Interview with Show + Telephone’s Madeline Walker, Edited by Audra Lambert
Madeline Walker. Can you share with us – what about the theme of the open call caught your attention in relation to your practice as an artist?
Bianca Abdi-Boragi. Since I’ve been producing ephemeral works with earth, the title (“Earthly Delights”) caught my attention. My practice has been influenced by Land Art and Arte Povera, both. I’ve been making pieces with high grass, petals, feathers, lost bread in works like Traveling Plant, Epiphany, Drift, The Heel of the Loaf to formally engage with ideas of trajectory, subsistence and fulfillment. My art is also inspired a lot from my family’s history of migration from Algeria to France to flee the war and personal experiences, conveyed in a form that addresses a collective experience, addressing timeless questions such as war, displacement, freedom, gender roles. Being uprooted from a country or a culture is a major theme in my work. I want to grasp life with the beauty, fragility and nostalgia of ephemera.
MW. Conflict and disparity between classes is something you mention in your statement about The Heel of the Loaf which feels especially poignant during the pandemic. When you mentioned fragile structures I can’t help but think about your experience working with bread and bread crumbs, walking in the space and generally the sensory experience. But also the proportions of the center point to the rest. Can you talk more about what it represents to you?
BAB. For my solo show last Fall, The Heel of the Loaf, I collected discarded bread from shops and bakeries here in Bushwick and Ridgewood. I collect materials outside the studio and then re-imagine and revisit places and residual materials from my surroundings, responding to the moment I find myself in–personal, local, or national. In this piece, the six sided dice had only one “6” side, face down, and five sides of “1”; this large scale sculptural installation was a meditation on fragile structures, sacred subsistence, and capitalism, where the odds of winning are against a majority of people.
Most of my works reflect on class, labor, subsistence, and the consequences of post colonial economic structures. My pieces obey the logic dictated by their concept, material, and process. In the making of a piece, I use all the forms that the material evolves. By the end, there is no waste, because the protocol is endless. I want to turn chaos into a glimpse of the infinite.
The Heel of the Loaf was all about how you felt walking into it, sticking your head inside it and being surprised by it. I’d hoped to make the viewer question their own body and presence in front of the work. It was a multi-sensory experience, a manifestation that connected directly to the viewer’s senses. The audience performed simply by walking into the gallery stepping on old loaves covering the floor into crumbs so thin it looked like sand. Through sculptural installation I hope to appeal to the viewer’s senses to trigger a thoughtful and meditative dialogue.
MW. Can you tell us more about the genesis of The Heel of the Loaf?
BAB. For this piece, I was focused on the revelation of the fragile economic structures in the US which were crumbling at the start of the pandemic. I wanted visitors to be taken off guard: to be directly impacted by the piece. I want my work to be physical at some level, or a disruption of reality – to disrupt some type of normalcy, conventions, boundaries or challenge the rules, questioning structures or addressing existential questions, to be thought-provoking, a little bit strange, just on the other side.
MW. What do you have ongoing and/or upcoming that you can share with us?
BAB. I’m excited to show a new painting in August 2021 for the group exhibition Staying Inn at Heaven Gallery in Chicago. Currently I’m in the midst of making two chairs to complete my new sculpture Hybrid Buffet, which was showcased last June at the Flux Factory for Din Din, an art food outdoor series of events. Hybrid Buffet is a table mosaic made of discarded bread fully coated with matte varnish inspired from the front of Ketchaoua mosque in Algiers, which was destroyed turned into a church under the French then turned into a mosque, addressing labor but also the hybridization of culture, architectonic narratives, mechanism of assimilation, colonization, war but most importantly pacifism, and the act of breaking bread together.
I’m also preparing an experimental film for an upcoming art fair, and working on the pre-production of my second solo show which will be based in sculpture and video art. I am also working on the production of a new piece involving two fabric sculptures and a documentary video about the French flea market. I have a long list of artworks I need to produce, which will keep me busy for many years if not a lifetime. I’m overwhelmed but it’s only good stress so I’m happy!
Finally, I’m also an independent art writer/curator and founder of Gallery Perchée, an online art gallery specializing in leading emerging artists. I have a few upcoming curatorial projects for 2021-2022 in NY and Chicago that I’m very excited about with wonderful artists. Architecture of Elsewhere now on view virtually at Gallery Perchée during the Summer of 2021. My other upcoming show Vector will open in Sept 2022 at Heaven Gallery Chicago, amidst other NY projects cooking for 2021 and 2022.
Earthly Delights winning artist Chantel Ness in conversation with Show & Telephone’s Madeline Walker & Audra Lambert
Thanks Chantel for chatting with us! What about the theme of the open call “Earthly Delights” caught your attention in relation to your artistic practice?
While contemplating the theme of “Earthly Delights”, I was drawn to the notions of clearing and culling to make room for growth and new creation. My artistic practice materialized as a direct result of pandemic isolation. I had been caught in a cycle of overexertion and perpetual burn-out: chasing career achievements for fulfillment. Only once I removed the superficial distractions of my work life was I able to peer inward to discover a well-spring of latent creativity and find my place as an artist. This has been a season to release those patterns and behaviors that once felt so important, but now appear redundant, trivial or even inflammatory.
One of my larger works – “Spring Training: The World Without Us” – was inspired by reading Alan Wesiman’s article “Earth Without People” and his follow-up non-fiction book. His thought-experiment on depopulation prompted me to contemplate the possibility we may never return to the outside world as it was pre-pandemic. This piece imagines an Earth devoid of any future human interference or destruction. Left only with remnants of our infrastructure, the flora and fauna are given space to thrive and evolve into newer, more resilient forms. What could be possible if we surrendered control and let life happen organically?
In “Conservation of Greatness”, I celebrate “Earthly Delights” through the simple freedom of play outdoors. The purest pleasure can be found in fresh cut grass, a warm breeze and connection to the body in coordinated motion. The fusion of indoor/outdoor spaces suggests a disintegration of confinement. The wistful longing for a return to open-air interactions is a base human compulsion: a prescription for fear and isolation.
Can you give us insight into how your upbringing and experience living in rural areas in Canada influenced your work, for example with Controlled Burn?
I hail from a remote town in Northern Saskatchewan called Meadow Lake. It is known for being a vast and empty space populated only by those tough enough to stand the unforgiving winters by playing hockey. In my upbringing, there was such an emphasis on athletics at the detriment of artistic or cultural pursuits. For a time I grappled with self-pity at my interests being swept aside before ultimately embracing my unique positioning. I had been a spectator for long enough to know the world of sports intimately, but maintain the outsider’s vantage point necessary to expand the discourse of athletics through contemporary art. As a way of entering into dialogue with those around me, I use sport as an accessible medium to approach deeper themes of importance to me. I revel at the chance to take subject matter traditionally perceived as “low-brow” and elevate it to a topic worthy of artistic contemplation.
My piece “Controlled Burn” was motivated by the boreal backdrop of my “wildhood”. Taking the life cycle of the tree as a metaphor for ideation: from germination to maturation, with stages of revision and deconstruction before emerging as a finished article. In wildland management, a controlled burn is essential to maintaining the health of a forest or grassland ecosystem. Whether with the intention to re-wild an area that was once urbanized or as a preventative measure, a prescribed burn can mitigate future hazards. While seemingly a violent and destructive act, the burn reveals the soil’s mineral layer and stimulates seed germination. To me, this serves as a poignant symbol as we set about emerging from our pandemic state. Perhaps without the proverbial heat, we might not have undergone this integral process of examination. The Timbersport depicted in this piece is called a “Spring Chop” – apt for my ruminations on the theme.
You have mentioned forest fires and your relationship to individuals working in that industry, can you elaborate on how this impacts your work?
In my community, which is predominantly First Nations, there is a tragic lack of economic growth and development. A trend emerged where persons in dire circumstances were inclined to light forest fires simply to be hired on a team paid to extinguish the fires. In the most extreme cases, these infernos would become uncontrolled causing unintended destruction of homes and infrastructure. My father, a Conservation Officer, became an Arson Fire Investigator tasked with discovering the sources of ignition. His involvement with these blazes educated me not only on fire prevention and management but of systemic inequality for Indigenous Peoples. Recently in Kamloops British Columbia, the bodies of 215 First Nations children were found buried on the site of a Catholic Residential School. Weighing heavy on my heart, the stone border painted on “Controlled Burn” contains 215 markers representing each of those victims. Canada has been broken for a very long time and only now are steps being taken toward reconciliation.
I find some topics are too painful to approach directly. I prefer instead to deploy unusual and humorous contexts to make work that toes the line between lighthearted and sincere. Disguised in a visually optimistic language, my work draws on the various tensions in my sphere of consciousness. Finding a way to constructively parse thoughts of racial inequality, gender disparity, extremism, climate crisis and mental health has been vital to my practice.
