice, she is also a Professor of Art at Bradley University in Peoria. In this article, we showcase her studio work, and chat with her about the ways in which partnering with a fabricator such as Ignition Arts has impacted her public practice.
Image: Hattie Lee, @hattieleeart
How did you first hear about Ignition Arts? What prompted you to reach out initially?
I found Ignition Arts in Sculpture Magazine. I knew there were fabricators in Chicago, but when I saw IA was in Indianapolis, that appealed to me. I love the museums and art centers in Indianapolis, and I always stop there when I’m driving to or from the east coast. The Garfield Park Arts Center in Indianapolis is home to a combination mural and wall installation I made a few years ago.
Most of my installations are temporary, made within a few weeks and in the public for a few months or years. They are labor-intensive, and I do all the heavy lifting and ladder climbing myself. It suits me, and I honestly think I’ll be climbing ladders with heavy wooden triangles when I’m 80. However, I’d like to also see my work manifested in more permanent materials before I’m 80. I was reaching a point where I kept asking myself what I was waiting for.
I knew it would be important to develop a good working relationship with a fabrication firm. When I visited Ignition Arts, saw the office and the shop, and heard Brian’s story, I felt like I had found the right fit.
Can you describe the relationships between the multiple branches of your art practice? How do you balance the gallery work with the public work?
My indoor installations, though sometimes just as large as my public works, are definitely more personal. I’m often bringing nature indoors with these works, and I can celebrate the chromatic grays and natural textures of branches and stones. Stories of love and loss are layered into the structures. One example is The Reluctant Bride (right), a sculpture made from branches, chain, scraps of oak flooring, and Lake Michigan stones. The work is part of a larger installation called Nothing to Fix, which explores the loss my husband and I feel from the dissolution of our marriage.
Images: Installation views, Nothing to Fix
When I make public installations outdoors, I feel freed to go over the top with color and fun to reach out and grab attention. I like the challenge of considering the whole environment, the surrounding architecture, streets, traffic signs, even landscaping. In painting, we talk about a painting being able to “hold” a wall, meaning it can stand up to all the space around it because of its visual impact. As someone who started as a painter, I use my skills to make a painting in space that “holds” a much larger realm visually than it does physically. The presence of my work extends beyond its physical bounds. The biggest bonus from working outdoors is that the sky becomes your medium, and you feel like you truly are a part of something much greater than yourself.
Pictured above: Easterseals Rainbow, a sculptural interpretation of a child's drawing of a rainbow. Ignition Arts fabricated and painted the green archway that served as the foundation for Brammeier's lively, light-filled "drawing in space", created using repurposed garden hose, rubber tubing, and painted wood triangles. See additional images here.
Tell us more about the interactive wall piece that is being prototyped at Ignition now - how does the piece work, and what plans do you have for it in the future?
I presented IA with a maquette for a maze-like wall piece. It has little barbells that move through the maze/track. You can move them through the loops endlessly. To reach all areas of the looping track, you have to manipulate the barbells through openings to flip from one side to another.
Initially, the work will likely be loaned to our children’s museum here in Peoria, Illinois. I may also exhibit it for ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, Michigan, this fall, before trying to find a permanent home for it.
Can you describe your experience of working with a fabricator like Ignition Arts to develop a prototype? What are some of the pros and cons you've experienced from entrusting another entity with some aspect of the making process?
The way I had designed the maquette, there were issues with being able to move the barbells through the track. Ignition's Digital Fabrication & Design Manager Zach Young presented me with several ingenuous solutions. The one I chose was something I don’t think I would have ever come up with on my own. It completely validated my choice to work with a fabricator, as it became a collaboration that achieved more than I would have on my own.
As Zach will tell you, I frequently knew I should be asking questions, but I didn’t know what the questions were! Zach has shown infinite patience. I chose to make my first project with IA one that doesn’t have a deadline. I knew it could take time to figure out how much I can control about how my idea is being translated into permanent materials. What I’ve appreciated so much about IA is their willingness to take the time to explain things—when I finally figure out what questions to ask!
Do you have any upcoming shows or other events on the horizon?
My solo exhibition Maybe Never will be at the Hyde Park Art Center (Chicago, Illinois) July 31 through September 19. I’m so lucky to be working with curators Allison Peters Quinn and Gervais Marsh.
Anything you're reading/watching/looking at right now that you'd like to share?
I’ve been in love with Alice Aycock since seeing her work at Storm King a couple years ago, so I’m reading/looking at Alice Aycock: Sculptures and Projects by Robert Hobbs. I love her earliest constructions and “aberrant architecture” made from plywood and two-by-fours, I’m sure in part because it validates the way I work. The monumental machines and sculptures she made are like drawings in space, which again, I relate to. They are also made for people to actually interact with them. Aycock activates so much space with line and plane, her work is very powerful.
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