Studio Visit: Monica Canilao Makes Immersive Installations from Scavenged Treasures

As part of our ongoing partnership with In The Make, Beautiful/Decay is sharing a studio visit with artist Monica Canilao. See the full studio visit and interview with Monica and other West Coast artists at

Monica’s studio is in a huge space in Oakland shared by other artists, performers, and musicians that together have created quite a vibrant, enterprising community. In order to get to her studio we had to go up a set of stairs and climb through an entryway draped with layers of fabric, which then opens up into an attic-like room where Monica works. Crawling through that entryway was like moving through a space-time portal and getting dropped into a fantasy world that can only be described as a mash-up of my glamorous grandmother’s closet and the treasure trove of those renegade dwarves in the movie Time Bandits. I was a bit dumbstruck, to be honest. It took me a minute to gather my wits and to begin speaking in full sentences again, instead of just “oohing” and “aahing” and pointing at things. As we settled in, Monica made us delicious “cowboy coffee” in her makeshift kitchen, and then we got to talking. Essentially, Monica is a doer and not much of a talker— don’t get me wrong, she likes to chat it up, but she doesn’t seem that comfortable discussing ideas head-on, instead she expresses herself anecdotally, weaving stories in and out of conversation, letting you read what may or may not be between the lines. She likes to keep her hands busy and her body moving; she’s definitely action-oriented and is all about joining forces with other artists. When we visited Monica she was busy installing work for her collaborative show with her good friend and fellow artist Bunnie Reiss at Lopo Gallery, and so we visited her at the gallery, too. The work there was truly collaborative, and spoke to what Monica is all about— shared experiences, the re-telling and re-shaping of stories, found materials, and the power of visual terminology.

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As part of our ongoing partnership with In The Make, Beautiful/Decay is sharing a studio visit with artist Annie Vought. See the full studio visit and interview with Annie and other West Coast artists at

Often on our way to studio visits or coming back from them, Klea and I will get into big, questioning conversations about life. I know that sounds a little cheesy, but it’s true. In part, I think it’s because we are either warming up for or winding down from encounters that frequently take on a philosophical, ruminative tone. It’s also just how we like to talk to each other. As we drove across the bridge to Annie’s North Oakland home and studio (where she lives with her lover, performance artist Scott V.) we were having one of these conversations— specifically about secrets and how everyone has them. Our car-ride conversation wasn’t about Annie’s art, but about halfway through our visit with her it dawned on me that unintentionally it was a very apt preface to her work. Annie takes fragments of written correspondence – from handwritten letters to text messages – that she has found, received, or written, enlarges and reworks the text on large paper, and then meticulously goes about removing the negative spaces with an X-acto knife. Because of the precision involved, Annie changes her X-acto blade after every five or six cuts, so she can easily go through close to 500 blades just to finish one piece. When I asked Annie how she goes about choosing her source material, she said she’s most interested in text that reveals “those in between moments” of humanity and language in which she can identify subtext — typical and commonplace communications at first glance, but that somehow express a human frailty and an underlying element of truth. We talked about how personal many of these correspondences are, and her willingness to expose herself and others through them. So much is revealed inadvertently— in hesitant language, in the pauses and empty silences between words, in muddled expressions, and overwrought sentences, and it’s these details that Annie seems to be after in her work. As we sat out in Annie’s lovely garden talking, with her big dog Moses lazing nearby in the sun, I kept thinking about how full of secrets we all are and what rich and complex inner lives we lead. And yet we can’t help but lay ourselves bare through language, in everything we say and everything we leave unsaid.

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Studio Visit: Chris Fraser’s Otherworldly Light Installations

As part of our ongoing partnership with In The Make, Beautiful/Decay is sharing a studio visit with installation artist Chris Fraser. See the full studio visit and interview with Chris  and other West Coast artists at

When we visited Oakland-based artist Chris Fraser at his studio at Real Time & Space he first asked us to take off our shoes, then he turned off the lights. All of sudden, as I stood staring at a blank wall, feeling vulnerable in my not so glamorous socks, a bit of magic happened. Sharp lines of light cut through the darkness, drawing out a luminescent triangle where seconds ago there had only been an empty corner and bare walls. I moved closer. The dark room seemed infinite and the glowing triangle like a doorway. I had the urge to walk through it and the sense that I actually could, and that something extraordinary was on the other side.

Many of Chris’s site-specific projects are interventions into already existent architectural spaces in which he uses straightforward techniques to create unexpected optical experiences. Essentially, he employs the principle of the camera obscura to manipulate the way light enters a room. By strategically creating holes and slits in walls, he is able to coax and direct light into specific directions and shapes, transforming once familiar surroundings into fantastical, poignant spaces.

Experimentation is key to Chris’s process, and he thrives off the chance to create within different environments. Earlier this year, he had the opportunity to work in two distinctive spaces: a small box-like room at Real Time & Space, where he was an artist-in-residence, and the dining room in a soon to be demolished house in Cow Hollow that was opened up to multiple artists for Highlight Gallery‘s inaugural site-specific project, 3020 Laguna Street in Exitum. In Chris’s careful hands both rooms were reimagined, becoming portals to another world.