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Mar 21, 201302:57 PMCulture

Fun and Culture in the Mid-State

Eight Questions for Amanda Owens

Mar 21, 2013 - 02:57 PM
Eight Questions for Amanda Owens

Photography by Danielle Lucas

Amanda Owens is a costume designer and artist with an infinite love for textiles and the absurd.

Her artistic artillery includes a passion for the intersection of highbrow and lowbrow culture and a BA in Art History from Messiah College.

She has recently joined the faculty of Susquehanna Art Museum in addition to her costume design career.

Amanda has collaborated on several productions and projects for Gamut Theatre.

Owens' work at MakeSpace includes costume and clothing design, jewelry, and more.


In terms of costuming, what would you consider the ideal intersection of highbrow and lowbrow aesthetics?

There's an artist I really like named Nick Cave - not the singer Nick Cave, another Nick Cave - he's a sculptor who does performance art, and his sculptures are costumes that look like giant striped rainbow muppets made of found stuffed animals and kids' instruments. These sculptures are like characters and they take part in little productions he puts on. That, to me, is the best intersection of highbrow and lowbrow: kids' stuffed animals coming to life and accepted as Art.

What is the epitome of Art, and then what is the epitome of muppet-esque lowbrow work? Are there two benchmarks?

Art is very fluid and experienced in different ways. People say "I like this and that's all that matters." To me, highbrow means it's made it into the canon. I studied art history in school, which, to a point, is concerned primarily with the highbrow.

Hitting postmodernism, art started to alienate audiences by playing with the line between highbrow and lowbrow. Lowbrow can be bought in a store and seen on TV.

When it comes to sewing, you're stitching and working small and assembling those small efforts into something big. Do you like the small things that make up the big things?

I like the brainstorming process: I don't have to adhere to reality in terms of the way fabric hangs, and I like working through the ways I can craft it. I really like finishing but I generally don't love things I end up with. As for the in-between: sometimes I love it and sometimes I don't. It depends what I'm working on and who I'm doing it for.

I am not precise in my sewing, which I always lost points for in school. But in theatre, if the seams aren't perfect, that falls by the wayside.

For instance, I hate tailoring. It was a little extra money here and there, but it was sucking my soul away.

I worked on Beowulf for Gamut. My friend, David Ramon Zayas, a core company member, worked with a Beowulf scholar on an adaptation and all the characters were dressed in black and I didn't create costumes per se but props made out of fabric.

I took it on last-minute in the middle of another project. I was so tired I was dry-heaving, but I was having the time of my life. I was so proud of that.

How did you start doing costuming?

I was in between jobs. What I'd been doing wasn't working for me, which is a tough decision in a bad economy and with student loans to pay back.

But changes needed to happen, I was ready to make them, I was turning twenty-five and I needed to do something that was for me. The worst that could happen was that I'd fail, and that was freeing. So I quit my job and almost immediately had plans to work with another woman who does costumes, Linda Ann Hammond.

She's done work for a lot of local theatres. Friends of mine were helping her out on projects and I was helping them.

Immediately, I was asked to meet her at a rehearsal. I told her I wasn't working and volunteered to help and she asked me over, and from there it became an ongoing thing. I really love it. Show to show, if someone wants to use me, they'll use me. I made a lot of connections I'm really grateful for.

I am not precise in my sewing, which I always lost points for in school. But in theatre, if the seams aren't perfect, that falls by the wayside. You can go crazy and it doesn't matter. It lets me focus solely on the creation and not the details I don't have the patience for.

Is there a person working today whose career you envy? Or do you have a specific idea of how you'd like your working life to be?

I spend a lot of time in my head. The way my life has flowed in the past year, falling into things, I've been so overwhelmingly happy, and that's a new thing for me. I've experienced a strange joy and I have a hard time looking outside of that. And while all this good was happening, my car was stolen. When it's all happening at the same time, you don't have the space to process it. Right now I'm trying to focus on being where I am.

I'd like to obtain more education. As far as specific ideas: this year, I want to sleep a bit more.

That's where I am right now. I want to be present. Sometimes I consider all the wonderful people in my life and all the cool things I'm getting to do and I just cry in my office.

How does the MakeSpace rank as one of the cool things?

Having this space to work is great. I used to have to work in my bedroom. Having to intersect my life and my work was making me disorganized. Not all the kids in this community get art classes, so providing this to them is really great. When I tell people what I do with my life, I talk about the MakeSpace. I'm the Administrator and on the steering committee.

If you could do anything - in the context of your art or life - what would you do?

I'm looking forward this week to sitting down with a bottle of wine and watching a documentary on the organ transplant trade. I love planning and attending parties and creating other worlds you are transported to by entering a party. There's glitter everywhere. Liz [Laribee, director of the MakeSpace] hates me. I'm usually covered in it.

Last year my birthday party was shark-themed, and I made chum cocktails: gin buckets with sloe gin and frozen berries. Part of my attraction to highbrow lowbrow is how that becomes rococo. I'd love to live a Versailles life knowing everyone around me is safe and sustained. I'd like to live well without negatively impacting another person's life.

I'd like to spray-paint everything around me gold.

Mar 21, 2013 04:24 pm
 Posted by  amberkane

Great article. It's always wonderful to hear stories about creative people doing what they love, and doing it well. It is true that when you love doing something it doesn't matter how hard it is, or how long it takes, there is so much pleasure in doing it that you can't stop.

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