Cayla Skillin-Brauchle is an artist and art professor living in Oregon. Her exhibition, SUPER SPEED!, was on display at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art in Salem, Oregon in April and May 2017.
Eye on India: What is your inspiration for SUPER SPEED!?
Cayla Skillin-Brauchle: In 2012, I moved to India. My relationship with India, particularly the state of Maharashtra and the cities of Pune and Mumbai, was nearly a decade old. I arrived with the express purpose of studying the elaborately painted and ornately adorned cargo trucks traversing Indian highways. Buoyed by a Fulbright-Nehru grant I spent a year visiting truck yards, painting shops and decoration depots, interviewing builders, painters, artisans, artists, truck drivers and owners and asking one driving question: Why are utilitarian trucks on Indian highways so vibrantly decorated?
SUPER SPEED! is the culmination of that research and features multimedia drawings and live performance art. The inventive, collaborative nature of Indian truck design that I witnessed again and again directly inspired this show. SUPER SPEED! drove home another question that lingered within me since 2013: What does it mean to design something to move quickly when in reality the road ahead moves so slow?
Eye: Tell me more about this idea of slowness.
CSB: If you had asked me in 2013 what I learned visiting the truck yards, I would have responded with specifics about religious iconography or national design regulations. However, 3½ years later I find myself more interested in what it means to design trucks with the aspiration of moving quickly, when in reality these trucks rarely reach speeds above 35 mph. On Indian roadways I saw flashy trucks with phrases like ‘Non-Stop’ and ‘Super Speed.’ They are ready for speed, even if the road ahead is littered with gaping potholes. I find this an apt metaphor not simply about trucks, but also social and political progress, particularly in the United States in 2017.
Truck Grill: Super Speed, 2016 Mixed media drawing Diptych: 34” x 42” each
Eye: How did the truck design you saw on Indian roadways manifest in your art?
CSB: While researching I discovered that most trucks ply the roads for 25+ years. Over this lifespan, dozens of artists and craftspeople re-design, re-build, and re-imagine these trucks multiple times over. This continuous, slowly evolving, multi-authored art-making process fascinates me.
Wide-Eyed, 2017, Colored pencil, cut paper and beading 16” x 20”
Within the TRUCK GRILL DRAWINGS series, I act as a collaborator in this process. Combining designs, motifs, and color schemes that I observed in India, I create an image that references multiple artists’ visions including my own. I’m trying to honor the visual “mash-up” aesthetic that electrifies Indian roadways. In SUPER SPEED! I hung drawings of eyes above the TRUCK GRILLS to create abstracted faces. These eyes are highly detailed, including hundreds of beads to create the eyelashes. I like to think of these eyes as keeping watch over the exhibition.
Eye: The billboard sized drawing, SUPER SPEED, has the same title as the whole show. As such, it serves as a focal point for the exhibition.
CSB: Yes! SUPER SPEED, which at 20’ x 10’ and comprised of 240 small drawings, commands your attention. I loved hearing people exclaim “Super Speed!” when they saw the piece. As with the TRUCK GRILL drawings, I imagined a myriad of artisans creating a single truck over an extended period of time. While designing SUPER SPEED, I wanted to create a system that encouraged me to work in a non-linear fashion. I would work on 10 or 12 drawings and then move onto a new section. In this way, I tried to mimic different teams working on different parts of a truck or working on the truck at different points in its lifespan.
Back to speed, fast and slow: ‘SUPER SPEED’ sounds fast but took 10 months to complete. The metaphor is an important one to me: if a slick presentation seems carefree, the labor is artfully concealed.
Eye: Can you describe the setup of your live performance?
Groundwork/Groundswell, 2017 Performance Costume costume constructed by Crystal Ann Brown
CSB: In Groundwork/Groundswell I sit on a platform five inches off the ground. At the beginning of the performance the ground is covered with brown strips of fabric. Throughout the performance, I work to cultivate the ground by weaving green fabric into the brown fabric. Behind me, four piles of green fabric pass through hooks on the wall above me and enter my costume through epaulets sewn onto my costume. My costume has a large hoop skirt constructed of concentric circles of fabric; I drew on my Grandmother’s circular rugs for inspiration here.
I developed this piece early last winter, after the US presidential election. In the days and weeks afterward, I processed a heartbreak that I felt for our country and the diverse populace that makes me proud to be an American. Within this larger sentiment I reflected on my personal experience of womanhood in the US. Hillary Clinton’s defeat is magnified each time my voice is spoken over, each time I witness this happen to others. In a moment of optimism, I thought that we could elect our first female president; in a moment of realism I was reminded just how much harder women and people of color must work to be heard, respected, trusted.
In Groundwork/Groundswell I attempt to flood the ground with potential. As I pull the green fabric through my costume, I labor with my body; I feel pressure on all my muscles as I lean and contort my body in order to fertilize a new patch of barren ground. I remind myself, and my viewers, that the road ahead requires more diligent maintenance. Progress is slow; you have to work.
In many ways Groundwork/Groundswell seems less directly related to my work in India. However, for years, I have been meditating on the idealism, the hope, and the grit that I observed in painting shops across Maharashtra and Karnataka as artisans prepared for speed that may or may not lie ahead. What is the value of that optimism? How can we maintain that optimism?
Super Speed, 2017, Duralar, acrylic ink, colored pencil, marker, hardware 240 pieces, 120 x 240 inches
She’s Watching, 2017, Colored pencil, cut paper and beading Diptych: 16” x 20” each