In a personal and thoughtful dissection of life below the poverty line, Mollie Schaidt‘s ongoing project, When Pigs Fly, serves as a discourse on the perpetuity of poverty and its often unseen consequences. She enables the viewer to see deprivation and addiction through a nuanced lens, blending photography and mixed mediums to portray both her own experiences and those observed from an intimate third-person perspective.
Doria Wohler: What made you decide to pursue an art career? How did you end up finding your way to Temple/Philadelphia?
Mollie Schaidt: I like to believe it was a lifestyle that chose me. Since I was little, I have always been working with my hands, helping my dad in his shed, mimicking what he and my mom do. I think it was a learned behavior. I had very little interaction with contemporary art, or even thinking art was important till my senior year in high school. College was a big turning point for me and opened my eyes to many things.
I found my way to Temple/Philadelphia because I was looking for an art school driving distance to my hometown in Virginia, so I could still take photographs of my home. Temple awarded me the Future Faculty Fellowship, making it possible for me to continue my education.
D.W.: When Pigs Fly (Ongoing) examines the reverberations of life below the poverty line— trauma, grief, loss— through a highly personal lens. Images and installations feel evocative, telling a story that feels neglected, discounted. Recounting personal experiences to bright to light a societal issue (the idea here of universality). What is your approach to dealing with such personal topics? Is there a process to making them feel like they have a certain universality, or does that come organically?
M.S.: I approach these topics as they appear in my life. In my work, I am talking about the past, present, and future, how I see it. How these issues keep reemerging in my family’s every day cycle. Also, how we cope with them (or not), sometimes ignoring problems seems easier. I think universality comes organically; I started this project to find a voice that I never felt I had, like I wanted to tell my audience a secret. After a while, I began to notice my stories, memories, and current events taking place not just in my home but many other homes across the US. I started to figure out I wasn’t alone.
D.W.: Are there certain decisions you have to make, and any specific boundaries you have to set, between you and your work when dealing with such personal topics?
M.S.: Yes, I spend a lot of time reflecting and thinking. I have to step back and take breaks, I don’t notice the toll the work takes on me emotionally. I have learned when to submerge myself in those thoughts and feelings, then when to separate them, and put them away. Sometimes, I don’t notice the impact of my work until I am physically touching it, reenacting the stories that have been told to me when interacting with the objects, photographs, and materials.
D.W.: [When Pigs Fly is a] beautiful approach to examining the failures of the “American Dream” narrative through a collection of work that feels almost Americana in its style: clotheslines, woodwork, embroidery. What made you choose to work with the materials you did in your exhibition?
Thank you! I want to tap into skills and ways of living that I learned growing up to reflect in my work. I grew up in a family that always worked with their hands and made things out of nothing for means of survival. For example, my father is a carpenter by trade, always using what materials we had to constantly fix-up our home, my mom and grandmother sew, stitch, quilt, and embroider, as a right of passage.
Often, our dryer would break, and we would have to wait to get something else so that we would string up our clothes in the trees in the backyard. I want to keep this way of thinking alive within my work because it’s a legacy (in some sort). I learned not to get attached to physical objects because those have always been temporary—inaccessible. So, the skills and traditional teachings became the things I wanted to carry on to be remembered.
D.W.: Where do you think those living below the poverty line fit into this narrative?
I believe it is a specific language I am speaking that those that have grown up poor understand. A language I used through the unconventional materials I use to make my work.
D.W.: How do you feel this ideology [The American Dream] has failed those in this socioeconomic position?
It has created a narrative that those living in poverty are lazy and aren’t doing enough to better their predicament. When that isn’t the case, it is much deeper than that. It is a generational problem that doesn’t just get “fixed.” You are born into a system and stay there.
D.W.: What work do you hope that your project, specifically When Pigs Fly (Ongoing), will do to present this struggle?
I hope it shows a genuine personal perspective of real situations and people. To display the narrative from people that live in that struggle and not behind a media lens.