What do you have ongoing and/or upcoming that you can share with us?
Prior to taking up painting, I made a career in Interior Design. I think you can see traces of my former métier bleeding into my compositions. A friend of mine has taken over an iconic Sports Bar in Montreal, I have been joyfully commissioned to provide artwork and imprint my design sensibilities. Sneak preview: hand-painted wallpaper depicting former Montreal Expos baseball players in PlayGirl poses. I have been delighted how my practice has built a bridge to other humans: both artists and sports fans in equal measure. To have my voice as a female artist represented in a traditionally male-dominated space is supremely satisfying.
Once COVID restrictions ease, I dream of staging my first solo exhibition “Sports: Illustrated”. Being confined to my loft for the last 16 months has yielded a robust body of work and a yearning to share my work with others in a physical space. Until then, I continue with my self-taught practice, untangling ideas on canvas including some larger-scale pieces currently in progress.
The artist can be found at her website – Chantel Ness, www.minorleagues.xyz and on Instagram: @minor_leagues. -Ed.s
The performativity of gender and sex positive attitudes emerge at the forefront of Naomi Elena Ramirez’ exhibition-as-book project, Beaver.
Artist Naomi Elena Ramirez leads the charge in Feminist art project “BEAVER”: a book that presents a Feminist exhibition from a range of viewpoints. The publication, which is available via the project’s website, charts a range of perspectives from artists including Keren Moscovitch, Carol-Anne McFarlane, Damali Abrams, Leslie Tucker, Katrina Majkut, Julia Kim Smith, mothertongues, Mirabelle Jones and Ramirez herself, among others. This iteration of “BEAVER” centers intersectional Feminist perspectives on pornography, sexuality and self-expression. Ramirez spent significant time on cultivating and presenting a range of artistic projects intersecting with this powerful theme.
“BEAVER” began as an exhibition taking place in 2014 at the Center for Performance Research in Brooklyn, and three subsequent exhibitions and this inaugural publication interrogate media representations of the female body and sexuality. Artists are asked to respond to the following questions put forth by Ramirez, “How do phenomena like “slut-shaming” and the threat of sexual violence delineate, thwart, or promote female sexual self-expression? What are the different ways that racial and sexual identities are culturally inscribed on the female body?” Participating artist Leslie Tucker reflects, ” Naomi’s BEAVER Project examines the constant messaging around women as a class, which pervades my work as well; how women are treated in the media in terms of sexuality, violence, or just micro-aggressions daily in society. I think it’s critical to ascertain not only how these messages are circulated and perpetuated in Western society and media, but also how they are received by individuals – of all backgrounds.” These and other similar responses to Ramirez’ questions provide a pivotal lens by which artists visually explore how women reclaim agency and power with regard to their identity, sexuality and representation in the public eye.
Something for everyone greets readers of the publication, as representational painting, photography, performance art, sculpture and a range of other artistic practices form the fertile ground through which artists explore themes related to the “BEAVER” prompt. By subverting patriarchal expectations and mining rich expressions of feminist presentations, artists create powerful responses to society’s sexualized expectations for female-identifying artists.
Editor and artist Naomi Elena Ramirez (b. Hermosillo, Mexico) is a mexican-american multidisciplinary conceptual artist and curator whose work encompasses visual art, video art, and contemporary dance, and the process by which the different mediums can inform each other. Naomi has an MFA in Visual Art from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a BA in Dramatic Art/Dance from the University of California at Berkeley. Her work has been exhibited and presented by A.I.R. Gallery, the Institute of (Im)Possible Subjects, Movement Research at the Judson Church, DoublePlus at Gibney Dance, The Bronx Latin American Art Biennial, and many others in the US and abroad. The artist lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.
A feeling of lightness and buoyancy surrounds viewers upon entering “Traces,” a mixed-media installation by multidisciplinary artist Tulu Bayar on view through June 13th at Amos Eno Gallery. Over one hundred circular works composed of photographic film rolls, ink, and resin float weightlessly on the walls. These are presented in the space at varying heights as if rising and cresting, like a wave, and floating around the viewer. Dark rolls of film spiral, unravel, and protrude from the works with a deliberate sense of gesture and line, while vibrant colors swirl within the transparent resin. Citing influences such as calligraphy, Islamic manuscript painting, and ebru – the mesmerizing practice of Turkish marbling art – Tulu Bayar crafts a distinctive visual language that viewers can interpret and find meaning within.
Anchoring the space are four works which lie flat on plinths, offering the viewer the opportunity to peer down into their depths to explore Bayar’s works in more detail. Here, one can appreciate the materiality present and inherent to each unique work. Layered film rolls and multicolored inks sit on top of each other with a meditative stillness, as if frozen in time. “The gestural record on the surface stages a moment of existence that is no other moment,” remarks Bayar. “By containing that peculiar moment, I feel like I am able to memorialize the process.”
With “Traces,” Bayar deftly explores the metaphysical, the idea of oneness and the interconnected nature of beings and forms, and how individual difference resides within communal existence. This promotes an attitude of active engagement from the visitor.This lively, interactive process of “reading” reflects Bayar’s interest in the spirituality of mysticism and the teachings of Rumi. “The appearance of things changes according to emotions, and thus we see magic and beauty in them, while the magic and beauty are really in ourselves,” Bayar reflects, quoting Rumi directly. As we look into these works, we are looking into ourselves as well. As Bayar describes, this series embodies a “form of thinking and discovering a journey on a contained surface.” To embark on this journey with her, all viewers need is their imagination and a willingness to look.
ANTE mag. We are excited to interview you, Emily, and wanted to start by learning more about your ethos. Can you tell us more about how interconnectedness forms a foundation of your approach in your practice?
Emily Weiskopf. I’m excited to be here with ANTE mag! There is a mystical or spiritual process involved in making my work that seeks to fuse or reunite the divine past, present and future together simultaneously because in many ways that is how everything is occurring. With the growing disconnect between humanity and the natural world there is a sense, more and more that I am being guided to create what hopes to evoke a collective, nurturing consciousness to the cause and effect of life. 2020 illustrated this to us in many ways, as has other times in history.
In October of 2019, I was at the White Sands creating a sand work/ritual and I had a premonition that something catastrophic was coming for humanity, as unbelievable, crazy as it may sound. I have always had a 3rd eye sense and after a near fatal car crash it seemed to increase. As my physical body became limited other senses became amplified. For that reason I think a lot about what is not physical to the eye, that all sentient life, is speaking to us, teaching us and each other about how it works together. This doesn’t mean the grass is talking… but it is alive, has energy and the reason we love to stand barefoot in it. You automatically feel more connected, more aware, it’s essential life. Historically we have always read the stars and Cosmic strings, a scientific term with no complete proof, yet, speaks to this on universal level, a bit like alchemy in a way. Part of my practice also involves Buddhism and it is said that our thoughts are carried in the air, nothing is ever lost in the universe. I truly believe that. My work may stem from my personal narrative and lens of perspective, but it is not meant for me.
ANTE mag. You work at a range of scales and with a diverse set of materials. Can you tell us more about your recent body of work, ‘The Fragility of Tranquility’?
EW. “The Fragility of Tranquility” was named by artist and gallery director Michael David. He organized a 2-person show between myself and artist Tim Casey which came right at the end of 2020. This consisted of Translations and Responses, a series of small paintings on vellum, which reflect an intimate, yet transparently tender and disconnected dialog of hypersensitivity between self and place, allowing only the essential. Most of these drawings are created on both sides as dual dialog with eyes open and closed as were a few works in porcelain in response to the destruction, deterioration, ongoing forest fires, and riots in 2020. Seeing, feeling, listening to transcend light as a way to balance and clear the energy. I was also recovering from 4 months of spine treatments and working to regain my strength to create a new public sculpture. These were a bridge to slowly reconnect and integrate my energy, self and ideas in alignment with the current world.
ANTE mag. Many artists working during this time have responded in some way to the immeasurable impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Can you tell us more about the genesis and realization of your project, “The Clearing” (12/2020)?
EW.The Clearing, as a ritual, was created to emanate a collective, vibrational universal healing through clearing, releasing, and grounding the emotional wounds and trauma of 2020. I felt this to be one of the closest ways I could give to others and to the Earth as gently as possible with no impact or waste, my compassion and care, while demonstrating in action a process of reflection and connection before letting the wind take it away.
