Bethany Shorb Rewrites The Palimpsest

“I, was born in Boston, raised an hour from New York City and now call Detroit, Michigan home. I’m proud of and love my adopted city of over 11 years. I’m happy to see young artists and entrepreneurs making it a viable home-base for a new wave of independent, sustainable manufacturing and I’m proud to be able to give a leg up to some young artists via time in my studio.

I received a BFA from Boston University and my MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art – although both concentrations were in sculpture, somehow making “Ties That Don’t Suck” has taken over my life! In my not-so-spare time, I still explore studio art work, fashion, graphic design, photography, multimedia and music. I have a minor (ok, major) obsession with cats.” -Bethany Shorb

Q: 323 East was the site of one of your earliest (and most successful) solo efforts. What may we expect this time?

A: Thank you. I have a lot of love for 323 East, 1xRun, and all the work they’re doing in the city and the surrounding metro area. That hometown solo-show was a good kick in the pants to get back to making artwork again, instead of just product design. I’m still working with some of the same “Crash” themes as my previous show, but this time also revisiting some of the more traditional and not-so-traditional sculptural materials I worked with about a decade ago — elements I was specifically told *not to* use while in grad school. I listened for about a decade, but I’m over that now and finally feel like I’m making the work that I’ve wanted to make for a long time, but didn’t have the cojones to.
The working title of the show is “Palimpsest,” speaking to both the literal definition of the word with it’s reference to onion-skinned layers of degraded, fragmented text on animal skin as well as it’s applied meanings to medicine (a type of amnesia or memory-writing anomaly) and architecture (the ghosted, outlines of roofs that still remain when buildings have been torn down).
I’m a materialist at heart. In my newest work, I’ve been making rigid constructions in welded steel combined with more amorphous shapes in skin preserved via a DIY tanning process. Yes, real skin! I learned how to use sausage casing as an art material in 1996 when I was working as an artist’s assistant at a studio just outside of Boston. I swore that if I ever “made it” as an artist and could employ my own assistants (and golly, now I have a small army!), I’d never, ever, ever make them do this. It’s gross. Foul. Vile. Nasty. I’ve stuck to my word and no helper has ever been made to soak and scrub a single length of fatty, poopy, gut. Did I mention it is nasty? It’s really nasty. These are bigger and nastier than the thin sausage casings – we have a plentiful abundance of chit’lins out here and they’re much more…visceral. Anyway, aside from it’s gamey, animal muskiness after having spent it’s entire life as a literal container of crap — just work a little home-brewed-chemistry, let it dry and put some light behind it and it’s one of the most beautiful materials you’ve ever seen. Really!

Q: You participated in MakerFaire this year. How did that go? And for the benefit of some of those who may not know,what is Maker Faire?

A: Maker Faire Detroit is always a great experience. It takes place annually at The Henry Ford Museum. Simply, it is a two-day, science-fair-esque festival celebrating Maker Culture. WTF is Maker Culture? Some might call it shop class with a heaping-spoonful of nerdery; it’s the act of making something with your own two hands or own two brain cells – often based on trade, craft or engineering skills. Both kids and adults show off their projects – from mind-controlled flamethrowers to giant synthesizers to souped-up kids’ Powerwheels cars to blacksmithing. This year in addition to bringing out a metric ton of screen printed neckties for fun and profit, we demonstrated waster-based printing and allowed attendees to make their own commemorative posters. Maker Faire champions DIY culture, so this time we really wanted to not only show what we do in the studio, but have them actually participate in the process.

Q: Are you still involved with CyberOptix?

A: Yes, I’m still Head-Honcho-Control-Freak-in-Charge, still the only screen printer, and have printed well over 100,000 neckties all by hand. That’s a lot of printing, and a lot of neckties. I can bend steel with my bare hands at this point. Today we shipped parcel number 28,159 and have landed packages on all seven continents – I think we’re single-handedly keeping the Postal Service in business sometimes.

Q: You’re not a native Detroiter, but you have your feet planted pretty firmly now. What excites you most at present? What do you think of the Detroit Beautification Project, for instance?
A: It is my adopted home, I’m not going anywhere. It may sound frivolous, but I’m excited by the simple pleasure/creature comfort of having more than one independent place to get *good* coffee or food. There were more than a few tumbleweeds when I moved here 13 years ago. Aside from just culinary delights, things have changed dramatically. Tangentially – there seems to be a critical mass of people making things, doing things, creating an exciting wealth of energy, especially in Eastern Market (with the Shed restoration, Signal Return, Beautification Project, OmniCorp Detroit and The Red Bull House of Art) – I think we’re all inspired, motivated feeding off that and working at a stronger level, collectively. Maybe even a little competitive! We just participated in “Eastern Market After Dark” — the first open studios in over a decade, and the turnout was incredible. Detroit is a unique place where you can monastically hunker down in your studio, not bathe for a week, not change your clothes and subsist on bad takeout and no one will really notice you’re gone – but over the last few years we have more of a choice to have social interaction should we so desire. Artists need that ability to turn off and drop out into his or her own work, or get a jolt of stimulation from the outside if the studio-life is feeling stale.

Q: You’re a popular DJ and a popular artist working in several mediums. How does one complement the other?

A: This nerd in school questions “popular,” but hey if you insist! They do complement each other well, but result in little sleep and a very messy studio. On a technical level, dj mixing/performing relaxes me, and few things in the world do that. I don’t use mixing software that is capable of “doing it for you,” there’s no auto-sync button in my rig — something about seeing a visual waveform and simultaneously hearing the product of that visualization and resultant crowd response shuts off all the other things in my brain that are always clamoring for attention – it allows me to live in the present moment like nothing else. Recently I wrote an article for Herman Miller on how both art-life and music-life intersect: I love it when music makes my hair stand on end. If just once, something I create whether it be a product design, piece of music, or visual art object – could elicit that sensation from a viewer or listener, I feel like I have done my job as an artist.
– 323East + 1xRUN