Kate Moon in conversation with Rian Allen on November 29th, 2016

Family Ties

KM: This is Rian Allen she’s a BFA candidate at Texas State University. About to have her show. So your thesis is next week, your thesis show?

RA: It’s the 12th.

KM: So how are you feeling about it?

RA: I was really nervous last week.  I went in for a meeting with my professor and I cried and he just stared at me and said it will be OK.

KM: What are you nervous about?

RA: I didn’t have any prints last week. So this all, all of these came about in the week but it’s hard with the photo building and working with resources…everyone has to bust things out at the same time. ..At first this series didn’t have the portraits included but eventually I decided to do that.  So the calm has settled and I have things printed.  I’m putting things in frames so it’s real now.

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From Falling Out of Line

KM: So it’s finite. Yeah, I was wondering about that.  So, do you have a title for this set?

RA: No, not yet…it has been really difficult to think of one.  I was thinking a lot. This is just a rough working title, I haven’t even told anyone this..”Falling In Line”  you know the idea of falling in line but instead of falling in line, falling out of line.  That was something I was thinking of.

KM: So like falling out of line?

RA: Yeah, Falling Out of Line, just addressing these ideas of fitting in, normal and passing.  Like ideas of wrong and right when it comes to a gender identity.

KM: That’s interesting because I was looking at some of your older works, I was looking at Aloha, OK.  Are you from Oklahoma or do you have some ties there?

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From Aloha, Oklahoma

RA: Both of my parents grew up in OK..and all of my family still lives in OK.  Over the span of a summer I went up there five times and shot about 10 days roughly.

KM: Can you tell me about the places you were photographing and also in Underneath the Quilts was that also…

RA: It’s similar, so Underneath Quilts was the first work I’ve ever made about my family.  I’ve had a really tumultuous relationship, like definition of black sheep, as I’m sure most art majors are.  And I just didn’t get along with my aunt and grandma in particular and it made me feel like I wasn’t welcome by my family.  So when my grandma passed away, unbeknownst to me she left me all of her cameras. I had all of these film cameras now that she had used to document her life and I didn’t know who she was so I used those to document her life…it was a 35mm Minolta, then a Kodak point and shoot with the terrible flash and numbers in the bottom corner, two polaroids and a 120mm.  And some of the film was found film that was in their home that they had never used.

 

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From Underneath the Quilts

KM: Underneath quilts reminded me of an estate sale.

RA: It looks like that yeah.  It was the first time I had really tried photographing a place and trying to really capture the place so I guess how I thought of doing that was to just take everything and put it in this one spot and photograph it.  Like take it out of its corner or closet and put it against this wall.  And it does kind of read like an estate sale.

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From Underneath the Quilts

KM: When I go to estate sales I feel a little bit like an outsider, it’s a little voyeuristic almost.  Did you feel that way.  I know you say you weren’t really that close with your family, so.

RA: Definitely like an outsider looking in, trying to understand these like, strangers basically, who I’ve spent my entire life with and up until recently didn’t realize that they’ve affected me just as much as I may have impacted them.  They have had an impact on how I’ve constructed my idea of myself and I guess my way of taking control of that situation was to understand them.  It was definitely discovering these people and finding out who she was.

KM: What did you discover?

RA: She had a lot of little quirks that she kept hidden and kind of kept to herself about people.  I mean everyone in my family is super judgmental, it’s a gift and a curse.  She was super judgmental and I only ever thought about that when I thought about her but I didn’t think about all the things she did when people weren’t around and when she wasn’t sort of thinking about…when she’s not concerned about what people think of me or what I think of them.

It’s your private self and the things that you do, like, there are some things that you wont ever do in front of other people.  And I never viewed her as like that. I always viewed her as this sort of bench-sitting, watching all the time, judging all the time.  So it was nice to see that she had these quiet little corners to herself.  Like, I knew she worked for an office but I had no idea she liked being a secretary.  She loved it.  She would do books, accounting type things for people.  And she would do workbooks of numbers and just like, work them out.  And she would keep up with some of her old clients and she would like double check their accounts.

And she quilted and painted but I found out she was obsessed with painting nutcrackers.  There’s a room with triple the amount of nutcrackers I have ever seen in real life.  All of that stuff is still there, my aunt especially is very hoardy.