In releasing, there is a process of accepting, understanding and allowing the importance of emptiness, space. Following the creation, I walked into the center of a mandala to begin and conclude the ritual with a Clearing Prayer. My ongoing studies and practice with Lama Losang, of the Chenrezig Tibetan Buddhist Center (Philadelphia, PA) also took part in the symbology of this mandala. When I had my premonition in October at the White Sands I also realized the vitalness of the lesson of the sand, again, the interconnection came. My spinal cord was injured during a procedure the previous summer and I didn’t know how/if I could continue my practice but that day it began again. I wanted to learn the sacred Buddhist tradition of sand painting with its dismantling to participate in greater actions to uplift and bring caring not only to every person who sees it, but also to bless the environment and all sentient life in the release of suffering. I flew to Philadelphia in Feb 2020 ask the Venerable Lama Losang to train me, and I am humbled he said yes. He is one of the Mandala Masters who created the first public sand mandala in the US in 1988.
ANTE mag. Incredible! So let’s also address your project “Unparallel Way” manifested in 2013 in partnership with Old Stone House in Brooklyn and the NYC Dept of Transportation. What was it like working in large-scale installation, and how did this impact your practice?
EW. It was the best- it was. First off, I loved working with the Old Stone House- Kim Maier, Katherine Gressel who found me and curated me, and Emily Colassaco of the NYC Dept of Transportation. They are fantastic and I hope I get to work with them all again. I really enjoyed making a site-specific work, remark on present times, getting to know the Park Slope Civic Board – the community and being able to positively impact the public space, the city I called home for 16 -17 years. It’s a big undertaking to be handling all the details that go into doing public work especially when it’s just you, low-budget, with a steep learning curve but it’s a tremendous learning opportunity which shifts your entire perspective. I became aware of the impact Public Art can make. It was put in front of park and a parent came up to me and said you brighten and made this entire area safer, especially for the kids. As a teacher, this meant a lot and I have also became a volunteer with Civic & Community Boards.
ANTE mag. You create artwork in a range of disciplines – installation, works on paper, sculpture and even video. How do you approach working across multiple mediums? How does the concept for an artwork impact the medium in which you work?
EW. Yes I do, and for that reason it can get a bit crazy in the studio. In thinking about interconnectedness, I feel the diversity of my materials match the metaphor, the experience, and the message I hope to transcend. The world is covered in sand, an ocean, rocks, an ozone, the sky, the man-made industry and yet it all eventually connects and affects one another. I apply this concept to my practice. I’m naturally enticed by materiality, the chemistry, the physicality and use transparency often to show the inner workings. I have been using raw oxides in my work for years, have a 30 year rock collection and grew up watching a lot of mechanics and engineers. Additionally, because I have ongoing medical procedures due to a progressive degenerative disease I’ve managed since I was an adolescent, my practice demands shifts to my process which match my temporal and restricted physicality. Yet, the pencil is at my core and I’d lose track without my sketchbook! as I tend to do a lot of research and studies.Over the past year I have begun working with salvaged glass (“Liberty Bell”) which I am quite intrigued by even in these early stages and timed “drawings” (“Emerging”). These drawings document the regenerative, internal struggle and growth of a tree hit by lighting with the physicality of my own hands to speak on resilience and touch/engagement. I’m currently losing mobility, and grip in my right hand – my drawing hand and I’m working to keep it agile, implementing my left hand more to investigate interconnections between mind and body experiences and to stay in touch in every sense of the word. My physical limitations and unexpected rest bits can be very frustrating-challenging at times but they continuously guide me to new potentials in creation and ways of seeing that I may have never discovered otherwise. I am thankful for that. It keeps things stirring in and out of the studio for me and in many ways helps me to feel limitless.
ANTE mag. What is coming up for you on the horizon that we should be on the lookout for?
EW. Beginning this month (May 2021) I will begin my first Permanent Public Art work commissioned by the City of Austin Art in Public Places (AIPP) program of the Cultural Arts Division, Economic Development Department in collaboration with the Emergency Medical Services and Fire Departments. I will embed with the community, crews and their stations to research, interview and observe before beginning the work. The aim is to create a work which is emblematic in reflecting their experiences and in generating safer communities through prevention, preparedness, and effective emergency response. I’ve been invited to do a public artwork with the Jersey City waterfront Exchange Alliance hopefully to come to fruition this summer, as timing has been a bit hijacked since Covid-19. Lastly, I will be joining Lama Losang, at last in the creation of a large public sand mandala in Philadelphia which has been postponed since last April due to Covid-19. All good things!
When the Albright-Knox Northland art museum announced their exhibition “Comunidades Visibles: The Materiality of Migration (La Materialidad de Migración)” curated by Andrea Alvarez, the premise emerged over the course of the exhibition as a clearly communicated, and community-oriented, concept. The show features works by artists Carolina Aranibar-Fernández, Esperanza Cortés, Raúl de Nieves, Patrick Martinez and Ronny Quevedo, all amassed for this exhibition, which remains on view through May 16 at the Albright-Knox Northland in Buffalo, NY. The exhibit focuses on highlighting works by First and Second-generation artists from the Latinx community based in the US, and presents materials in dialogue with lived histories and the effects of colonization. Of this tightly curated selection of artists, works forming highlights in this exhibition are installations by artist Esperanza Cortés, born in Colombia and based in New York City, which immediately catch the eye. Cortés investigates bodies and their accessories and frameworks in relation to both colonial legacies and gendered identities, and the sculptures she presents in this exhibition play with the evident and implied meanings of interiors and objects/material cultures. The compelling formal qualities present in the artist’s materials finds an echo in how the Latinx community encountering these works can respond to the installation art in visceral and personal ways.
Cortés’ work embraces an ambitious range of scales, with bejeweled chains reaching up to glorious heights while meticulously arranged glass beads adorn household furniture displayed just out of reach from museum guests. Cortés investigates how everyday objects from the home can be transformed, even transmuted, to communicate precious qualities of identity and memory. Nowhere is this embodiment of human identity indicated in the artist’s work more visibly than in her work La Cordobésa, depicted above. “As a former Afro latin dancer and teacher, I imbued La Cordobésa with body memory through the use of the embroidery from my dance ensembles,” reflects Cortés. “I then married these remnants with glass beads and glass pieces referencing the origins of European colonial interest. The upper chair given to me by the Joan Mitchell Center in New Orleans is from the 20th century, while the chair legs acquired in Utica are from the 18th century. The piece is a hybrid, a metaphor for the diversity of the people who make up the Americas.” The artist’s work demonstrates a nuanced and powerful approach to the various means of self-identifying that communities of color undergo, asserting that colonized peoples have the power to reclaim their own sense of self, their own voice and the ability to exact agency via their self-asserted identities.
Meanwhile, the artist’s grand gesture evident in her work Empire lays bare both the price, and costs, of colonization. While colonizing forces were happy to take existing wealth present in the regions they colonized, often taking these precious materials by force to remit back home to Europe, the costs of this perceived luxury had a marked toll on local communities in colonized regions of the globe, particularly the Caribbean, Central and South America. The glory of these beautiful gold chains in the artist’s sculpture undulate forth from the chandelier down to the floor below, underscoring the deep impact that this search for treasure has continued to exert on devastated communities: in the artist’s own words, “Imbued with the invaders’ narcissistic gains, the process of colonization extinguished societies, cultures, languages, species, environments and histories by way of plunder, pillage, and violence dressed as civilization.” With grand form, Cortés creates an impactful and eloquent statement in her installation works on view about the lingering legacies that have transformed these regions of the world, adopting an autobiographical lens which allows visitors new avenues for contemplation around colonization.
On view through this Sunday at Albright-Knox Northland, “Comunidades Visibles: The Materiality of Migration (La Materialidad de Migración)” is free and open to the public, and further details can be found on their website (link in exhibition title above.) Artist Esperanza Cortés is a Colombian-born contemporary multidisciplinary artist based in NYC. Cortés has exhibited in venues across the US, including Smack Mellon Gallery, Bronx Museum of Art, Queens Museum, El Museo Del Barrio, MoMA PS1 and Socrates Sculpture Park (all in NYC.) National exhibition venues include Turchin Center for The Visual Arts, Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Neuberger Museum of Art, and the Cleveland Art Museum.
ANTE mag is proud to feature our first artist interview as a result of our open call, “Alchemy”, curated by Independent Curator and Founder, Wedge Studio, Douglas Turner. Artist Elan Cadiz shares her responses to our questions in this insightful and wide-ranging interview, in which she re-examines her practice in the past year+ in the wake of Covid-19’s effects on a reeling art world, means of examining space for diversity and humanity in the arts landscape and a reflection on enduring in the face of adversity. We hope you feel inspired by her reflections below, and that you spend some time to appreciate her precise and insightful practice visible at her website:https://www.elancadiz.com/
cover image: Father and Son, from “Scaffold” series by Elan Cadiz. Image courtesy the artist.
