Lisa KOKIN | Interview (Issue #51)

A Lisa Kokin interview held by Kontrat Magazine in 2017:

You worked with photos titled “Sewn found photos”, as you call them. Could you mention about them?

The sewn found photo series came about because I was going to local flea markets every weekend searching for materials for my work. I began to notice photos and photo albums for sale at the markets, and it made me sad to see that people’s precious memories were up for grabs alongside other secondhand merchandise.

My statement for the series reads, in part:

“I am intrigued with other people’s photographic recording of their lives both for the generic quality they possess — the family and social rituals, studio portraits, vacation shots — and for the feeling of sadness and nostalgia that acquiring other people’s memories provokes in me. I feel somehow that it should be illegal to own them, yet since they are for sale it might as well be me who buys them.”

I should mention at the outset that I am not a photographer. I am a mixed media artist with a conceptual approach. I use a wide variety of materials – whatever best conveys the ideas that I want to convey. When I discover a material that sparks something inside me, even if I don’t know exactly how I will use it, I try to acquire it. This was the case with the photos; I started to collect them and organize them and pretty soon I was sewing them together.

Sewing is the “thread,” (pardon the pun) that links together all of my distinct bodies of work. I am the daughter of upholsterers and I have used sewing in my work for decades.  I began stitching the photos together in two- and three-dimensional works, thereby creating a new story for the individuals whose lives were forgotten. At least that is how I rationalize using what for most people is a very precious and personal item.

When we look at your works connecting photos by sewing or by means of other materials, we think of the connections between them. What should we think about the conceptual dimension of your works?

The sewing is both a means of construction and a metaphor. It definitely is a connection, sometimes in the form of a web, among people who didn’t know each other in their actual lives but through the juxtaposition I create, are now linked visually to each other for the duration.

The work is open to a variety of interpretations, and I like that. It can be seen as a meditation on loss or impermanence, or ritual (the group photos the birthday party photos, the wedding photos, etc.) or the commonality among people of different ethnic groups and classes. Any and all of those descriptions apply, along with others that each viewer brings to the work.

Is artist or the art work more important?

Hopefully the art work will outlast the artist, so I would say the work is more important than the person who creates it.

Please mention about your latest works. How would you describe your works?

My latest work, which can be seen at

Involves the use of asemic text, or images that look like text but are really not readable.

The word “asemic” means “having no specific semantic content.” The Asemic series is the logical outgrowth of my previous series, Facsimile (, in which zipper fragments served as stand-ins for text. I have expanded my “writing” to now include a variety of common and domestic objects and materials on substrates as varied as linen, canvas and, most recently, industrial felt.

In this series I invent “words” and “languages” with materials that I naturally gravitate to: small domestic metal items, rusty metal fragments found on the street, safety pins, broken needles from the Facsimile project, and thread which I use in unruly bunches to accentuate its gestural quality. In making this work I realize how much I like using objects in ways they weren’t intended to be used, purely for the love of shape, form, juxtaposition and resonance.

Much of my previous work is rooted in specific content. This series has decided to be open to interpretation. Although I want to make work that comments on the world around me, I seem to be at a loss for words.

Could we have your futuristic ideas about the future of the art, if you have?

I really have no idea about the future of art. I am more preoccupied with the future of the earth, the destruction of the environment, global warming, the extinction of animal species and the constant wars and xenophobia that exist today. I spend a lot of time feeling existential angst about these things and not so much thinking about the future of art. I just want there to be a future!

What do you think about the concepts of Auteur and Originality?

I believe that originality is a relative term. I think that everyone is influenced by something and that originality is perhaps an outmoded term. Of course, I would like to think that my work is entirely original, but I know that there are other artists out there whose work resembles mine in some way.

I have made a lot of altered books using what is now called “erasure text,” deleting words and phrases from an already-existing text, with the words that are left forming an alternate and sometimes subversive text. I thought I had invented this, and then a friend sent me a copy of A Humument by Tom Phillips. It turned out that Phillips had done this type of alteration decades before I “invented” it. So much for originality. That said, the way I do it and the way he did it are different, so everyone has a slightly different and unique take on things even if something similar has been done before.

Lisa Kokin portfolio is here