I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Julia Caston, a master’s student in the Art program here at UNCG. Her work mainly focuses on interactive art, which challenges viewers because, in Caston’s words, “It takes the viewer’s interaction and makes that in into the ‘art’ featured in the piece.”
Her work aims to bring social economic inequalities to the forefronts of viewers minds and encourages conversation surrounding those issues. The first question that I asked her was, “What would you say is your favorite medium?” She told me that her favorite medium is socially interactive art, because it “turns human interaction and introspection into the focal point of the piece.”
In September of 2016, Caston worked on an interactive think piece, called ‘Privilege Coffee,’ which operated as a pop-up shop where customers fill out cards denoting which privileges that they may have benefited from throughout their lives. The piece went further than general measures of privilege, which usually lie along race and gender lines. With categories like “did you have a happy childhood?” and “do you perform to most of the expectations of your gender?”, the pop-up shop would tally customer’s self reported privileges and higher scores would indicate a larger size of coffee cup.
Julia framed the work like this, “The piece didn’t aim to shame anyone in particular, the point was for the customers to have a simplified conversation about privilege.” The three most common privileges were being American, able-bodied and cisgender. Customers also asked to pick the one privilege which has made their life the easiest, to go into the tip jar. We went over my privileges as a straight black cisgender male. She decided that I’d receive a medium cup of coffee, as I am gender-conforming, able-bodied, with a mostly happy childhood.
Another one of her interactive pieces that we talked about at length was the ‘Minneapolis Art Lending Library,’ which Julia co-founded and helped run from 2013 to 2015. She said that “ the library functioned to make art and owning art more accessible to those who couldn’t necessarily curate a gallery.” Caston went on to say. “Being able to own pieces of art can be very important because it makes art more tangible and attainable, rather than being some abstract thing.”
The project initially operated out of an apartment, and is now a nonprofit organization with over 100 pieces in its assemblage that patrons can borrow for two months at a time free of charge, representing local and national artists.
We also spoke on how the current political climate will affect the arts and people’s exposure to them. When asked, Caston said, “I think in places that already have good reliable arts funding like [her hometown] Minneapolis, there isn’t much worry about access to arts funding, but places that draw from federal backing to support their art communities may struggle.” She went on to say, “I think it is indicative of the people in power and how they want to govern people, that they are cutting as much funding from the arts in so many places as they are.”
During the spring of 2016, Caston presented an interactive piece called ‘This Is My Day Job,’ where participants traded drawings created with art supplies which Julia provided, in exchange for a cup of coffee or tea. The catch to the piece was that the patrons had to give up artistic ownership of their creations. Julia was allowed to reject pieces or ask for alterations before she would accept them. This juxtaposed the position of the patrons, as they were forced to adhere to the rules of selling art and felt firsthand how it feels to sell something that you’ve developed an artistic connection to, even if they had just scrawled it on a scrap piece of paper.
Getting to interview Julia was a wonderful opportunity. Julia’s MFA Thesis, ‘Let’s Talk Over Coffee,’ which will premiered last Saturday the at the Greensboro Project Space. You can find her work, or contact her on her website, http://www.juliacastonart.com.