ANTE mag. Given our current ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, we paid careful attention to your project “Scaffold: Equity of Treatment” which highlights how equitable communities allow us to draw from a wellspring of support, and to then harness that self-love in order to serve our role in society. Can you tell us how this series began and how you choose subjects for your portraits in this series?
Elan Cadiz. Like most life happenings, there were several things occurring at once when Covid caused quarantine last year. I had just started a new job with a not for profit called Foster Pride and was teaching weekly classes at a Foster Care space in the Bronx. I was also asked to submit to an open call for an exhibition entitled “Brooklyn Utopias”, and simultaneously police violence towards Black civilians was escalating and protests were brewing. All of these things made me rely heavily on my spiritual beliefs. I meditated and in my meditation, I decided the best way of dealing with the unknown was to surrender and focus on what I had control over. I needed to resolve my frustration with the word “Utopia”. I felt it implied that unity can only be achieved through fantasy. This frustrated me because I believe the only way we can truly take care of our planet is through peace amongst its inhabitants. For me “Utopia” became a kind of prognosis that could be realized in some form through individualized focus that meditated on an individual’s mental, physical and spiritual well-being through different forms of equitable support. This individual self-care became “the scaffold”: a term used in education to imply the support any one individual student needed to succeed. But I was missing the social capital to invest. I realized I needed subjects to represent humanity and it’s diversity. I also wanted to highlight the many people that can exist in (and impact – Ed.’s) a person’s lifetime. That’s when I started to contact people that I worked with, exhibited with, hung out with, met through social media, etc. I would send them an email, DM, text, call and explain the project and request photos of themselves that theyliked/loved or reminded them of a good memory. I wanted as much of the body visible as possible so that the scaffold can support their full form. Headshots felt more like a memorial. We are so much more than a pretty picture. From a museum security guard that paints curvaceous bodies to a vogue dancer from the Bronx, my collection of subjects became a visual representation of diverse social capital and why equity was an important component. With so many differences it was very clear that fairness within the opportunities and support given had to be configured to fit the needs of the individual.
ANTE mag. Tell us about your recent shows: where have you been exhibiting work in 2020-21? How have these exhibits helped you further develop your artistic practice during this time?
EC. Last year was quite an adventure in building and understanding the Scaffold Project. I was able to find and create opportunities for myself and as the project developed, for others. Like I had mentioned earlier, I had applied to the “Brooklyn Utopias” open call and curator Katherine Gressel chose the Scaffold Project to be a part of the exhibition. I later asked Katherine to participate in the Scaffold Project, and she was kind enough to say yes. “Brooklyn Utopias: 2020” was exhibited at the Old Stone House in Washington Park, Brooklyn, New York during the summer.Then in the fall, curator, former collaborator and Scaffold Project participant, Souleo, contacted me about an opportunity to exhibit the Scaffold Project in Styling: Black Expression, Rebellion and Joy Through Fashion at Nordstrom, NYC flagship store. This was exciting because it was not a traditional exhibition space: it highlighted the individual fashion and use of fashion to express one’s individuality and it connected Scaffold Project participants Ricky Jones and Souleo. Ricky and his stylish colorful wigs were also exhibited.
During this time I had also and accidentally became friends with (the Harlem-based curator.-Ed.s) Connie Lee. A mutual friend of ours had posted on Instagram a graffiti cleanup on 125th Street and Connie was in charge of the effort. I was so excited to participate because I had tried to clean the artwork on my own with regular cleaning materials and was unsuccessful. I was very excited to see if we would be able to clean the graffiti off the public artworks.The day was a success and we (several women and a couple of men) were able to remove all of the graffiti with brilliant cleaning wipes that Connie supplied us with. I posted our victory on social media and followed Connie in case of any other cleanups. As time moved on we realized we knew some of the same people, lived in Harlem, loved plants and art and became friends. I asked Connie to participate in the Scaffold Project and she agreed and as time went on I realized her connection to the arts in Harlem. She so kindly asked me to participate in the “Form, Paper, Scissors” exhibit at her Living with Art Salon. That was the first time a portion of the Scaffold: Equity of Treatment project was exhibited.
2021 began very strong for me and I was able to have two solo exhibitions of the Scaffold Project. Firstly at Adelphi University, curated by Jonathan Duff, and secondly at the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey curated by Mary Birmingham. I was also so fortunate to be a part of 4 group exhibitions in 2021. Altered Grain, at the Stay Home Gallery in Paris, TNLove This Time, The Myrtle Avenue Brooklyn Partnership/ FOKUS, NYC& Giving Light: An Art Antidote to Gun Violence, Bronx Art Space,
I was introduced to the Stay Home Gallery, and Kaylan Buteyn’s Artist/Mother podcast through friend, artist, mother and Scaffold Project participant, Anna Ogier – Bloomer. That connection gave me formal experience as an Artist-mother-mentor, which was an enjoyable and enlightened experience that I plan to revisit and develop. I have so many stories of ways my appreciation for those around me brought positive experiences into my life. Through all of this I’ve learned the importance of checking in with friends and acquaintances, follow-up, sharing what I’m working on, sharing ideas, sharing opportunities and practicing thankfulness.
ANTE mag. You have created artwork for shows at the Studio Museum in Harlem, NY; El Museo del Barrio in Harlem, NY; Art in Flux, Harlem, NY; and the Mount Vernon Hotel Museum in Mt Vernon, NY – among other sites. Can you share how you approach working with a site and how you translate concepts into site-specific work?
EC. I was commissioned by the Studio Museum in Harlem to create bouquets of flowers using museum paraphernalia for the First Lady’s luncheon with host Michelle Obama in 2013. I wanted to clarify that, because I did not exhibit artworks in the Studio Museum as an artist. I was more like an artist consultant hired for a very specific event. I exhibited at El Museo del Barrio as part of Uptown: Nasty Women/Bad Hombres exhibition in 2017 but was also commissioned to design/decorate drinking glasses as part of a raffle prize for their 2017 Gala. In all of the projects that I’ve taken on it’s important that the first connection is community. Most if not all of the work I’ve done touches on where I live & where I’m from, which is why I use the word domestic in my artist statement. I’m referring to all aspects of the word. I always look for the familiar and then allow that understanding space to define or redefine itself more thoroughly through observation and engagement. Spending time with collaborators and the spaces they/we occupy helps me to understand my task fully. I also almost always use whatI have easy access to. My goal is to utilize whatever a space has in abundance and like the Children’s book, Jacob Had A Little Overcoat by Simms Taback, make something out of nothing. Only nothing is the abundance of something that had been deemed “nothing” or overlooked.
ANTE mag. You note in your artist statement that you see yourself as “ a cultural interpreter and visual documentarian.” How did this become a key feature of your artistic practice and in what ways does it determine how you approach a new body of work?
EC. It wasn’t until quarantine and my separation from the continuous hustle and survival in New York City that I was able to understand what was important to me and my artistic practice.
In reflection, I realized that I existed in many different spaces. For example, I see myself as an artist but I’ve also been an art educator for 20 years, a mother for 18 years, a wife for 17 years and an ex-wife for 3 years. I was born and raised in NYC as well as my parents but their parents migrated here. My father’s family is from Puerto Rico and my mother’s side from Georgia and other Southern states. In 2016 when I got my DNA evaluated I learned I was connected to so many parts of the world. All of these things made me realize that the purpose of my work was to always teach what I learned and to make my art accessible for anyone to engage. As a Black, Latinx woman with a very mixed heritage, I was born an oppressed person with particular freedoms. In understanding my environment and the people in my environment, I hope to maximize my freedoms and liberate others through Visual understanding and disclosure.
ANTE mag. You frequently up-cycle or re-use materials in your project – for example, the Shizen Pastel Paper you incorporate in your Scaffold series is handmade in India from recycled paper, while the Harlem Wanishi Sukkah you produced in 2019 utilized community donations. How does this aspect of using sustainable materials inform your work?
EC. Sustainable materials are familiar. And as I mentioned in question three I usually begin with the familiar because it’s what I know. I think there is something that can be understood in all the work I do, be it the use of home as an archetype, human specific item/object(s) that can be found inside or outside a home, or a photograph of my changing community and it’s people in different stages of its existence … sustainable materials add a universal understanding and extended narrative to my pre-existing intention, widening its significance. Besides I’m doing my best to be a respectful and responsible Earthling.
ANTE mag. Finally, what projects do you have coming up that you can share with us?
