Danielle Schlunegger

How long have you been working on your current body of work?
I’ve been working on the Marcus Kelli collection for about 5 years. I started working on it at CCA, sort of at the tail end of my junior year in 2009.

How did you first encounter Marcus Kelli?
My great-grandfather gave me the book when we were visiting him in Idaho. Once we got back home, I lost track of the book, we moved several times and then on my first summer home from University I found it. I started reading it and thought it would be really great as a writing exercise to start writing through this other gentleman’s voice. He was sort of a naturalist and his notes were about traveling on a ship and documenting animals. So that’s how I first got into it. Soon after a friend and I started writing back and forth as his alter-ego.

So it started with a kind of penpalery relationship with your friend?
So then you started making pieces based off of what you were reading?
Yeah, I was in a book arts class at CCA and we had a project where we got a book and had to tear it apart. I got this boy scouts book and I just couldn’t tear it apart. It had these little bugs in it and I love the pictures of the bugs and I thought. What if I just took one page and made one delicate little beautiful thing with it. So I ended up creating this little creature out of paper and wax and that sort of was the basis of my technique started.

So what did you work on before you got interested in book based art?
Before, I was really into archetypes, greek mythology and anatomy. I did a lot of skull studies and did a load of drawing of rabbits, that was my thing, rabbits.

What’s the most important aspect, for you in your art practice?
For me it’s about creating an experience for someone else. Ultimately, I think of myself as an installation artist. I like to make these sort of diorama that people can or are forced to walk into. It forces them to change their perspective on whatever was maybe happening to them that day and be in the moment, to look at things and wonder about things. It causes them to sort of be curious and investigate. I think as a lifestyle people don’t really get that in their mental diet.

So tell me more about the viewer’s experience as a focal point of your work?
Well, with the Marcus Kelli collection I wanted it to be more than just looking at work so when I got picked to display my work for the All College Honors, an award and scholarship at CCA, I set up a roll top desk with all these little specimen I had been working on because I wanted the jurors to be able to investigate and experience it beyond just looking. For this last show at FM I was worried about it being interactive because of First Fridays. I didn’t know how respectful the people were going to be so I chose to have their movement throughout the space be the interaction. The cave makes you physically move your body into and around.

For the show that you had up at FM, how long did it take you to install?
About 3 days/ I had been planning it for about the last 6 months and had build it to fit the space. I had done a lot of planning and little dioramas.

Do you do a lot of sketches before you make something?
I do a lot of sketches but my drawing has gotten horrible. They are very sculptural drawings where, this squiggle and this squiggle are obviously 15 ft long. They are just quick notes. I’ve gotten pretty out of practice with drawing. I use to feel like that was where my talent’s were and actually thought I was going to be like a drawing major when I got to CCA but that’s not how it turned out.

What drives your work?
I’m really interested in this idea of entering a space so a lot of my installations have like essentially a doorway, so you’re entering a space. At FM, you had to physically enter the cave and it was interesting cause a lot of people won’t go in it. ‘Stories of an Outsider in Nature’ when it was installed at it’s original venue at Basement Gallery you walked in the gallery and had nowhere else to go but into the tent. I built it to fit the gallery so it was a forced act of entering; which some people need. Then when it was up at Faultline and also at Bedford Gallery people had a hard time crossing the threshold. Which was interesting to me, cause if some people aren’t forced into that threshold then they won’t go in there, they won’t investigate.  So an underlying basis for the installation aspect is that I’m just interested in the way people move and act in space a lot. But of course there is also the content layer. There are a lot of layers.

So 5 years into working on this collection of work. How are you doing with storage?
It’s getting bad, really bad. I have a storage unit that my husband and I split with another friend. And I had a big install up at Aggregate Space in which I had this big 6 foot dried Manzanita tree. So now there is this 6ft Manzanita tree shoved in there. So you open the roll up door and there’s like a deer and this tree and leaves everywhere and then there’s a couple TVs and bikes in the corner which are obviously not mine. So that’s full. And then I just moved from a 350 square foot space to a 150 square foot space, so things are getting a little tight.

But whenever I build these installations I try to remember that I don’t have the space. It’s hard to curb my vision so like my next project I want to build a ship hull inside of a gallery, like where would I store that? I have no idea.

So I try to build everything in sectional pieces so it really breaks down. I really like how things can compact down. Like it’s really fun to go into a gallery pitch a tent and open a trunk and pull out all the other things for the installation.

Like we just need that bag that Hermione has in Harry Potter. 
Yeah, or like Mary Poppin’s bag. Or a CLOUD for installation artists. Come on Google, get on that.

So what do you do for work?
I am transitioning from working in a cafe to working at Faultline making panels and helping run the gallery there.

