5 Questions with Artists Michael Cina and John Klukas

NYC-based photographer (and St. Paul native) John Klukas, and Minneapolis artist and designer Michael Cina began making album covers for the record label Ghostly International eight years ago. Later on, they decided to collaborate in a different way. The result: She Who Saw the Deep, a series of 16 mixed-media pieces, four aluminum-printed high-gloss reproductions, and two sculptures that recently opened at Public Functionary. The exhibit tells the story of a heroine’s psychological journey and is inspired by an ancient Mesopotamian poem.

1. What was your artistic vision for the body of work?
KLUKAS: I initially created a story about being overcome by darkness and emerging into light. A sort of cyclical death and rebirth. That thematic element was maintained throughout our collaboration, but Mike’s painting helped to expand on that narrative and ensure it was present it in each individual piece, as well as in the series as a whole.

2. How did the “Epic of Gilgamesh” inspire the series?
CINA: The story came later in the process. We needed something to express the subject matter that was contained in the images. Our main themes were the circle of light and darkness, rebirth, and life’s journey. This story had all of those elements, and it happened to be the oldest recorded story. We switched the hero of the story to fit the strong female role. 

3. Describe your work process for this exhibit.
KLUKAS: I sent Mike batches of photos. He reacted to the photos with paintings and then used digital tools to merge the painting and photography. He sent the merged images back to me and we talked about them and I might have removed or changed elements of the paintings. Then I sent them back and he edited them further, often introducing new elements. We went back and forth numerous times for each piece. Sometimes we ended up with 25 or more versions before we finally had one we both agreed upon. Based on how he had reacted to the previous batch of images, I selected the next images to send him. When we agreed that an image was done, I printed it out and sent it to him. From there, he went over it again with more paint and markings so that each one was unique.

4. Who do you expect to really enjoy the exhibit?
CINA: The opening was very diverse. I spoke to people in their 70’s to college-aged kids of different races. I think there is a strong visual narrative that invites to the viewer to take part and see a part of themselves through the work. So many people related to it in a strong way, and that is how I judged its success.

5. If you could describe the exhibition in one word, what would it be?
KLUKAS: Renewal.
CINA: Passionate.

The exhibition goes until July 13, and Cina predicts its next stop to be the Big Apple–so see it here first.

Public Functionary, 1400 12th Ave. NE, Mpls, 612-238-9523, publicfunctionary.org