EC. My biggest news is the culmination exhibition of SCAFFOLD: Equity of Treatment project Over 150 Scaffold Project portraits on view at the Royal Kente Gallery in Harlem, NYC from May 2nd – May 30th. I am beyond excited to have all the portraits in one space and in my community.It’s a dream come true for me. I also plan to slowly create a book that can represent its intention, as well as the participants. The goal is that the book be a shared authorship between all participants that want to contribute to the book. That will take a year or two to develop. As for the exhibition, it will be the last time all of the portraits will be together because afterward depending if any of them sell that money will be split with the gallery, the participant, and me and whatever is not sold will be given as a gift to the participant in the portrait.
Not everyone wants their portraits, so for those who don’t I’ll be keeping them but this will be an agreement between me and the participant and the first and last time to see all of them in a space together. For me that’s very exciting because although I love the project is quite exhausting on my body and my mind. I’m looking forward to letting it go and allowing it room to develop into whatever it needs to be. And whatever it becomes I hope it supports the importance of people, social capital and how together we will always be stronger.
On view now at The Yard: Flatiron South (234 Fifth Ave) through April 17th, Akeem Duncan’s curatorial magnum opus, “TOGETHER.”, takes center stage, featuring works byMarguerite Wibaux and Dhanashree Gadiyar. The interlocking, tightly executed hybrid of pattern and hue permeate the portraits painted by Wibaux, while Gadiyar’s works on paper astound in complexity and detail. The two artists complement one another in tone, temperament and preciousness. Whether outlining the marvels of the Aurora Borealis or probing the subtle corners of a subject’s smile, these artists focus on wonder, and the connections we seek out that make life meaningful and memorable.
Curator Akeem Duncan (Editor-in-Chief, Quiet Lunch) has come into his own intimate understanding of the space which he is curating, taking time to place paintings in contrast with specific architectural details and with the viewer’s relative position to each artwork in mind. Wibaux’s paintings in particular, with their ornate fabric pattern-inspired swaths directing the viewer’s eye across the canvas, present an interesting opportunity to contrast against white walls and brick in equal measure. Visitors to the exhibition encounter these works, imbued as they are with a playful yet precise air throughout the Yard’s space.
Wibaux’s intimate knowledge of her subject are on display in the captivating in which she paints their emotional state, ranging from anxious to assertive, self-assured to hesitant. The artist’s loose and fluid brushstrokes approximate the subject’s current state, while fabric-inspired patterning flanking each of these portrait subjects brings an alternate reading to the composition. Combined, these two elements create a striking balance in the portrait in an effect that Wibaux notes helps…” to focus on the human figure.” “Generally speaking, my art practice aims to challenge common representations, the way we look at ourselves as a society,” remarks Wibaux. “As an artist I don’t feel I can change the world, but I can help shifting representations. Getting your portrait painted in art history has mostly been a symbol of power. Through my portraits, I want to give power to our young and diverse youth, to give them a voice, to have people really SEE and LISTEN to them.”
Intimate framed paintings by Dhanashree Gadiyar are interspersed throughout the exhibition. Her works frequently depict figures immersed in resplendent landscapes, or brightly colored scenes also capturing bright and undulating patterns. Gadiyar readily reflects on the impact that pattern exerts on her work. “My love for patterning comes from my exposure to the folk art forms of India such as Madhubani, Gond and Patachitra,” explains Gadiyar. “I incorporate these traditional forms of mark-making as well as intuitive and automatic patterning. Also, as a trained embroidery artist, I tend to treat the paper like fabric, filling it in obsessively with my marks.” Also notable is the artist’s use of organic line, curve and color to create rounded and smooth compositions, seemingly expanding off into the distance of the picture plane.
The artist works with watercolor and acrylic on paper, as opposed to canvas, adding a precious quality: a feeling of delicacy. ” I love working on paper,” notes Gadiyar,” since it lets me let go off control and gives me the feeling of freedom.” This freedom is evident in the impression the artist’s works leave on the visitor, who feel emboldened to step into the composition and roam the surroundings themselves.
TOGETHER. is on view at The Yard, Flatiron South by appointment through mid-April. Please email curator Akeem Duncan to schedule a visit: email@example.com
ANTE mag is proud to shine a spotlight on the dedicated artists who are exerting an impact in the art world in 2021. From ongoing or upcoming solo exhibitions, to gaining recognition through artist talks, recognitions, awards and international residencies, these are some of the top artists we have an eye on as we move into the new year.
Below we center on the first 7 of our group of 21 artists selected for 2021. Each artist has images but click through to their websites to view more of their practice and familiarize yourself with your favorites!
Lead image courtesy the artist. Melissa Joseph “That pink van took us a lot of places, but never got us here” (2020) Needle, felted wool, inkjet print on Indian duppioni silk 21 x 27 inches
ANTE mag. Can you tell us more about the use of “layering” in your practice and how it applies to all artistic disciplines that you work within?
Cecile Chong. My work is about cultural interaction and interpretation. I layer different materials where they become signifiers representing a place or a culture for me. I was born in Ecuador to Chinese parents and lived in Macau with my grandmother for five years between ages 10 and 15. After that, I returned to Ecuador for high school and then came to New York at age 19 to study art. I came to realize that my early life and cultural experiences were very intense, with the transition from one culture to the other being very abrupt. It was as though I was the character of one story line and was suddenly plucked out of it and placed in another narrative in a different setting, speaking a different language. Those experiences also included different religions, socio-economic statuses and family dynamics. Looking back, sometimes I feel like I grew up in some epic movie. At age 10, I went from spending weekends celebrating indigenous festivals like Inti Raymi near the family hacienda in the Ecuadorian Andes, to spending school vacations in the rural family village in Canton China during the Cultural Revolution. I think that these experiences have giving me a lot of subject matter and insights to work with.
I love finding materials that I can incorporate into my work that have meaning or bring some kind of memory. My paintings have 25 to 30 layers of encaustic (heated beeswax, resin and pigment) and I embed different materials (rice paper, volcanic ash, circuit board materials, figures from different books) within those layers. I usually have other projects going on where I apply a similar layering approach with materials. In my “Strainger” Series I use beads from donated necklaces and accessories that are mostly plastic or glass and combine them with beads from different types of rosaries. I also use natural materials and seeds mainly from the Amazon forest like acai, tagua, pambil and huayruro. In my tapestries beside the conventional yarn and ribbon, I’ve also been finding meaning in different materials that I include like utility cords, tassels, feathers, LED lights, metal charms, pom poms, which makes me think of things like colonialism, natural environment and indigenous communities, current technologies, colonialism, industrialization, labor, women’s issues, rebellious teenage years, etc. In 2019, I started working with stop motion animation and began layering languages that I grew up with at home (Spanish, Cantonese, Hakka and English).
ANTE mag.Your practice is influenced by such a range of issues, including economic factors, environmentalism and culture. How do you balance this wide range of influences in your practice?
CC. I react to different issues that resonate with my personal experience. I work intuitively. Some issues bother me, then nag me until they come out in my work.
I started EL DORADO – The New Forty Niners in 2017. It was a result of the president’s hostility towards immigrants. I was also a public middle school art teacher for many years in Sunset Park. In 2016, I saw how the president’s politics and words were affecting my students, their families and, I’m sure, thousands and millions of immigrants in this country and beyond. The atmosphere in my classroom was somber and tense with students being fearful of family members being deported. I then read that 49% of NYC households speak a language other than English. I held on to that number and developed 100 colored “guagua” (Quechua for baby) sculptures. I painted 49 of them gold to honor that 49%. EL DORADO (The Golden) – The New Forty Niners became a public art installation traveling to each of the five boroughs of New York City, one borough per year, and presented as a contemporary archaeological site. The installation has been installed in four boroughs of NYC. It is now installed at the Newhouse Center for Contemporary Art at Snug Harbor on Staten Island until March 28. Towards the end of this year, it will be installed in Manhattan as its final borough.
In 2018, I created a series of paintings addressing the cruelty and absurdity of the family separation policy at the US and Mexico border, which is driven by underlying racism towards people from Central and South America. This policy is a manifestation of the xenophobia and the general opposition to non-white immigration. The titles of my paintings such as DNA Matching, Bully, Border Crossing, Caged In, Nearly Full Capacity, Not Summer Camp, Day in Court, all came from reading about this issue and feeling frustrated and shocked about the cruelty being perpetrated. Unfortunately, as we know, up until last month, the parents of at least 628 migrant children still have not been located.
I have also been creating large scale installations. I have always used nature as a setting for my paintings. Earlier in my practice, I created installations with the idea of the viewers becoming the figures in my compositions. In 2019, I was spending part of my summer visiting my mom in Quito when the fires in the Amazon forest were everywhere in the news. Being one country away from the epicenter, I was devastated and numb. I thought about how we treat nature as though we are not part of it. We destroy, burn, divide the land and we treat mother nature as the other. For the title of the installation I took the “m” out of “mother nature” and created “_other Nature” at Smack Mellon at the beginning of last year. _other Nature was a room-size installation with a fence dividing the room with one side lush and thriving and the other side stunted after human intervention.
