The Chatham Arts Council is investing in artists through our Meet This Artist series, introducing you to 12 Chatham County artists each year in a big way. The fine folks at Hobbs Architects in downtown Pittsboro are powering our Meet This Artist series this year. Architecture is art, and the Hobbs crew values art in our community.
This month’s feature is written by guest Meet This Artist writer Barbara Hengstenberg. Barbara lives on a small farm in Bear Creek, Chatham County, where she and her husband provide a forever home for rescue alpacas, cats, and chickens. Barbara is the founder of WildesArt and can often be found in her studio, quilting, painting, drawing, and writing.
Take a look. Meet your very inspiring neighbors. Meet This Artist.
Siler City artist Caleb McLaurin also answers to his creative name, skintape. When asked about this moniker, he prefers to leave it up to interpretation, adding that it could mean a band-aid or harken back to when he used audio cassettes and tape machines to create sound. He’s a past Artist in Residence at NC Arts Incubator, and he’s a recipient of Chatham Arts Council’s 2022 JumpstART Grant.
I wanted to talk with Caleb because his work is so unique–and because this is an artist who lives and breathes his creative process. Caleb beams when discussing his work and the experiences that led him to where he is today. I asked him, “What would 10-year-old Caleb McLaurin say to 23-year-old Caleb McLaurin?” and he quickly responded, with silver tooth grillz shining wide. “Completely sick with it . . . I totally went in the direction I wanted to go in.” How many of us could say that in our early twenties, let alone now?
Engineering sound and visuals for most of his life, Caleb can bend sound waves using the environment around him. He makes beats by recording one hit on metal, for example, and then sampling and manipulating the sound into his audio art. Caleb bends images, too, syncing the images to his sound in visual pieces. He’s creating collages of both visual images and sound.
That’s creativity enough, but Caleb takes it even further. To create these audiovisual collages, Caleb engineers and builds his own glitch cameras, combining old-school and modern technology that uses physical energy to bend photographs and videos. He’s also using an MPC and other hip-hop samplers, and recording devices. Found objects–coins, rusty old industrial machinery, antique medical tools–are often embedded in his work.
Many thanks to the NC Arts Incubator in Siler City, for providing their classroom space for my chat with Caleb. And thanks to The Chatham Rabbit for providing the delicious coffee that fueled the conversation that follows.
Where were you born?
I was born in Greensboro, in the women’s center, technically, but I was raised in Siler City. I’ve lived here my whole life.
How would you describe your art?
Industrial, rusty, analog, digital, and medical. The glitch cameras remind me of the intro from Tales from the Dark Side. I remember a certain episode from my childhood because it was one of the only things that creeped me out. I’m not necessarily trying to be creepy, but I could see the cameras having that effect.
What influences what you create?
Visiting an abandoned building or seeing an old, rusty piece of equipment–things that I tend to use in my work. My ear surgery, for instance. I had to have ear surgery, but I was like, I’m going to record it and make something good of it at least. Some parts weren’t specifically from the surgery, but from hearing test appointments and such. If you listen to the first track, you hear their voices in it. I took the footsteps from one of the doctors. It was a harder, bassier click sound, so I took a tiny little piece from it and looped it to make a wave form, like a synthesizer tone, and I made a hearing test. If you wear headphones and listen to the first track, it sounds like you’re having a hearing test.
Who are your influences?
I’m a massive fan of Scorn, also Godflesh. Two really big influences are the bands Throbbing Gristle and Coil. Throbbing Gristle were also around as a performance art group going by a different name in the late sixties. They laid the groundwork for industrial sound. And I actually have a Coil tattoo on my arm.
In high school, I listened to a lot of noise music, including this one artist, Masonna. A little while back, I was asked to do a video for a tape with his audio for Deathbed Tapes. So I did this 30-minute long video, almost like a short film, released on VHS. It’s also up on YouTube. It’s all 3D animated and almost like a video collage. That’s one of my proud moments. I have a very different style than his, but I’m definitely inspired by him. Shoutout Deathbed Tapes!
Can you describe your creative process?
Audio is first and foremost for me. I’ve always been a video artist. Sometimes I’ll make a collage, or I’ll make a piece of digital or video art. That will inspire the audio, almost like I’m soundtracking my own thing. It works in reverse, too. Sometimes I make a piece of visual art from the audio. It’s good to have both of these because if I get bored with one, I can just work on the other one. I never get bored, though. I’ve got too much to do. There’s no time to get bored.
How do you prepare for a show, like the upcoming JumpstART Walkabout at The Plant?
I gather a lot of visuals I’ve made in the past or scans I would use or that I’ve made. I could take a collage and use it in a video. I could animate it. I’ve been making 3D scans of my own face and other people I know. It’s a 3D modeled collage. I might chop off their heads and make something new of it. Then I’ll edit. If I could have some kind of old-school set-up to edit video, that would be awesome. I use a computer to edit, to actually time-stamp it. After the digital part is complete, then I move to the eighties equipment and hardware that I modify, and then that runs into a DVR. Or I’ll record the screen of the TV with a modern camera. That’s tough to explain, I guess, because a lot of the glitches I get are just kind of like magick. I don’t know what they’re going to look like, necessarily.
What would be your dream job?
My dream job? If I could create this art I’m creating right now and make a really great living off of it, to the point where I could buy a warehouse. I’d basically make a massive maker space for myself, being financially stable from my art. I think that’s my dream, to be able to create things I want to create and not have to worry about anything.
What jobs have you done in the past?
One of my first jobs was working at Radio Shack in Siler City. I love that Radio Shack. I’ve worked at gas stations, too. Another job was working for this Estonia- and New York-based label, Ohm Resistance. My favorite artist, Scorn, was actually on that label for years. Right now, I work at Finders and Seekers Emporium [Pittsboro, NC]. I’ve always wanted to work in an antique store. I also take on many commission-based jobs building custom devices, making music videos for artists, and screenprinting merch.
What is something that most people don’t know about you?
I kind of really abuse drinking coffee — a lot!
I was run over by a car once, when I was a little kid. That’s something most people don’t know about. A minivan ran over my leg when I was a little kid, but I broke no bones.
And I collect medical books.
What are your favorite places in Chatham County?
I feel like I’d be giving them away; they’re kind of secret. I will say I like the Bynum Bridge a lot, and the building there.
What Chatham artists do you admire?
OG Senpaiii is a local recording artist I really enjoy working with. He’s a super talented beatmaker and musician I would check out. We’ve collaborated on some tracks as of late. Jake Brower and JR Butler are two visual artists who make really cool work. I used to have a studio in the same building as them, and we worked on some really cool projects. They got my foot in the door with working on local collaborations. My favorite visual artist I’ve been collaborating with is Evening Anesthesia!
Who is your favorite musician of all time?
Right now I listen to a lot of Scorn, Cocteau Twins, Skinny Puppy, Justin Broadrick, Jeru, Wu, Lustmord. A lot of industrial, a lot of hip-hop, and a lot of dark ambient music. I’m a big fan of old school goth music, too. Honestly, it’s tough for me to name one artist, but Mick from Scorn laid the groundwork.
How do you see your art evolving over the coming years?
It’s tough to say. Maybe getting more into collages, using more found objects for animations and videos. I really like stop-motion stuff because it encompasses both realms. Really, I need a decent workspace and a more permanent setup!
Where do you see yourself 20 years from now?
I hope I’m living out in a cabin or a warehouse in the middle of nowhere with solar power and just working on all my artwork.
Second-guessing myself early on, maybe. I don’t have too many regrets.
What words of wisdom do you have for upcoming artists?
Only make stuff that you like.