So Headlands, that’s awesome, tell me how you got over there and, well, everything.
Headlands was amazing. I just applied. I had just been lusting over it for the first couple of years after school and every time I went and looked at the application I told myself, “Oh I’m just not good enough yet, I don’t have the work, I don’t have the portfolio.” And then this last year I was just like, “screw it, if I don’t make it I’ll be in the same place I was in before and nothing bad will happen.” So I decided to apply to the affiliate program because the residencies there are like super hard to get into. Then everyone I told was like, “you probably won’t get in but that’s ok.”

Then I found out that I was a finalist and so I needed to go out and do a presentation. And I really over prepared for it. I presented it to three other people in preparation and I had these portfolio packets that had these ghost writings for Marcus Kelli with pictures of work. I made them because I wanted something physical.

They told me it would be a panel review so in my head I was picturing 8 angry old men looking at my art and thought it would be terrifying. So I made 10 portfolios to hand out. I got there and it was two of the sweetest loveliest women that I have ever met.  So after the interview I really wanted it but I finally found out that I was a back up. So I was super bummed out and then 3 days later they emailed me and was like, someone else didn’t want the space so you can have it. And I was like “Great! I don’t know what was wrong with them but thanks, buddy.”

It was a crazy time. I just started showing this year and I’ve had 4 shows in the last 6 months and they were large installations. So trying to do that and commute out there was crazy. So, I kind-of wish I could have went out there with no shows booked and just had a slightly more relaxed time where I could have explored a bit. I do feel like it founded a lot of things I’m now getting interested in.

Do you have any exciting shows or residencies coming up soon?
I’ve got nothing happening! It’s so amazing! I can’t tell you! I’m just so excited to not be having anything going on. I haven’t had any time to really make work for the last month so it will be good to get back to making and do some smaller group shows.So tell me about your studio environment, is it cluttered? Is it clean?
It’s chaos. Right now it’s really bad because things are still in boxes. I usually try to have a side that is chaos and is where work is happening and then part that is full of finished pieces and like organized.
Do you listen to radio, watch TV, or talk radio? What is going on while you work?
Well, that’s funny. Whenever I have a really big deadline and I need to pull like 3 all nighters in a row. I borrow my friend’s extended Lord of the Rings. I’m not even that big of a Tolkien fan. I just put Lord of the Rings on in the background and I don’t really watch it but when I get tired and I look up at it I see Frodo struggling and If you can do it so can I! Other then that I listen to music. I find TV to be a little distracting unless it’s nature documentaries. With music, I’ve been trying to do stuff without lyrics and then some Hank Williams here and there.
Do you collect any artifacts yourself or have you thought about it?
I have thought about it. When I was at CCA I thought about dropping out and becoming an archaeologist. Like real’ seriously.Can you tell me what materials you used for your specimen? Specifically, can you tell me why you chose to use the music pages?
Music is just another form of language. So I use the music and text as a way of communicating that this object had a life before this. Since these are replica and not real taxidermy pieces I want there to be an essence of a spirit that comes through usually the best way for me to do that is to put something people will recognize pretty instinctively as their own. And that helps people mentally relate to my sculptures. Most of the text I use is from the same era that Marcus Kelli is from.The text I used for the bobcats are from a book called the Rise of the American Civilization it just sounded so epic and mysterious. Then with the foxes I used Darwin’s essay of 1844 and I have a bird made with text from Herman Melville text from the chapter ‘Fast Fish, Loose Fish’ from Moby Dick.Do you hyper focus on one piece or simultaneously on a lot of stuff?
I usually hyper focus on one specimen but I kind of always like drawing and writing down ideas.

Ok, Now for a total change of subject. Dioramas! I love them!
I do too!!
They have obviously inspired your work and presentation. Can you tell me about your experience with Dioramas/museums?
I went to the Los Angeles Natural History Museum when I was young. I went to museums a lot when I was little with my mother and grandmother. So when I was younger I always thought, I want to go into that diorama, I want to go up to that thing and get close to it. So part of that is being able to get close to these things and work with them with your hands. So I wanted to make it so you could step into the experience.
My love for dioramas goes back to a 3rd grade shoebox diorama I made of a desert. I just thought it was so cool.
That’s so funny you said that cause I just got a flashback to what I use to make. I took college art classes in middle school. So in the ceramics class I use to build little houses for eggs. My dad would help me blow the eggs out.
What did your dad do?
My dad is a general carpenter. My mom is an actress and my grandmother was a cake designer. So I grew up in a creative home.
That is about when the cafe kicked us out cause they were closing and we wouldn’t stop talking. Danielle works & lives in Oakland, California, and despite her claim that she has nothing going on she just showed at The California Academy of Science during NightLife on August 21st, she has some new work in a group show at Paxton Gate’s Curiosities for Kids in San Francisco. She also contributed to ‘Get Small’ at the Session Space in Oakland on August 23rd with some shrinky dink Marcus Kelli books (one of which I am now a proud owner).

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