I think that “balancing” the influences in my practice happens when I confront what bothers me. It is that “nagging” feeling that happens and that tension that needs to be released that makes me address different issues through my work.
ANTE mag. Can you speak more on how your background as an immigrant artist impacts your work?
CC. The migration experience of my family and my own experience has allowed me to have multiple viewpoints and an outsider’s perspective. Perhaps “fresh eyes,” to look for clues and inspiration in the materials, history and people of a place, physical or spiritual, and to draw insight about its core essence. In the many places I have lived, I think I have been seen by most as somewhat of an outsider. In Ecuador I was “la china”. In China I was a “ghost girl” (foreigner). In the US, I’m an Asian woman with a Spanish accent. I’m okay with that. I look at my life’s travels as a gift. As a result, I feel very connected to my community. I just define my community maybe in larger terms than most. I think when people arrive at a new place we try to find similarities between our old and new environment to anchor ourselves. I think when you spend enough time doing this you come to the realization that we’re all more similar than different. In my work, I do want to depict those commonalities that we all share as humanity.
Nature is very important in my work. Culturally the move to Asia from South America was extremely abrupt and disorienting for a 10 year old. I struggled to look for clues to my previous life in Ecuador. Initially it was difficult finding a common thread in food, language or people, but it was easy finding the connection that I was looking for in nature, in grass, flowers, plants, rocks, clouds, the sky, the sun and moon. That finding was extremely comforting and reassuring. Living in a city (Quito, Macau, New York), many of these natural elements could be found in the cities’ green spaces . My own experience of relocating makes me wonder how newcomers benefit from city parks, and how city parks evolve and feed off of the arrival of these different immigrant communities. I’m excited that this year I will be participating in the Urban Field Station Artist Residency program to research the connection between city parks and their surrounding immigrant communities. This project somehow feels like an extension of EL DORADO to me.
Outside my studio I also want to collaborate and create opportunities for others and help recent immigrant artists navigate the NYC arts scene. Last year I participated as a mentor in NYFA Immigrant Artist Mentoring Program and loved it. I feel at this point that I have a lot to contribute as an immigrant artist, but also as a mentor to immigrant artists.
ANTE mag.What are you looking forward to in 2021 in your studio?
CC. I look forward to be working and expanding on my “(in Blue) series” which is based on Blue and White ware, and its role throughout history in transmitting ideas and imagery across cultures. I love how it traces a global journey of migration and cultural exchange. I’m excited to be doing formal research on Blue and White ware through a fellowship which will complement the work I’ll be doing in my studio.
Lives and works San Juan, Puerto Rico and New York City
ANTE mag. Can you tell us more about your practice and how it evolved as a result of global forces (pandemic, travel bans, etc) during 2020?
Lionel Cruet. Surely, my studio space has evolved this past year 2020; and it has got completely reduced to the essential, more than before. I have focused more on visibility and communication using social media. I noticed that this year allowed me to communicate with my audience about nuances of my practice in a more effective way. In regards to the practice I have done much more research than before and I have managed the ways to use and language and communicate the ideas of my artworks effectively. I will say that after all it has been productive. Traveling has been a bit stressful and risky but I have to say that getting all the correct information has been the key.
ANTE mag. Your exhibition at Yi Gallery, Dusk/Daybreak, in 2020 was immersive, forcing the visitor to focus and slowing their gaze. Can you expand on how encouraging the viewer to encounter your work in a specific manner is important to you? Is it critical to slow the gaze when encountering your most recent body of work?
LC. When I was thinking about the exhibition there was a constant thought on making it immersive – as all other projects that I have created before – but this one was crucial to have an ambiance with a tinted red light as it made reference to multiple experiences. Most, importantly I wanted the audience to readjust their gaze and enter into an overarching visual and environmental effect. Recently there has been studies that state that the use of red light in coastal spaces helps to keep a balance and protect species like sea turtles that come out to land at night to nest. These red lights have been installed in some areas and I see it as a way to negotiate the spaces that these animals inhabit as well as different communities. Since the body of work references these alternative views of the coastal spaces, and the effects of natural and artificial light as well the relationships that happen in these areas, I thought it was necessary to flood the exhibition space with a red light.
ANTE. How has your ongoing work as a teacher impacted your artistic practice and vice-versa?
LC. I have to be super honest, I see both of them integrated. In my practice as an artist as well as an educator I perform lots of research, including social interaction and community building dynamics. In one way or another they feed each other. For the past year all academic activities have moved online and I think this is a positive new challenge to overcome. I have to bring all these dynamics into the virtual space and being in the academic practice as well in the arts for a decade now, moments like this make me rethink what I do, reduce and be more pragmatic and effective.
ANTE.What are you looking forward to in 2021 in your studio?
LC. Wow, I’m actually grateful to say that there’s much I’m looking forward to in 2021, starting now with the release of this interview with you for ANTE mag. I’m also creating an installation art project at the Center for Contemporary Art in Quito that is inspired by the entangled memories of mangroves. Additionally, I’m participating in a residency program in Quito, titled Ventisca, organized by La Planta. I will be focusing on subjects of ecological awareness and alternative forms of education. I’m also part of an upcoming exhibition Seascape Poetics curated by Bettina Pérez-Martínez at the 4th Space Gallery in Concordia University in Montréal. Last but not least, I will be participating in an upcoming online event titled Charla Fun from a microgrant project by the USLAF U.S. Latinx Art Forum. Stay tuned on my social media – including Instagram @lionelcruet @lionelcruetstudio – for updates.
ANTE.Tell us more about your journey as an artist: how did you get your start in your practice as a sculptor working primarily in wood?
Mark Eisendrath. I was working in paper and the things I was making were getting perilously close to falling apart due to the volume of texture, collage, and other media I was applying to the works.I was also using fire in my pieces to get the effects I wanted. So I needed a more substantial material.
ANTE.During your virtual studio visit with Pelham Art Center, which I enjoyed greatly, you spoke to the conceptual approaches you mount in your sculptures, both free-standing and wall mounted, and I wanted to hear more about what you are considering in terms of philosophy and the other influences that impact your work.
ME. What grabs me and pulls me into the shop is my materials. Not what they are but what they can be. I get an idea, I sketch it out, and sketch it again, and again. If it becomes an interesting drawing then I know it’s worth considering bringing it into the physical world as an object. But I have to be careful- sometimes the drawings become so enticing that I try to make the sculpture exactly like that – and that’s not enjoyable.
ANTE.We’ve spoken in the past about your narrow escapes from death and resulting impact on your everyday life in terms of visual impairment: in what ways do you think coping with the effects of your injuries have positively impacted your work?
ME. I don’t see the world in stereo – I see it in mono, which makes certain things pop out to me; while others are unavailable. This is a gift. I am drawn to flat picture planes- sidewalks, building facades, the earth at my feet, the end-grain face of cut firewood. All of these contain their scars and imperfections which is more than likely why I work with wood the way I do. I am stimulated by what I see, my injury causes me to miss some things, but I ‘see’ so much more.
ANTE. What are you looking forward to in 2021 in your studio?
ME. I love how I feel after a day in the studio – I am physically and mentally taxed. It’s a beautiful thing to have your work be a workout. I look forward to what’s possible. Specifically, I am looking forward to making a series of prints from both my raw materials and sculpture created specifically for this printing process. There is also a series of pieces in my sketchbook that are hungry to see the light of day.
ANTE. You participated in the Smack Mellon exhibition “Bound Up Together: On the 100th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment.” Can you shed insights on your contribution to this exhibition?
GOODW.Y.N. Performing Ain’t I a Woman (?/!): Kingston Legacy II at Bound Up Together: On the 100th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment revealed to me how much of women’s history in the country is tied together in an entanglement of destiny. The struggle for freedom from oppression, the necessity to carve out our own futures, both with and outside the hands of men really made me think about my female/fem ancestors who were trying to create a place for themselves in this world free of bigotry. Our voices are imperative and our presence is needed. I push for that to be seen in my work.
ANTE mag.This past year you produced several iterations of your performance series, “Ain’t I A Woman” across New York City. How did you choose the sites for this performance and how did you consider it as site-responsive in these multiple contexts?
