Allison Tanenhaus

by Nisha Btesh July 15, 2020

Allison Tanenhaus

Tell us a little bit about what drew you to your medium. Did you choose to work with said medium or did it choose you?

I came upon my medium (glitch art) completely by happenstance. My first major medium was writing, which led me to create typographic street art (and later, cat stickers!). This was in the early days of Instagram, so I researched different apps to jazz up my images for posting. 

Among the batch of apps I experimented with was Glitché. I didn’t have any particular outcome I was seeking, but I was quickly entranced with how completely I could transform my work from recognizable representation to psychedelic abstraction. Add in the fact that I could do everything on my phone, and I was hooked!

A lot of women believe they need formal training in order to succeed as a female artist. What’s your take? Did you have a formal education or are you self taught?

I (sadly!) completely relate to this misconception. Early in life I was pigeonholed as a writer, so while I did dabble in other art forms (including fashion design), it always felt conditional—”I’m a writer, so I’m not really doing this.” Or “I’m not actually an artist, so it’s OK that I’m not very good.” I placed limitations on myself, simply because of lack of training, rather than fully realizing aspirations.

Creating glitch art on my phone changed that. While I started out doing it just for fun, discovering that I had a knack for it led me to grow more confident and ambitious. There’s an ethos of embracing experimentation and error that I really vibed with—similar to the democratic nature of street art. If you want to do it, you do it. And you do it your own way, in venues and formats that are open to you (in this case, the streets and your phone).

That said, I initially shied away from telling people that I created my work on my phone—it felt unprofessional. But the matter of how accessible the art form is holds a special allure for me, and I felt disingenuous holding that back. Now that I am forthright about my methods, I’ve been delighted to discover that not only do people not look down on them, they are appreciative of them, too!

Even though I am proud of teaching myself, I am passionate about expanding the practice and bringing in even more participants—particularly those who believe they don’t have the capacity to create visual art. 

To wit, I was fortunate enough to be awarded a Visual Art Fellowship in 2019, for which I created a Virtual Artist Talk + Digital Workshop as my Community Benefit project. My hope is that I can lower the bar to entry to expand the art form to all.

What do you want the younger female artists coming up behind you to know about you, your journey, and the art industry in general?

Accepting feedback and requests from clients with an open mind, not beating myself up by comparing myself to others, being genuinely appreciative for opportunities, and sincerely caring about others has opened up the art world to me (and the world in general).

So much of my “networking” has simply been making friends, boosting creatives I admire, and bringing other local artists along with me through collaborations, group shows, or referrals.

Maintaining humility for yourself—and supportive compassion for others—is not only a more satisfying way to build an arts career, it’s a more sustainable and equitable one, too.

What is your biggest focus and/or goal in your career right now? What plans do you have for yourself 1, 3, 5 years from now?

I began my glitch trajectory with still imagery, but I’m really excited to dive deeper into video art and animation

Looping in collaboration is a direction I’m particularly passionate about. Recently I’ve been creating music videos (for The Square Root of Negative Two and Maria Finkelmeier) and album art (for Doug Bielmeier). Merging our time-based mediums has been so gratifying—it truly takes my work to the next level, and it’s way more fun to promote something when I know it isn’t all about me.  :)

Another major collaboration has been my work with Ben K. Foley. He specializes in creating physical constructions that play with perception and optical illusions. We’ve teamed up on some of my absolute favorite projects—like “Glitchfield,” an infinity mirror box that Ben built, which featured my kaleidoscopic glitch videos projected into it—and are working on making our partnership official under the name bent/haus.

Looking forward, I’m hoping to progress with more large-scale installations with Ben, additional music collabs, and more large-scale solo installations like building wraps and environmental art. Basically, I’m trying to stretch my legs in both the digital and physical realms, so I can keep learning, exploring, and making an immersive impact!

What's the best advice you've ever been given?

One of the most important people in my life—electronic musician Robin Amos—gave me just the confidence boost I needed when he shared his p.o.v. that the gatekeeping for self-expression is horse puckey; that doing something makes you that thing, and you don’t need to rely on some other authority to self-identify. So if you write, you’re a writer. If you make art, you’re an artist. That’s it.

Internalizing that revelation mercifully ripped away the intimidating artifice of art snobbery in my mind, leading me to be more fearless and determined in my own path, without worrying what “the art world” might think.

Name 3 artists you would like to see featured on Hola Gwapa next and what you love about them.

  1. Alex Kittle: She’s an extraordinarily talented artist who makes pop-culture portraits and zines about women in the arts, particularly musicians and filmmakers. She also co-runs a film club called “Strictly Brohibited” that screens movies directed or written by women, in a group setting without cisgender males, so everyone else can feel comfortable and welcome. We’ve teamed up on a bunch of projects—with her drawing portraits, which I mix with my glitch art backgrounds—and it’s always such a joy. 
  1. Sarah Gay O’Neill: She creates wondrously expressive paintings and drawings that incorporate an intoxicating blend of colors, on themes like social justice, women’s health, and the power of nature. She pours her heart into every line and stroke, and her work brims with loving meaningful energy that can be absorbed on many levels.
  1. Cicely Carew: She creates massive prints, paintings, and sculptures that meld so many elements, it blows my mind! But they always feel equally grounded and transcendent. Her mastery of color, form, and airy physicality is truly something to behold. See her work in person if you can! It’s a memorable and invigorating experience.

If you had to give a 30 min. speech without preparing to an audience of 1,000, what would it be on?

I love promoting other artists, so I could talk for hours hyping up all the cool creatives I’m lucky to know (or know about)!

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Nisha Btesh
Nisha Btesh

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