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Jan 23, 201310:18 AMCulture

Fun and Culture in the Mid-State

Five Questions for Catherine Rios

Jan 23, 2013 - 10:18 AM
Five Questions for Catherine Rios

Photography by Danielle Lucas

Catherine Rios is an artist and writer with a diverse creative background that originated with a love of glass in her native Pacific Northwest. She studied glass at the Penland School of Crafts, the Pilchuck Glass School, and the Rhode Island School of Design, where she began writing fiction and studying film.

She has a BFA from RISD and an MFA in filmmaking from Columbia University, and has received awards for her cinematography and writing, including a Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Fellowship for Literature.

She has collaborated on over thirty short films, which have screened at film festivals and museums throughout the country and internationally.

Rios is an Associate Professor of Humanities and Communication at Penn State Harrisburg, where she has been teaching media production and screenwriting since 2003.

You are on the Board of the MakeSpace. What makes this an endeavor worth supporting?

What Liz is accomplishing with the MakeSpace is an inspiration – she is building community through creative engagement, starting with nothing but the time and commitment of people who want to see the arts thrive in Harrisburg. I support her because I share her values of community-building and belief that the arts are a vital element of city living.

Helping artists create is not often addressed in arts programs, which tend to focus on delivering arts to audiences. Liz is creating a network of resources to enable artists to work within the community, in very fundamental ways.

Also, on a personal level, I think the MakeSpace is tremendously bold, wonderful, and enterprising. Liz is a gifted artist and community builder, and that is what I wish to support.

Your use of glass in the piece on the wet newsprint - which I got to spy in your studio - is really arresting. You have had a long relationship with glass - what is it like to work in a medium like that for a very long time?

I learned to blow glass when I was a girl in Seattle, at a community Arts Center that started out not unlike the MakeSpace. The process of working with glass helped me to focus my energy and became my creative "home base" I think. Since then I've gone on to create in film and writing, and am now working to explore the intersections between these processes, of which there are many!

My way of working in glass right now is almost immaterial, I am using the simplest and most transient forms of glass, exploring light, and memory, exploring its storytelling properties.

The piece you're referring to is a perfect example, as the marks were formed with molten glass, but the glass is only present in the piece through its residue. And each panel frames the mark of a different encounter, which looks almost like some sort of hieroglyphic that you might be able to read. The lines are beautiful, made from the flow of the glass on paper, and could only be formed with something that flows and burns at the same time. I want to explore this kind of mark-making with some sculptural pieces.

My studio at the MakeSpace is where I get to put things together, try them out, play with them. It’s kind of like a big sketch box, where I can experiment loosely with materials and things. Being able to work with glass again and explore it in this way is fantastic, and I hope to build these little experiments into a full series over the next year.

You have taught at Penn State Harrisburg since 2003. Was that when you first came to the area? How has being an artist in this region changed since then?

My family and I have been in the area since about 1995.

We lived in Lewisburg before moving to Harrisburg, which has a really wonderful creative community. There are artists, musicians, and writers on every block! If you want to collaborate with someone, you just walk down the street.

Tools like Etsy and Facebook have been hugely valuable for artists because they enable artists to distribute their work and gain exposure, and also to build important networks.

When I first arrived in Harrisburg I was focused mainly on teaching, and I could only occasionally take time to draw at the Art Association. Through the Art Association, I knew that there was already an active arts community here, but over the last few years I’ve seen it grow. Tools like Etsy and Facebook have been hugely valuable for artists because they enable artists to distribute their work and gain exposure, and also to build important networks. I think the artists of the city are gaining traction through using these tools well.

What is your favorite thing you have done and something you want to do?

Everything I think of is kind of outlandish – it will be hard to choose! My favorite recent project in the making is a series of little girls’ skirts that are animated. It’s the convergence of my experience as a cinematographer and as the mother of a six-year-old!

The craziest, most outlandish thing that I would like to do would be to build a giant glass paper airplane, with a crumpled nose.

How is Planet Dawn coming? That sounds incredible.

Planet Dawn is my main crazy outlandish project, and the most challenging. I'm working with a web developer, Mary Ellen Nagle, to create a website that generates a dynamic portrait of dawn from data generated during the various dawns in real time.

When you visit the site, you will be able to see a satellite image of the terminator line, which is the line between light and shadow, day and night, and you will see images that people have posted of wherever dawn is occurring at that moment. You will be able to see the various associations that people attribute to dawn through the search terms attached to their posts, and connect with communities interested in the phenomena of dawn.

As we move forward with the project, we would like to support creative collaborations amongst community members to generate projects of their own design. An example might be to create a collective portrait of dawn over a single twenty-four-hour cycle, that sort of thing.

We're interested in using the technologies of the internet to engage with a community creatively, in a way that is really just about appreciating the beauty of our world. It's fundamentally human, the experience of beauty, but it gets relegated to the sidelines in our society.

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