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Crayons case in the shape of coyote bones by RYAN! Feddersen
Crayons case in the shape of coyote bones by RYAN! Feddersen

An Interview with RYAN! Feddersen

Opening February 1, 2020,  The Naturalist & The Trickster: Audubon/RYAN! explores themes related to animals, environmentalism, and conservation. The exhibition features works by RYAN! Feddersen including a large-scale mural from the Coyote Now series and a selection of recent glass vessels created during an artist residency at the Museum of Glass. Feddersen’s work will be shown in conjunction with a selection of prints from John James Audubon’s The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America portfolio.  TAM asked RYAN! to reflect on her practice, inspirations, and the exhibition in general:

In The Naturalist & The Trickster: Audubon/RYAN!, your work is shown alongside a selection of prints by John James Audubon. Can you share any thoughts or reactions you have to Audubon’s work?

My familiarity with Audubon’s work was primarily from his Birds of America project- specifically as represented in decorative calendars, and the National Audubon Society, the conservationists who have taken his namesake. What I find particularly interesting, is the idea that art takes on a life of its own, and that it can inspire and activate people in surprising and long-lasting ways. John James Audubon had no role in forming the Audubon Society, nor did he model their beliefs, as he often killed or held captive his subjects. However, the legacy that his work inspired continues to compel people to take care of the other life forms with which we share our planet.

The exhibition includes your work Coyote Now Epic. Can you share a bit more on how you developed this work and what pushed you to create on that scale and in that style?

Coyote illustration from RYAN! Feddersen's "Coyote Now Epic."
RYAN! Feddersen. “Coyote Now Epic” (detail), 2018. Pigment print on Photo-Tex, 106 x 901 inches. Courtesy of the artist. Photo © RYAN! Feddersen

Coyote Now actually began as a project that was especially created for the Northwest Native Arts Festival at TAM in 2015. I was thinking about Coyote’s immortality and the role that Trickster figures play in understanding ourselves as a society, and I began to imagine how Coyote might interact with our contemporary issues through imaginative storytelling. The piece began as hand drawn panels, organized like graphic novel pages at about 6’ in height. As the story developed, I began to expand and link the stories together in an immersive landscape that is illustrated using a digital tablet. This process allows me to compose ever evolving versions of Coyote Now while building out an immersive world in drawing.

You have a selection of glass vessels also on view in the exhibition. What drew you to working with glass? Do you have a favorite medium to work in?

In 2019, I was invited as a Visiting Artist to the Museum of Glass, Tacoma, WA. I’ve always enjoyed working with and learning new mediums and was very excited to design a series of pieces in glass to make with the Museum of Glass’ skilled and generous Hot Shop team. The vessels’ shapes are based on Plateau burden baskets and feature vignettes that reference stories and themes from my past projects including Coyote Now, Disconnected Towers, and Bison Stack Crane.

Black basket shaped vessel featuring an image of coyote and coyote bones.
RYAN! Feddersen. “Gathering Bones,” 2019. Blown glass, 9 1/2 x 7 1/2 inches. Courtesy of the artist. Photo © RYAN! Feddersen

Who/what are your biggest influences as an artist?

My art practice reflects a wide range of influences as I often work project based and prefer to experiment with content, materials, and interactive structures. Coyote Now Epic is highly influenced by traditional Plateau storytelling, particularly Mourning Dove’s anthology Coyote Stories. My projects often combine historical research, traditional forms, pop-culture, and conceptual art practices, linking them together to understand and unpack contemporary social issues.

Given your experiences working as an artist, arts administrator, and as curator, what do you think the role of art is in our contemporary society?

Art is a primary way that we process who we are as a society. It is a vital part of understanding and shaping ourselves and our world. I believe we should acknowledge the power of culture and responsibly contribute to its advancement, and that engaging with art creates opportunities for epiphany and fosters introspection and critical thinking. The art we create, consume, and support is at the same time a reflection of ourselves and a challenge to aspire to a different vision of who we can be.

About the artist:

A portrait of artist RYAN! Feddersen, seated at a computer workstation.
Courtesy of RYAN! Feddersen. Photo by Natali Wiseman

RYAN! Elizabeth Feddersen specializes in creating interactive murals, site-specific installations, and immersive public artworks that invite audience engagement. She received a Bachelor of Fine Arts at Cornish College of the Arts in 2009. Feddersen is an enrolled member of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, from the Okanogan and Arrow Lakes bands, and of mixed European decent. Recently, she received a National Fellowship from the Native Arts & Cultures Foundation, Visual Artist Fellowship from Artist Trust and completed permanent public artworks Synecdoche for the Burke Museum and NEXUS for the city of Tacoma. She has created site-specific pieces throughout North America, working with Seattle Office of Arts and Culture, the Museum of Art & History Santa Cruz, Seattle Art Museum, Alternator Centre, Missoula Art Museum, College of New Jersey, and Northeastern University, as well as curated exhibitions for the Burke Museum, Museum of Northwest Art, and Portland Art Museum.