Artist Elizabeth Velazquez creates abstracted portals into alternate dimensions, where visitors are invited to delve into both site-specific installations and the farther reaches of their subconscious. Drawing from ritualistic and primal imagery and constructing highly technical, immersive environments for participants, Velazquez creates pathways to new planes of experiential art. With an Master’s in Painting and background in Arts Education, Velazquez is an interdisciplinary artist and arts educator, and part of both the Southeast Queens Art Alliance (SEQAA) and New York Collective of Radical Educators (NYCORE). Her installation, Fallacy of Edifice: Cohabitation (AlterWork Studios) opens Friday, August 10 at AlterWork Studios, 30-09 35th Ave, Long Island City, NY 11106.
We sat down with Velazquez to learn more about her multi-faceted approach to arts-making, and more specifically about Fallacy of Edifice – on view through August 25th.
ANTE. – Fallacy of Edifice: Cohabitation (AlterWork Studios) is a site-responsive art installation interrogating the neutrality of built space. Can you explain how aspects of the installation’s formal qualities – line, material, placement – combine to create an abstracted composition that reflects on themes of the built environment?
EV – Materials I use for this work include paper, wood, fabric, recycled luggage, plastic, charcoal, graphite, acrylic, and powdered pigments. Taking apart discarded luggage is a great exercise in revealing the farce that capitalism is, as it’s fueled by consumption. My use of synthetic material is an expression of melancholic foraging in an increasingly synthetic world. I don’t see built spaces as neutral. A human built environment has intentions and motivations set by people and they are not necessarily in the best interest of those it is being made for and not made for regardless of whether or not it is explicit in their thinking.
After several years of apartment living, I became hyper aware of straight edges in my environment and my disconnectedness to the ground. In this work, I utilize the structure of a space and build layers of fragmented pieces onto the walls and parts of the ceiling in order to change it. The grid shows up in my work- it’s inescapable and the framework for the layout of NYC. I see the grid as comparable to the dangerous song of the sirens in the Odyssey by Homer. My reaction to the grid makes me imagine the biblical story in which Jesus gets angry in the temple because people have turned it into a marketplace. In my work the grid is fragmented and purposely made with crooked, intersecting lines in an attempt to break the grid.
ANTE. – What about AlterWork studios specifically lent itself to function as a fitting environment for this installation? What compelled you to create within this space?
EV – It has been difficult for me to find spaces to exhibit this piece in. I had been thinking about the work for a few years and finally got the opportunity to complete it when I received a 2018 New Work Grant from QAF. The founder of AlterWork Studios, Tina Stipanovic, offered her space for my installation and was so open-minded about my idea- I felt unrestricted and supported. I thought about how my installation would respond to this space and felt the piece needed to confront its destructive tendency when placed within an environment centered on communal values, which in turn led me to think of how it would address other spaces, such as a large wall space within the Queens Museum. It also spurs thinking about the exteriors of buildings.
ANTE. – You specify that this is the second version of Fallacy of Edifice.Can you elaborate on the first iteration, and how these two disparate yet unified installations are related?
EV – The first iteration of Fallacy of Edifice was at an old cigar factory in LIC, Queens. Many spoke of this factory as the epitome of gentrification. This building is now a creative workspace and is not open to the public. The exhibition was a way to attract attention to the building and its use, and at the same time, it provided a space where artists across NYC could show their work for a brief time. I felt this building was an adequate space for Fallacy of Edifice because of its history and its interconnectedness with world history: a history of greed, genocide, stolen people, and stolen land. There is a phantom that lingers in all edifice connected to this history and it is this phantom that my work confronts. My mom used to say, “un ojo cerrado y el otro abierto,” (keep one eye closed and the other wide open)- this saying is one of the earliest lessons I learned.
This second iteration is located in an old industrial area adjacent to another area once known as Dutch Kills, which references the streams that used to flow into nearby Newtown Creek – one of the most polluted waters around NYC. The land that AlterWork Studios is built upon drew my attention, so I walked around the area to find something I could bring inside the building to become part of the installation. The building itself is an old structure built in 1910, and although the space currently provides a communal space that is much needed, its walls still hold a history deeply rooted in settler colonialism. With this history in mind, the second iteration deals with understanding the possibility for creating positive change within these structures: hence the reference made to cohabitation. It makes me begin to think more about the ideas mentioned in adrienne maree brown’s book, Emergent Strategy, where she states “what we practice at the small scale sets the patterns for the whole system.”
ANTE. – In your artist statement you note that your practice references the impulse to destroy. Can you relate this installation to the impulse of destruction, and can you elaborate on whether you seek to create, in the wake of this destruction, new means of understanding the roles our environments play through drawing attention to them through site-specificity?
EV – My process is destructive. I create pieces and then tear them apart to then put them back together again. I crush pigments, reuse lumber, harvest recycled materials, and reconfigure fragments of pieces I have sewn from fabric, paper and plastic. Chaos happens. The spaces we inhabit affect us psychologically and also reveal things good and bad about our humanity. I want to draw attention to these things with this installation and reawaken an understanding of something we have become disconnected from.
ANTE. – Many times you incorporate the color black into your installations and interdisciplinary artworks. Why does black hold such significance for you? Do you think the effects of black are psychological? Emotional? Both?
EV – First, I acknowledge that black has many associations. Black is the color of of charred wood and natural substances of the earth like charcoal. It is also the color of the celestial. Ancient Andean people looked to the spaces between the stars. Black is sacred, infinite and primordial. It does have psychological effects as in the use of Rorschach paintings. In my observations, black extracts embedded thoughts and experiences deep within the mind. It is also symbolic of death, and for me, this is where I focus much of my thinking- on the spirit realm.
ANTE. – The human figure is often implicated in your work, either through its presence (such as with your performances) or its absence leaving a space de-activated until someone is present. How do you approach site-specific installations with consideration for the person/people circulating through the space?
EV – I make my installations larger than life size. I want the body to seem small. Pieces usually jut out from the installations I create in order to subtly reach into a viewer’s personal space. The current installation creeps upwards into a corner and forces visitors to look up – a direction often ignored by many people of our digital age. The piece also creeps down into the window as a way to gain the attention of passersby. I also extended the piece outside using charcoal lines on the sidewalk, again as a way to get peoples’ attention as well as it being a compositional element.
ANTE. – Your work has often incorporated ritual and ritualistic elements, can you elaborate on where these elements are present within Fallacy of Edifice: Cohabitation (AlterWork Studios)?
EV – The ritualistic elements within Fallacy of Edifice: Cohabitation (AlterWork Studios) are in the gathering of materials, preparation of the pigments, and the construction of each piece. My process involves repetitive, and sometimes intricate movements, like crushing charcoal with a rock or hammer before mixing it with acrylic medium. I often work on the floor or on top of the table and use my entire body at times in the creation process. One of the things I must do each day is look up at the sky, whether it’s from my window or from outside standing on the ground. The rituals I preform daily in my life are not separate from my work as an artist and they continue on in the things I create.