We continued to talk about family and Rian told me a story about her grandfather taking a bad fall at the bowling alley in front of her when she was young.  She didn’t remember the fall but had always been cautious about him after than and wondered if it wasn’t due to having witnessed him falling previously.

RA: I saw him go through this terrible experience and I never wanted him to go through that again. But it’s just thing like this, sort of things I took for granted in why I feel a certain way towards people really learning to appreciate and understand and listen which is something I didn’t do with my family.  Coming from Dallas to going to OK as a child, I didn’t enjoy it as must as I would now.  It was going somewhere without TV and internet so..that was really hard.  And I didn’t really appreciate those times so I guess the work is reliving that sort of wasted opportunity but trying to get the full wealth of the experience at the same time, even though it was in the past.

KM: Do you think you can really do that?

RA: No. No, I mean I think you kind of, you can but to a point and you know it’s this way.  If anything, I think it makes you more aware in the future of this sort of thing.  More conscious.

KM: I was looking through your portfolio and saw some more recent stuff was video.  Spite slash malice.

RA: Yeah, No, Spite and Malice.  It’s a card game.  I’m not really sure how the name goes.

KM: So it’s four monitors with players playing cards on the monitors with the cards in the middle.  And the game is Spite and Malice, how is it played?

 

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Still from Spite & Malice

RA: It’s so the two people on either side of the table are a team and the other two are a team and you have your deck where you keep your cards and you have your hand which are your secret cards that you use to screw people over and the goal of the game is to get this stack of cards down to no cards…it’s something my family played every holiday and is like one of those terrible games where everyone knew how to play it really well and everyone got really heated and everyone wanted to win.  It was never a good experience.

 

KM: I had a similar game in my family, it was called Kings Corner.  I wonder, did you family, like my family had established rules and understanding for like how you …

RA: We had laminated sheets.

KM: Oh, wow!

RA: Like with all the rules, so we couldn’t change it.  Like, “the rules are laminated, this is the way it is and we have to obey.”

For a while my dad and his sister would try to decide which rules were right and which ones they had made up along the way and they would fight with each other over it.  But yeah, that [work] is really different.  It was for a class project and I feel like I wouldn’t have explored those ideas through video otherwise.  [The project] was to do multiple channels.  I had just been playing around with the idea of playing a card game and assuming the roles of everyone in my family.

KM: I was wondering about that!  Because, so all of the players in the game are played by you. Who are the players?

RA: So they’re my father’s side of the family, my aunt who I had mentioned earlier…we don’t get along.

KM: She was the one drinking wine?

RA: Yes. And then her husband and their daughter…so I was kind of living out my family dramas.  And my aunt, like every year, she always has something that I’m doing wrong and I was like, well I’m going to play out this card game and I’m going to be my aunt. And then I’m going to be my uncle who’s the definition of neutral and he never gets involved even though it’s his wife and he’s just very much there. And then my cousin who is very much there for her mom when her mom is around but when she’s not around she is very much supportive of me.  I was trying to figure out if there was anyone to blame for the way I feel towards my family.  Like is it my aunts fault for saying the mean things or is it my uncle’s fault for letting her say the mean things or is it my cousin’s fault for sort of living out this double sided thing?  I played out the game trying to be the instigator and the absolute neutral and then playing both sides of the fence.

KM: So did you play the entire game? Because it really does look like the players are interacting with one another.

RA: Yeah, it was really hard…just figuring out the logistics was really difficult.  But I feel like that’s what the work is getting at like this big family issue, like this thing we don’t understand and we don’t talk about and we only passive aggressively acknowledge when we are at our most heated.

KM: And it’s so funny that the game is called Spite and Malice

RA: I know and it’s meant to be that I make work about this game.

KM: So who won?

RA: It was my uncle because apparently being neutral is the smart way to go.  I have to acknowledge it is smart. Smarter than getting involved.

KM: That’s too bad sometimes maybe, does it feel too bad? I don’t know, I feel that way sometimes with my family.

RA: I was thinking about the family dynamic of how we’re all trying to please each other and at the same time take care of ourselves and show each other compassion and love.  I don’t know, it’s difficult.

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