GOODW.Y.N. When it comes to choosing sites for Ain’t I a Woman (?/!) I lean on historical, political and/or personal intricacies behind the “life” of each site. For example Ain’t I a Woman (?/!): Black August was a response to the history of Black August and its celebration of Black radical leaders, and how that is tying into the BLM movement and murals in New York City now. When I did Ain’t I a Woman (?/!): HOMEBound, HOMEComing however, I was performing and crafting from a personal, internal place and time within the history of my life and I connected that to the ancestors who were resilient enough to survive slavery in the United States. I don’t truly know if the site is responsive or not until I am performing on it. Every place has its own spirit, its own energy signature and I like to tap into that onsite.
ANTE mag. Can you tell us how your practice is developing/has developed as part of your MFA education at DIAP at City College (Digital and Interdisciplinary Art Practice)?
GOODW.Y.N. When it comes to my practice I’ve learned to lean on my words a lot more than I have in the past 6 years. The portraits I paint studying digital arts, and combining that with my other passions (body-performance, poetry) gives my work a unique flavor, a richness that never resided in it before. I am learning more and more about how I wish to tell stories, whether it be my own or someone else’s.
ANTE mag. What are you looking forward to in 2021 in your studio?
GOODW.Y.N. We’re remodelling the home studio to include these classic posters around the walls, I really love the new energy that is coming to me from these posters! I think that they will inspire me to create new works that center around the state of affairs today and what tomorrow may look like.
ANTE mag. Can you introduce our audience to your practice and the type of mediums you work within?
Melissa Joseph. Hi Everyone! Thanks for taking time to get to know a little more about my practice. I am a visual artist and I work with fibers, found objects, my family photo archive, ink, watercolors, and collage. Most recently I have been exploring different types of felting with wool as a way to paint. I am also making an experimental video, my first video project, as part of a residency at BRIC. My entire practice is an endless investigation of how different bodies are permitted to occupy space.
ANTE mag. During our discussions on your work, it’s become evident that you’re very dedicated to perfecting your methods working with fiber art. To this end you’ve completed a residency with the Textile Arts Center among other residencies you’ve completed. Can you tell us how you’ve arrived on the methods you use in your fiber art work in particular and the type of content you feature in these series?
MJ. I am a material artist, so connecting to an object’s presence is important to my process. In my 20s I was trained as a textile designer, which has broad applications, but was a language that felt natural to a childhood found object maker like me. Humans’ connection to textiles and the relationship textiles have to body and memory are so compelling. Fabrics hold the form of the body long after being removed. They become emotional and political spaces, which is content that I could mine forever. In my work, I often start with Indian silk that is part of my material memory of my childhood and of my late father. He wore this material often. I print photographs from my family archive onto the silk, and then use needle and wet felting to create interventions or distortions to the imagery so that it more accurately reflects my lived experiences and memory.
ANTE mag. Can you talk to us about how your work as a curator feeds your practice as an artist, and vice versa?
MJ. I love this question! Seeing art feeds my soul, and by extension feeds my practice. I often stop to think about how, as artists, we all make such oddly specific work. I never get tired of looking, connecting and discovering new art. Curating provides the space to analyze, celebrate and share artists and work that I love. Some I love because it feels familiar, some I love because I think the message is important, some I love because I find it beautiful, some I love because it is technically mesmerizing– the reasons to love artwork are endless. When this enthusiasm meets the evolutionary tendency to sort and categorize things, magical things happen, like curation. Curating also gives me a chance to zoom in on particular artists and artworks in a way that I might not get to do otherwise. It is a way of discovering relationships between people, ideas, and conversations that are happening across disciplines and content. I have a habit of obsessively sharing work with others if I think they might like it. Sometimes I even send images of art to strangers I follow on instagram if I think they might relate to it.
ANTE mag. What are you looking forward to in 2021 in your studio?
MJ. I am looking forward to my upcoming Workspace Residency at DieuDonne! Tatiana and Amy are so generous with their mastery of paper making, and I can’t wait to see what is possible and how I might incorporate it into my practice.
ANTE. Can you introduce your practice to ANTE readers, starting with your “Chapters” series?
Elaine T. Nguyen.Chapters is a reflective body of work addressing my lived experiences without the nostalgia that memory can bring. It is a recap of the significant moments in my life where my perspective and world shifted. The series is colorful and honest, each painting a new chapter with a cast, theme, or symbolic meaning described in words or displayed through imagery. With descriptions setting a scene or time such as “I Pepper Sprayed my Ass in the Anzo Borrego Desert” or “The Summer of Snark, Playlists, and Chocolate Chip Waffles @ Midnight”. It is a visual story and one that is less emotionally driven than previous works.
As part of my studio practice, I keep monthly sketchbooks, a process that dates back to 2015. It was through these books that I found myself in a reflective mood and one insistent on honest self-evaluation and growth. Chapters started out as a summary of different segments of life and that was made purely for me to reflect on and not something that was ever intended to become paintings. It was upon rereading those words that I realized how easily it could be transitioned into paintings with imagery and more importantly, how much I wanted this to exist not just as words in my journals. I created a ton of sketches of all these moments and the colors came easily, more about the feeling of certain colors than the colors in real life. It was the desire to have these be colorful that led me to the traditional stretched canvas and paint. I work on multiple paintings at the same time which allows me to continue making as one piece is drying and it also supports my color palette and how that can be seen across different paintings pulling them closer together. I go back and forth from painting to painting to sketching out new ideas and flipping through old sketchbooks when I am a bit stuck on a shape and sometimes even color combinations I created previously and never used.
ANTE mag. “Chapters” marks a departure in many senses from your 2017 series I admire, “I Can’t Wait to Remember This,” although they share a sense of bright colors and memory-making. How does memory play in impact in your paintings?
ETN. What I find interesting about memory is every time you remember something it becomes less and less accurate. That’s what started my series I Can’t Wait to Remember This, this need to remember these glorious moments and more importantly how it made me feel. That’s where the color came in, the vibrance and playful nature of mixed media with sparkles and tinsel, and a blend of colors is a reminder of how saturated these moments were with childlike joy.
This series, Chapters, was not so much about remembering or processing but about being honestly reflective of past events, the factual moments rather than the romantic nostalgia of memory. I didn’t draw inspiration from the most beautiful moments in life but the most impactful, the times where my life and my perspective has shifted. Each painting is a new chapter, there is an element of growth and difference with these. Though my past events are memories, the focus here is on a larger idea of collective storytelling piecing together a visual book of sorts and an ode to all of the impactful things that shape who I am currently.
ANTE mag. During our conversation as part of your recognition in the ANTE mag 2020 open call win, we discussed your text-based works on fabric. Can you speak with us about the beginnings and evolution of this body of work?
ETN.Blue Talks, the text-based works we had previously spoken about, invited audiences in to discuss, the work not necessarily about me, but the experiences that I share with a marginalized group of people. The transition between Chapters and Blue Talks began with a creative break. During this time I read books and I also reread my old sketchbooks, all 60 of them. I went through years of my life finding connections, observing common themes and ideas, seeing my younger self grow. It got me thinking about how I would section my life: the conflicts, the friendships, the moments and places of significance. What started out looking like an outline to a book became intertwined with imagery, paintings easily coming to mind representing each new chapter of growth. Chapters is an autobiography, or rather, a memoir due to its selective memory and fluctuation in the timeline. The color choices are always based on how that memory feels, occasionally pulling from the actual colors of objects but it does lean more towards the colors that excite me, the ones that feel more accurate based on emotion. The beginning works of this series are paint based, but as I continue I find myself incorporating mediums I previously used such as cyanotype, fabric, and embroidery. I have become more invested in breaking out of the frame and being intentional with the display.
ANTE mag. What are you looking forward to in 2021 in your studio?
ETN. As my work evolves, medium-wise, I find myself delving back into the draped fabric and a combination of that with stretched canvases. I am also finding myself incorporating the embroidery that I was doing but on sturdier surfaces and on top of the paint. Conceptually, I am moving away from real lived experiences towards making up memories that don’t yet exist. I’m interested in this modern concept of “manifesting’ our own realities and have been focusing on dreaming up my own future. There is so much unknown currently in the world but there is a lot personally known of where I would like to be and the memories that I want to eventually make. I am looking forward to manifesting my goals, envisioning trips and friendships, and also writing and painting my own future chapters. I’m looking forward to this body of work is the culmination of work I’ve made so far, one that you can observe and say it all speaks to each other in a fluid way rather than a part of a progression.
ANTE mag. You have an ongoing exhibition on view through February 18th in NYC and an upcoming show in Singapore. Can you talk to us about each show, and what work you have included in each?
ZW. I’m showing my most recent project Where Did Macy Go? in both shows. The show in New York includes the main video and a large print (video still). The upcoming show in Singapore (My first solo exhibition in Asia) will include a large projection of the main video, 5 prints (video still) on aluminum, and a giant inflatable of the protagonist Macy (18 x 7 feet).
