Merrilee Challiss

Interview by Jonathan Patrick


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*Looking to a work in progress on one of Challiss' tables* This is Eostre? Or Ishtar?

Actually I was thinking of Artemis [of Ephesus]. I turned twenty-one while traveling in Turkey and spent my birthday walking among the ruins and viewing the statues in the museum in Ephesus. That experience affected me profoundly. She’s been popping up in my work for decades.

What brought you to depict her and these other women?

They represent goddess energy or Gaian energy. I feel like we all collectively need to inject our world, via whatever our individual sphere of influence is, with as much Gaian consciousness as possible. Cynicism, which we are swimming in, is just no longer an appropriate response to the many challenges we are facing. We are living through some crazy times there’s a lot of really heavy shit – and yet there is so much beauty. How do you not make art about this stuff?

What you mentioned about the need to depart from cynicism is interesting. It seems that with the internet age and the rate of the exchange of information these days that all of a sudden everyone's a smart ass. Cynicism and sarcasm seem to have lost their edge and meaning in a lot of ways.

I just don't think it’s particularly useful for solving problems.

Yea. It seems cynicism has done a lot of legwork as far as bringing us to certain realizations goes, but maybe in those areas where the battlefield has leveled out it's time to come together and start building upon those realizations.

I feel like we have to give up the notion of "battlefield", we have to give up the notion of dichotomy and otherness and separateness and nationhood. We are all one family, we are all one people. The separateness is an illusion.

Definitely. **Looking at "Do the Wetiko!"** Those indigenous vibes we talked about earlier are heavy in this piece. Would you elaborate?

Well, there's a lot of darkness in my work. Maybe you can see that, that I'm trying to balance the light and the dark in a way. This piece here is about the idea of Wetiko, a word I had never heard of before until last fall, and after the election it popped up and kept popping up again and again in my own little liberal-bubble echo-chamber of a feed, so I thought to investigate it a little further. It's a Native American term describing the psycho-spiritual disease of the West; that people who haven't faced their own shadow, or darkness, are the ones who are fucking shit up the worst right now, you know? (laughs). It's spreading like a virus, and cutting us off from interconnection. So we have to dissolve this otherness, the main message of the divine feminine. Otherwise we're all going to end up in World War III.

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Challiss' upcoming show, "Call of the Void" ("L'appel du vide"), opens Sept. 30th at Joy Gallery in San Francisco.