Annie Varnot is an accomplished Brooklyn-based artist whose recent installation at University Galleries “W/hole” utilized hallowed chicken eggs and plaster to create a stark and beautiful meditation on the fragility of life. Varnot spoke about “W/hole,” her various artistic philosophies and her recent stint in the School of Art’s Visiting Artist residency program.
Tell me about your experience with the Visiting Artist residency program at ISU.
For me, the experience was great. I haven’t been in an academic environment for a long time. I used to teach, but it was difficult to find a solid position in the New York City area because you have so many artists. It was really nice to be back in the classroom in a university setting.
It was really unique to be in Normal, Ill., a place I had never been before. The students were incredibly thoughtful and eager to learn whatever it was that I had to teach them. It was really nice to arrive and have an exhibition at University Galleries. A lot of the professors brought students through the gallery. That gave me a chance to interact with students. They were able to see my process as a professional artist, the decisions I have to make when I’m in a gallery space, versus the decisions I have to make in the studio, which are often very different.
Could you discuss the inception of “W/hole”?
The exhibition title came near the end. That has a lot to do with my own body being whole and having part of it being removed. How you can be without a part but still be whole?
I began this highly personal body of work during a residency in Nova Scotia. I had been diagnosed with breast cancer, this was almost five years ago, and I was grappling with how to come to terms with the illness and my own mortality. I was 35 when I was diagnosed which is very young. I barely knew what cancer was to be honest. That may sound naive, but it’s true. The experience was so difficult to put into words. It was such a unique experience and a profound one.
I got to thinking about how I could express the fragility of mortality through my artwork. I befriended a nearby poultry farmer from Nova Scotia, and I was starting to form ideas about creating an architectural space with eggs. I collected eggs that were deemed “unsellable” by the farmer, and I washed and hallowed them, thereby salvaging these castoffs. It acted as a way of taking care of myself, of reinvestigating my own body.
Do you think that 3-D art conveys certain ideas more effectively than other artistic mediums?
I personally tend to think more about materials and form. For me, the material is the first thought I have. I ask myself: “What materials will best illustrate my ideas?” The second thought is: “What am I going to do with that material?” In the end though, it’s about the idea.
I don’t necessarily think that 3-D art is more effective. I think it depends on what you are trying to address. If your issues and concerns are spatial, where an audience or person needs to feel the space, then I think three-dimensional work is most effective for that.