Local Arts

KNOW: At reopening Mint, ‘I like to call myself a “type A” artist’

Meredith Connelly
Meredith Connelly Kat Barnes

“Mainframe” is the third annual juried art show from YAM, the Young Affiliates of the Mint. Postponed by Hurricane Florence, along with the rest of the Mint Museum Uptown’s reopening-after-renovation events (check the museum site for new dates), it aims to look at the role of tech in society and will feature more than a dozen artists. Among them: Cornelius’s Meredith Connelly, with her installation “Synapse.” Connelly, 33, graduated from UNC Wilmington with a degree in studio art and for the past seven years has worked with lighting and technology, incorporating interactive elements. “Synapse” was created on site, for its specific space. She answered a few questions for the Observer’s new KNOW series; they’ve been edited for clarity and brevity.

Is there a specific career moment that makes you proud? I recall creating my first site-based work, when I was about 20. I was very shy about sharing my work and almost didn’t go through with it but entered the piece in an all-student show. It was the first time I had worked with wax paper and I even designed the work around lighting installed in the space, vs. wiring and weaving my own lighting. I won best in show, and at the time I wasn’t even calling myself an artist. Looking back, that project marked a significant shift in my process, the beginning of my experimentation with technology and nontraditional materials, and where I found my own artistic voice.

meredith connelly work mint yam UMBRA II
Meredith Connelly uses lighting and unconventional materials in her work, such as “Umbra II”; her installation for “Mainframe” was designed for the space and is titled “Synapse.” Brandon Scott

What’s something about you that would surprise people who know you or your work? I think there is that age-old stereotype that artists are disorganized and flaky ... and I am, when it comes to the location of my car keys and phone. But I’m actually very particular when I am preparing for an install or beginning a new project in my studio. I like to call myself a “type A” artist, which does sound like an oxymoron. I operate best off of checklists, need my space tidy and like to have everything in its place. That being said, I also jam to Radiohead and diffuse lavender oil while working. So it’s all about balance.

What’s a career obstacle you had to overcome? I was a single mom at age 19 and worked multiple jobs to get through college. At times it was overwhelming, but it was also a huge motivator for me to keep pushing forward. I wanted to show my daughter that no matter your circumstance, hard work will lead you to your goals and help you surpass them.

What inspired you to do this work? My installation, “Synapse,” was inspired by the Mainframe exhibition concept. The brain is the mainframe of our body, and it holds hundreds of trillions of synapses. These synapses are the spaces between nerve cells and the carriers of electrical impulses, which are messages that allow us to perceive our environment. Conceptually, my sculptural form parallels the shape of dendrites or axons in the human brain. Because the viewer (can) interact with and walk underneath my installation, I consider the “synapse” the space between the viewer and the sculpture, and the symbiotic electricity that simultaneously runs through the work via a power source, while presenting itself in the form of impulses the viewer is firing as he/she interacts with the piece.

Who’s someone we should keep an eye on? I recently came across the work of Stella Hyewon Yang via Instagram, and I legitimately had an art nerd moment. Her work is spectacular in my opinion. I love her use of materials and emphasis on texture. Like myself, she is also inspired by little findings in nature. You might see her ArtPop billboard while driving around Charlotte. Stella, if you’re reading this, let’s have tea and go take pictures of lichen.

View Mainframe for free on Wednesdays and Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Oct. 17 in the Level Five expansion space of the Mint uptown.