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Moments of Transcendence: an interview with Danielle Peters

Posted by on July 29, 2015

Peters Moment of Transcendence image by GarciaYou might think you just climb stairs to the 3rd floor of the MAH.
But what if you thought about it like transcending?

You’re going up. You’re in between two phases. (Those phases might be the 2nd and 3rd floor, but c’mon, they’re still phases.)

Those are the kinds of moments Danielle Peters drew from when creating Moments of Transcendence. It’s a paper sculpture that welcomes you upward to the 3rd floor of the MAH. The sweeping forms of paper are made up of many collected moments of transcendence from her Boys and Girls Club students and MAH visitors at 3rd Friday: Beyond Borders.

Find out more about the sculpture here, and read an interview Danielle Peters did with former Exhibitions intern Emily Corbo below.

EC: You work in several different mediums.  How would you define your work as an artist? Do you have an overall intention for the work you create? Is there a relation between the different mediums you work in?

DP: Whether drawing or creating sculptures, costumes, and installations, I am typically manipulating paper in some way. Paper is practical for someone working within a modest budget, but it is also a very affective and transformative material. You can literally take a material people throw away everyday and give it new life.

EC: What inspired this piece? What was your intention in creating it?

DP: I have gone through many transitions since moving to Santa Cruz five months ago and have met the most inspirational people during this time. I have never felt like I belonged so much to a community. I wanted “Moments of Transcendence” to be an open conversation between the broad spectrum of people that make up the Santa Cruz community, but to also feel like an intimate conversation between friends. My intention was to learn more about each participant’s unique experience, but also to highlight our shared human experience. We all go through moments of extreme suffering and bliss, and we are changed by these moments.

EC: Can you elaborate on the title and the materials? Why Moments of Transcendence?
This piece is composed of the personal stories of others. Where did you source your content from? Can you provide some examples of the content created when making this piece? Do you have any particular “moments of transcendence” that stood out for you?

DP: I worked on the elements for this piece alongside members of the Boys and Girls Club of Santa Cruz and participants at MAH’s Third Friday event, Beyond Borders. I was surprised by what people were willing to disclose, and grateful for each participant’s willingness to share their stories with me.

The initial stages involved spreading out drawing materials and large rolls of paper for groups of people to work on side by side. Through offering space, material, and springboard questions, I wanted to create a platform for sharing these stories. I wanted people to feel comfortable and like they were part of a team when creating this piece. I also wanted there to be a balance of self-expression and anonymity present as participants wrote or illustrated their experiences on paper. I am always amazed by the events that people consider transformative. The kids at BGC wrote and drew pictures of happy times in their lives, like baby brothers and sisters being born, rollercoaster rides, learning a new skill, or moving to a new home. More often than not older participants recalled moments of struggle rather than joy. Life events that seem capable of destroying lives often end up being the most meaningful. Cancer came up a lot. I think it is empowering to find that even in the worst situations we get to be the ones to choose whether we are built up or broken down by these events. I am always shocked by the limits people surpass when faced with something that seems as insurmountable as heartbreak, cancer, the loss of a job, home, or a loved one. It is very empowering to hear these stories.

EC: You have several sculptures made from cut pieces of paper. Can you elaborate on your method of constructing sculptures through paper? Where did this concept develop from? Why paper?

DP: I enjoy the malleability of paper, it changes shape and meaning so easily. Working with paper allows me to turn nothing into something; garbage into something beautiful. I like finding value in things with little to no monetary value. I enjoy being the one who dictates an object’s worth. I think that is what I enjoy about art, dance, and music, it is really hard to stick a price tag on that kind of value.

I started making these sculptures in graduate school at the University of Georgia. My professor, Eileen Wallace, had taught me how to make my own abaca. I loved the way this fibrous paper looked, like skin or fingernails. It made me want to create sculptures that similarly combined plant and animal characteristics.  

EC: What is the process of creating a collaborative piece and installing it? Can you elaborate on how the content for the piece was collected? When installing the piece, is there a mapped out design or does the design of the sculpture shift as the project is installed?

DP: I am very much influenced by the space. When talking to Stacey [Garcia MAH Director of Community Engagement) in the initial stages about how I wanted to contribute to the Beyond Borders event I knew that I wanted to focus on the psychological aspect of borders. I wanted to create a piece that communicated some kind of ascension, so we were thinking of places in the museum like the elevator or areas around the stairs. I drew out 3 or 4 ideas and let the curators decide which design and location would work best with the other events happening in the space. They ended up choosing the most ambitious plan, both in scale and location. Fortunately I had the help of friend and artist, Leigh Erickson, in the installation stage, as well as Stacey and my mom, Terri Peters. I don’t know what I would do without my friends and family, they play a large role in everything I do in art and in life. I owe so much to them!

EC: Where do you turn for your inspiration?

DP: Everything inspires me: dance, surfing, hiking, conversations with strangers, and other artists. Everything I read, everyone I meet, everything I see in society and nature; it all works its way into my work in way or another.

EC: Do you have any advice for aspiring artists who are interested in collaborative work?

DP: Don’t be intimidated by the people you admire and don’t underestimate your talents. Approach people who inspire you, even if they do something completely different than yourself. Your talents could be equally as inspiring to them and useful in a collaborative setting.

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