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Margaux Crump

Margaux Crump, MFA ’15, was one of three recipients of the 2022 Stone & DeGuire Contemporary Art Award. In this Q&A, she recounts her creative practice, time at WashU, and projects mounted with support from the award.

Q&A from October 2023

How do you define your practice?
I’m an interdisciplinary artist. I really love exploring the relationships between ecologies, spirituality, folklore — what we might call magic and science — and how they intermingle. My practice utilizes a lot of natural materials and mostly comes into form through sculpture, photography, a little painting and drawing, and some ritual work.

How has your practice evolved since your time at WashU?
During my years at WashU, I was really interested in power dynamics, sexuality, the body. So that’s shifted towards a research-driven interest into myth, esotericism, and ecology.

I say pretty frequently now that I’m living my best four-year-old life, because I’ve been looking through the sketchbooks I had as a child — my mother is an artist so I’ve always had a sketchbook — and what I was interested in then and as a teenager is what I’m working on now. I had to do some important work to be able to circle back to these interests, and it’s incredible to get back to them. I came to Earth with my innate interests very intact, and now I’m exploring them with a more experienced perspective.

Was there a moment when you realized you had an interest in the magical and the mystical?
It was a few years after I finished at WashU. I had been keeping that aspect of my spiritual practice quiet and was feeling very uncertain about how to bridge the gap between those parts of my life. Then, in 2018, I had a solo show at Women & Their Work in Austin, Texas. I hadn’t realized that that part of me was bleeding into the work — but someone working on the show turned to me as I was installing and said that they were interested in how much spiritual practice and magic was present. I remember thinking, “Oh no, I’ve been seen!” That was a real turning point, and I realized that I needed to find the courage to bring those aspects of myself together.

In what you write about your work, you often mention making the invisible visible. What does that mean to you?
Well, we never really make it visible, so it’s more the way of imagining and working. One of my true interests is activating both my and the viewer’s imagination, where we can play together and have a joint visioning experience where we’re really seeing into this other world. What does that look like on paper, as a portal for the viewer to go through within their own mind and consciousness, to play with that idea for themselves?

It’s a similar thing with the cloud chamber — though even in that, we’re not seeing the actual particles, but their movement. There’s still this veil between us and we never really see the thing. We’re just becoming more aware of the invisible’s presence.

Margaux Crump, “What the Stone Saw” (Photo courtesy of the artist)

What’s important about someone gaining that awareness of the invisible?
I’m asking people to open themselves more, to be more imaginative, to have a more expanded way of being in the world, or even begin to consider it. I hope that it opens the possibilities for people to see the world and all the things that make up the world around us — even things that we often consider lifeless, like rocks — to be vibrant, animate, and interesting.

There’s also a little humor every now and then in the work, so play and a sense of wonder is also important. I hope people can go on their own journey with it.

Let’s get into the projects you did with your Stone & DeGuire Award. In your proposal, you explained that for your series, “Quantum Conversations,” you needed to build a cloud chamber beyond a prototype and into a reliable model. First, what is a cloud chamber? And, how did the model turn out?
A cloud chamber is basically a way to visualize all the cosmic rays passing around and through us. They’re everywhere, and we don’t really know where they all come from — we think some come from the sun and others from black holes. They’re very mysterious.

Today, there are digital chambers, but I chose to build an old-school one that is basically a vapor chamber, a very cold base, high-percentage alcohol, and humidity. The alcohol condenses into a cloud, and you’re able to see the movement of the rays passing through the chamber. The best way to describe it is like seeing the wake from a boat — you’re not seeing the rays themselves, but their trails.

Building the chamber took a few iterations, and figuring out the light was difficult, but I got it in the end! It’s amazing and mesmerizing. It’s so much more amazing in person; I could sit in front of one for hours. It triggered a shift in my work, too. I found myself getting so entranced that I’d go into a meditative state while watching, and I ended up writing poems. I don’t intend to share the poems in written form, but I’m very interested in creating an installation with videos and small voices coming into the space, sort of an assemblage of sound and light that mimics the feeling of watching the cloud chamber.

The cloud chamber wasn’t your only piece that made use of traditionally scientific tools. You also worked with a microscope for your series, “As Above, So Below.” Tell us about that.
This was one of the hardest things I’ve done in a while. It started when I became incredibly interested in how we can visualize the world that’s beneath our feet. There are amazing, vibrant worlds right there, but it’s not like we can stick our faces in the soil and open our eyes. There’s something really evocative about that — we rely on everything in that soil for our survival, but we can’t see it easily.

Recently, I’d seen a picture from a dark-field microscope for the first time. I was used to seeing that bright white background that we’re all familiar with, but there was something about the dark field that reminded me of space. The Stone & DeGuire award made it possible for me to have crazy ideas like, “I should buy a microscope!” and then be able to do it — not sit around and wonder, just get the equipment I need and find folks who had the expertise I was looking for. It allowed me to be uninhibited and to follow the breadcrumbs.

For “As Above, So Below,” I actually started looking at water samples, and then branched out into soil. The images looked like starscapes, and I wanted to create a relationship between the place I found the sample and the sky above. I paired them in diptychs, and am still working on those.

Margaux Crump, “Can You Hear Me” (Photo courtesy of the artist)

Similar to soil, you have an interest in rocks, particularly hagstones. What sort of work did you do that led to “What the Stone Saw”?
I’m so drawn to hagstones, which are rocks with a naturally formed hole that you can see through. They have a lot of folklore attached to them and are often considered windows to the otherworld. For “What the Stone Saw,” I used very tiny hagstones as the apertures for pinhole cameras to create solargraphs. The shortest exposure I did was a day, and the longest was nearly two months.

Very weird and exciting things start to happen with these — there was a steep learning curve, but it often turned out more flexible than I would have thought. For instance, while the paper I used was black and white photo paper, and because it gets overexposed, you end up getting color out of black and white. For these works, I didn’t change the colors at all, it’s all what appeared independently.

You’re really exploring a lot of mediums — any others you want to mention?
I started painting in gouache and watercolor, which I really did not see coming. I’m currently working on painting a tarot deck.

I’ve also gotten into scent as an artform. I was invited to be in an exhibition at a gallery in New York called Olfactory Art Keller. I had never done scent work before, but it was always something I’d been interested in, even when I was at WashU, so I said yes. I had never devoted the time before, but this forced me to, and I’m addicted, I love it so much. Right now, I’m working on a piece where I’m exploring how scent can trigger a memory, and how it might be able to trigger a scent from a dream and act like a portal back to dream space.

What inspires you to keep making? Definitely folklore — grimoires, old herbal texts, and medieval illuminated manuscripts. I’m very interested in the technology we use over time to communicate about the invisible, things that scientists and spiritualists have used to make more concrete all these phenomena. The visual language of objects — especially stones! — is so inspiring to me. I’m very curious about how we visualize the universe. I live and breathe that stuff and it all filters into my work. I have a really research-based practice, and I love making connections between all these little things. There are so many ways that we receive knowledge, I think it’s important to lean into how we receive it and remain open to new perspectives.

07 margaux crump death


09 margaux crump smells for protection hi res

Smells for Protection

02 margaux crump for seeing neither here nor elsewhere hi res

For Seeing Neither Here or Elsewhere

05 margaux crump what the stone saw 2

What the Stone Saw 2

06 margaux crump as above so below framed vertical

As Above, so Below