Tactile: new works by Alexis Kraus

Alexis Kraus
Alexis Kraus

fields is excited to host its first art show, Tactile: new works by Alexis Kraus. Alexis is an Austin-based designer, and Tactile is a collection of her laser-cut books and posters designed for viewer interaction. We spoke with Alexis about her work and the inspiration behind this show. We hope you will join us for the event on November 14, from 7-10pm. It will take place at 704 E. 49th St., Unit A, in Austin, Texas. Light snacks and drinks will be provided, including free beer courtesy Her Ladyship Productions. More information can be found on our Facebook page.

What inspired you to first begin making laser-cut posters?

AK: While I was in grad school for design at UT, I needed to laser cut something for a project. We have laser cutters at UT, but I couldn’t get the access I needed for the amount of work I needed to do, and I didn’t want to be competing with undergrads for access to the machines [laughing]. So I took a workshop at MakeATX—they require you to take a workshop before you can become a member and use their machines. I was debating whether I wanted to sign up and become a member, and I ended up doing it. That was two years ago... I graduated from grad school in 2014, and I just kept my membership and started making more of my own work there. It started out as a great way to prototype little things out of plastic and paper and wood. Making artwork with the laser cutter was a hobby at first, but I got a little more serious about it when people started requesting certain things, like maps of Austin. I was like “Okay, I can do that,” and I set up an Etsy store to sell some things. I thought it was a fun hobby, and I have a background in printmaking, so I’m used to working with paper… I love working with paper and wood and with my hands. I’m a designer, so I love posters and books as art objects. So, I just started making things for myself, and people really liked them, they said that I should make more. So I just kept my membership, and it’s been like two years now. It’s a really fun studio co-op—I’ve learned so much from the other members about laser cutting and paper and wood arts, and I love that Austin has resources like this. You can’t get access to a laser cutter in Memphis, where I’m from. But Austin has Tech Shop, MakeATX, and other little printmaking and woodworking workshops, and I think that’s really awesome.

Why do you want viewers to touch your art?

AK: That’s a good question. Again, referencing some things that I was working on at UT: I became interested in systems of learning and how people learn differently. Traditionally, you just listen to somebody talk, and that’s how you’re supposed to absorb things. But I’m obviously a visual person, so I’m more interested in more multi-modal experiences. Any way that you can interact with the thing that you’re learning about is more interesting to me, like through a game or something. So, I touched on this a little bit with my work at UT, but I was more focused on education. I started reading about museums, and how in a way, it’s an exclusive experience: you walk in and you look at things. That’s how people interact with art, and that’s how people are supposed to observe that piece of culture. And I don’t know how I feel about that. A lot of young people don’t really go to museums, and I think that’s really sad—that’s such a huge part of culture and history. How we got to where we are, I think that art has been a huge catalyst for a lot of things. And for people to feel excluded from that, I don’t really like. I went to art school for printmaking, so I was used to looking at works on paper in a very sterile environment, where they don’t even put the works out—they’re kept away in an archive and you have to ask to see them. And even then, you can’t get too close to them, or breathe too hard, because it might destroy the paper. And I hate that. I love old Japanese prints, for example, and they’re so delicate that you can’t even look at them—they’re so fragile and delicate that they have to stay in these archives. And yes, when you touch paper, you’re changing it. And okay, I’m making works on paper, and people are going to touch them, so they’re not going to be as “special” or whatever in 500 years, or however long it takes for paper to degrade. But that, to me, is less important than giving people an experience that they can enjoy and learn from.

Are there any experiences that you think the viewer should take away, by interacting with your art?

AK: I just want people to come out of their comfort zone. I think you’ll see in the titles that I’ve given the works that there are a few pieces that are meant to make you feel slightly uncomfortable. And that goes with the premise that you’re walking into a place with art, and usually the only rule is “Don’t touch it.” So yeah—this show is trying to subvert that. A lot of these pieces are interesting to look at, too, and of course you’re meant to look at them. But there are things about these posters and books that you can’t really appreciate until you touch the paper, because there are different manipulations that I’ve created with the laser cutter.

How do you go about deciding which patterns or images you want to use?

AK: So the book component was actually how I did that. In printmaking or drawing, artists will often have a mark-making sketchbook, and I did that with the two Tactile books. Each page has a different manipulation, and I used that as a sketchbook to figure out what I can do and what looks good, and what also is interesting to touch. So yeah, I created the books to give me ideas for the other pieces.

Interview by Sean Redmond.