Where Did Macy Go?is an 11-episode animated video told through a series of reports of Macy’s encounter with the epidemic, life during the quarantine, search for his grandfather’s farm and his revival. The video discusses the collapse of old community structures, the emergence of a new community after decollectivization, Confucian obedience vs. social obedience, as well as the new tele-republic of home, “mask politics” and social justice under the pandemic. Originally posted on TikTok to challenge the possibility of online exhibitions, the work is a response to this era of volatility, complexity and confusion.
Heavily inspired by Homi Bhabha’s The Third Space theory, my project often includes setting up a multi-layered system to trigger the collision of various conflicting or seemingly unrelated elements and topics from different social and cultural backgrounds. Due to Covid-19, it’s the first time we seen so many thinkers from all over the world writing about the same issue at the same time, from Italian philosopher Giorgio Agemben’s techno-totalitarism, to the argument between Slovenian philosopher Zizek and Korean-born German philosopher Han Byung-Chul: The re-invention of communism vs. the vigorous restoration of global capitalism, to French philosopher Bruno Latour and French writer François Gemenne’s argument on COVID’s influence on climate change, to Paul B. Preciado’s Pharmacopornography and Tele-Republic of Home. By juxtaposing all the complex and even conflicting arguments above, I was able to examine the “in-between” space of different social and political ideologies using COVID-19 as context.
ANTE mag. As an extension of your practice you’ve been creating AR filters which are regularly becoming wildly popular across social media. Can you talk to how these filters expand your practice outside of perhaps a narrower view of what constitutes Fine Art studies at the university level for example?
ZW. Similar to posting the videos on TikTok, these AR effects and Instagram filters, which is a part of the project Where Did Macy Go?, are also my response to the current time where many exhibitions were trying to recreate an IRL experience on their own websites, while I prefer to take advantage of what Internet and social media does the best: sharing and redistributing. So far these AR effects have been shown over 100,000 times on Instagram.
I think they opened up some new possibilities for my work. For example, when using the Macy (Split Face) filter, every user becomes a version of Macy. When thousands of users post their own version of Macy, the dimension of this project are widely expanded (both conceptually and geologically), which is very important to the in-between space I was seeking to achieve. Additionally, when using the Macy (Playboy) application, for example, dozens of characters’ faces in the scene are replaced by the user’s face, which creates a new possibility for a collective narrative. It could also be seen/used as a new tool for performance works.
This mode of exploration and experimentation exists in all my works: They often start from an event, a moment, an emotion, or a stimulation that I have strong feelings about. I will then start my research including studying the related philosophy and history, collecting archives and data, and finding the most appropriate medium to realize the project, which often includes learning a new technique or collaborating with professionals in the related field. It is very important to examine what each medium is best at, and be able to choose the right medium that could convey your concept the most successfully and efficiently. Especially, each medium and genre have their own established ways of experiencing the works. When we utilize a particular medium, we already have a long history in its own field that serves as the context of experiencing the work, which could be either taken advantage of, and/or be used to challenge and subvert.
ANTE mag. Speaking of academia, you are also busy working as an instructor at SVA and ITP. How do you find that teaching impacts your practice in the studio and vice versa?
ZW. As a visual artist, I have always believed that my responsibility and function (or what artists are best at) is to ask questions by constructing a visual experience, instead of solving problems (For example, activists, scientists and politicians are so much better at solving problems than artists).
What teaching brought me, is the notion of solving problems through education, and achieving something through a collective manner, especially in today’s unique context. I have been making a few collaborative projects in the past few years, and I’m hoping to do more in the future.
ANTE mag. What are you looking forward to in 2021 in your studio?
ZW. I’m currently working on a project titled Networked Ecosystem (in collaboration with artist Mark Ramos) – A live-simulation project that presents an ecosystem built of a variety of AI senses. Commissioned by NEW INC, Rhizome and Nokia Bell Labs, Networked Ecosystem takes LIDAR (location and distance), GECKO (temperature, humidity, air pressure and gas density) and other robotic vision and sensing data collected by Bell Labs’ experimental robots and sensors over the past few decades, re-purposing it to drive a 3D environmental simulation that viewers explore and interact with the simulated world and each other in an ever-changing environment. In particular, the simulation will present AI’s past, current (Covid-19), and future encounter and experience of climate change based on the massive collected climate related data, to contemplate questions about human’s sensory relationships with robot and AI, and how they survive in the chaotic world we’ve created.
We spoke with artist Zac Hacmon to mark the occasion of his solo show, Dispositif, at SLAG Galleryin Chelsea during the Fall of 2020. Our discussion ranged from discourse around boundaries – their formation and documentation – and the use of scale to elicit responses from the visitor. As we toured the show we naturally discussed the non-neutrality of architecture and industrial design, and how abstracted forms can still recall the lingering effects of these intentions. The interaction of these works with one another, their industrial appearance contrasted with the aesthetic approach of the artist to the materials at hand, and the expectation and denial of utility in these works composed of ceramic tile all call to mind the readymade and found object in art-making. We plunged into the show and questioned Hacmon on some of the perspectives he has adopted over the course of his practice, inquiring as to how these viewpoints have impacted his work and, particularly, this suite of sculptures on view at SLAG through Oct 18, 2020.
ANTE Mag. Thanks, Zac, for walking us through your exhibition. We discussed the concept of “profanation” as it relates to your work; could you elaborate a bit on that concept and how it informs your practice?
Zac Hacmon. The concept of “profanation” is based on my recent research which follows the structureof religion and its apparatus. If we talk about the “profane” we must define the sacred first, for something to be sacred it means it was removed from free use of men and from the sphere of human law. Therefore to profane means to return things to their free use and to their pure state. Following this hypothesis, in my work I wish to profane our socio-political structures and the way they form in our built environment.
ANTE Mag. I see. During our conversation I was also struck by your remark “to play is almost a political act”: would you elaborate on that and how it affects your approach to your work?
ZH. It is based on a recent text I started to work with by Georgio Agamben. The text describes the act of play as a political task and it continues the discussion we had before, about the “profane” and sacred. If play breaks up the unity of the myth and rite of which the sacred is powered by then the myth disappears but the rite stays. Same can be addressed with my sculptures in this “Dispositif” show at the Slag Gallery. There is an element of failure in the sculptures, they lost their original function as an architectural structure but they also got a playful element to them that can be activated by touch and movement almost like a toy.
ANTE Mag. I would like to hear your views on the formal qualities of your sculpture as relates to space for inclusion and exclusion – could you provide some context for how sculptures on view at SLAG Gallery relates to boundaries or thresholds?
ZH. The industrial materials I use for my work range from private spaces, domestic and home to the public realm and institutions, by doing that I try to create a hybrid of one over the other and question their coexistence. I use the grab bars in my work in order to create potential for individual access and also to call attention to aspects of regulation mediated through contemporary architecture. The sculptures can be conceived as ruins all together but the ruin is being commoditized and repurposed.
ANTE Mag. Elaborating on the above question, can you provide some context for how your ideas around public versus private space is reflected in your practice?
ZH. Privacy is the higher form of intelligence as we wish to cultivate the self and the being. In contemporary society privacy is long gone, as we live in such a technologically advanced system that we are not even aware of our privacy being gone and violated. In relation to my work, I try to employ this conflict and the duality that I see in our structures, conflicts between function and dysfunction, between public and private.
ZH. The use of readymade is very critical to our time even more than it was 100 years ago when it was presented by Marcel Duchamp. These days, we’ve already crossed the line of no return in terms of the global effects of pollution. Before my Fine Art studies I attended a product design and industrial design degree but in my fourth year I decided to quit when they asked me to design a remote control for air conditioner or a cellular phone, as I didn’t want to be part of the waste industry. I think that through my use and manipulationof the readymade I create an antithesis approach which profanes our acceptance of consumption.
ANTE Mag.Can you discuss the role of the readymade and your work? Is the use of industrial materials in any way political, and why or why not?
ANTE Mag.Finally, can you share some of your upcoming projects with us?
ZH. I am currently working on building Capsule no 4 and Capsule no 5 at my LMCC studio. The “Capsules” are part of an ongoing project of creating alternate, autonomous and inaccessible spaces that invade and penetrate the white cube. The “Capsules” will be part of a group show at the Cathouse Proper Gallery which will take place in November 2020. This work will be site-specific installation for the entrance of the gallery; you will encounter these portals right before you enter the exhibition space. For 2021, I am working on a collaboration with the RDJ Refugee Shelter, in West Harlem (which is a shelter for refugees experiencing homelessness in NYC.) For this project I plan to work together with the shelter residents to create an installation at the shelter space for Fall of 2021.