Artist Interview: Cara Krebs

Sehnsuct: “the inconsolable longing in the human heart for we know not what”; a yearning for a far, familiar, non-earthly land one can identify as one’s home.

Cara Krebs is our current A-I-R Space Artist from our Artist in Residence Program. Sehnsuct is an exhibit of installations, sculptures, and materials that toy with displacement, perception, desire, and visceral reactions. This is a gallery of paradoxical worlds that hover over thresholds and create spaces of potential, the alien, and the familiar.


Cara Krebs’ background consists of painting and drawing—but also, perhaps more importantly, her curiosity and desire to combine and experiment with materials. “My aesthetic changed instantly when I decided to stop agonizing over figuring out why I should use a material or subject in my art before I included it,” says Krebs. Giving herself the freedom to “cram” everything she found interesting into her art, Krebs was able to truly begin creating spaces of illusion and representation that also invest in the viewer of her work. “The paintings were ‘worlds’ where I embedded the trinkets I found,” she says. “My hope is to bring audiences into liminal spaces, or in-between worlds. I’m interested in emotions that come from displacement, beauty, curiosity, and yearning. I hope they feel some sort of desire in response to some of the pieces, whether it be the desire to touch, be in a place, or pick up and have something they see.”

blob_front-lowrez Krebs credits a great deal of inspiration to trinkets and small objects that either no longer serve a purpose or don’t have an obvious purpose—such one of her favorite toys: an inflatable frog from an aquarium gift shop. “It was beautiful,” says Krebs. “Clear, filled with bright green soap. I wanted something that felt curious and beautiful like that. It needed to be something a person might like to possess, but also not indicate clearly why someone would want to possess it.” Other inspirations include computer desktop wallpaper, which make up the imagery inside each of her squishy paintings. “The colors are over-saturated, the locations are unapologetically gorgeous, and the photographers enhanced them to make them as beautiful as possible,” says Krebs. “I’m using these beautiful wallpapers to explore the juncture of beauty, desire, tackiness, and what’s not quite appropriate.”

In this particular show, Krebs has shown her ability to innovate as well as experiment with materials. On two sides of the exhibition are squishy, three-dimensional wall art filled with images from desktops. On the other side is a tall row of empty honey-bear jars. In front of that are plates and plates of colorful, wiggling, vibrating Jell-O sculptures. And in the other room is a water-and-light installation focused on a small inflatable with a mini desktop image. “The art in this show came either from long processes of experimentation or little things I noticed in everyday life that brought me joy. I searched for years for a material that was squishy, completely transparent, and relatively stable, like the material of sticky toy hands.” In her search for the perfect material, Krebs experimented with materials including, but not limited to, gelatin, silicone, melted gummy worms, “Craft Water,” and glycerin soap until, finally, she found what she had been looking for: synthetic ballistic gelatin.

By using this gelatin and many other materials, Krebs brings life to objects that would have otherwise been neglected or thrown away. The idea of giving life and a home to objects and materials, however, is no new revelation for Krebs. “I’ve always felt a strong empathy for inanimate objects,” she says. “When I was growing up, it seemed like objects would be emotionally hurt if I didn’t treat them well. Even though I understood they weren’t alive, they seemed to have a consciousness of what I was doing.” Krebs work brings objects to life in ways that are surprising and attractive. “Most people are curious. It’s easy to want to take a closer look at a weird jigging material as long as the attraction overcomes the fear or disgust.”

krebs-small-image-01For Krebs, fantasy goes beyond its typical definition. It has no end. “It’s everything because it can be anything,” she says. “If we can conceive of it, it exists somewhere, somehow.” For instance, she mentions that even a real location can be turned from the mundane to the fantasy—that it is possible to have nostalgia for a place you’ve never physically visited because you’ve already been there in your mind. Krebs thinks of Ecuador in this way, a place where her mother used to teach and tell stories about. “I felt nostalgia for a time period, location, and events that I never experienced in a place that I had never visited,” she says. “That type of longing is textbook sehnsuct.” Just as there is no limit to fantasy, Krebs argues that there is no limit to art. “Creating isn’t magicking something into existence from nothing,” she says. “It’s combining existing materials in new ways. There are infinite ways to combine the stuff around us and reexamine the world.”

What’s especially unique about Krebs’ work is that there aren’t many artists out there who have used the materials that she has quite in the same way. Krebs has, of course, been inspired by many artists such as David Altmejd’s installation The Fluxand the Puddle, Anish Kapoor’s petroleum jelly and red pigment train, Svayambh, and Jasper Johns’ Painting Bitten by a Man, but the majority of the time, Krebs’ inspiration comes from her daily experiences and art experiments. “I feel like a mad scientist half of the time,” she says. “My studio practice can feel like endless trial and mostly error. I’ve had to learn not just how to be a painter or sculptor, but a chemist, an engineer, an electrician, a chef, and an emergy response team from time to time, without any real training. It’s a blast to make my art!”

Krebs has been able to experiment at UMOCA as an artist in residence. “Having a studio right inside such an amazing museum has been very healthful for my work,” she says. “I felt like people were interested to see what I would make and invested in helping that happen. It was a different feeling than going to a studio I rented by myself with no one to care about anything I did.” Along the way, Krebs had the opportunity to meet visiting artists who sparked ideas here and there—and she could take those ideas and put them to use at UMOCA. “I loved the freedom to experiment that the residency offered me,” she says. “To see ideas that had been on the backburner for so long come together in a museum exhibition meant so much to me.”

Krebs also is our feature artist this month for Family Art Saturday. As an artist who creates pieces that are squishy and soft—and admired by so many children—I asked if she might share any thoughts or advice for future artists. “Never give up,” she says. “The difference between artists actively exhibiting their work and the ones who had to switch careers is that [the successful ones] pressed on when they failed. Everybody fails. The successful ones are just willing to never stop failing.” Krebs is taking her own advice by following her passions and listing clear goals for herself and her future. “Next I want to experiment with different ways to create ballistic gel paintings,” she says. “I’ve wanted to create a massive immersive installation for a while. It would be a dream to have a space, an empty building maybe, in which I could install something elaborate over a long period of time.”

Don’t miss Cara Krebs’ Sehnsuct in the A-I-R Space, closing on Oct 14.