For this interview series, we sat down with the artists of “Intrinsic” – an exhibition on view at The Yard, Williamsburg Bridge in 2020 – to gain insights into their practice and learn more about what inspires them and the background informing the artworks they had on view in the exhibit (visible on the “Intrinsic” exhibition page on Antecedent Projects.) Artist Melissa Joseph shared her reflections on how her work with textiles and fiber art has evolved, the images her work expresses and the projects she is tackling end of 2020/start of 2021!
(Above work: New Wefts (2019) by Melissa Joseph, Inkjet print on Indian duppioni silk, twine, found stones and yarn. 24 x 24 x 2″)
ANTE mag. For “Intrinsic” at The Yard, Williamsburg Bridge, you featured works embracing a range of processes, including weaving and working with felt. Can you talk to us about the range of processes you engage with and how these have developed in your practice?
Melissa Joseph. I understand the world through materials. I use intuition and my image archive as points of inspiration and reference, and then filter them through media, often textiles and fibers. I feel a deep connection to natural fibers, stone, and heavy metals more than other materials. They always find their way into my work. I admire weaving, but I am a novice and it makes my brain work in a different way than it usually does. It’s a way to explore structure and have less control over the final product than I normally do. I like to challenge myself with things like this from time to time, but I will always return to the ways of making that feel more natural for me.
ANTE mag. Can you tell us about your recent work in residency with the Textile Arts Center and your recent exhibition there?
Melissa Joseph. The Textile Arts Center is an amazing place. It allows for play, skill-building, experimentation and growth. It is also the most supportive and empathetic community I have ever encountered. I was able to try several ways of making and in the end, I landed on felting. It was a way to paint with fiber, and I loved it right away! From the name to the process itself, it reflects the themes of my practice and personality. In my most recent exhibition there, I showed a collection of felt works alongside some found objects that I have collected. Any image-based work I make is always related to the emotions of the materials.
ANTE mag. What aspects of your practice have you been deepening during lockdown and quarantine in recent times? Have you embarked on new projects, series or processes?
Melissa Joseph. I am a double Capricorn, which might not mean much to some people, but to some it might explain how much I have thrown myself so fully into my practice during quarantine. It’s partly a survival mechanism, but it’s also a way to process some of the things that are going on. I really only started felting in March, so it’s been a covid-tinged discovery. I am in the middle of a pretty deep dive with it, trying to see where it can go.
ANTE mag. What upcoming projects can you share with us that are in the pipeline?
Melissa Joseph. I am excited to share that I am curating a few shows late 2020/early 2021. One is at a gallery called Shelter in Place. The gallery is 1/12 scale, so all the artworks are tiny. Another will be online through the Textile Arts Center. More info on shows I’m participating in and my curatorial projects on my Instagram, @melissajoseph_art . I am also a Video Artist in Residence at BRIC Media House in Brooklyn, so I am trying out some animation and video software right now that I hope will lead to something cool eventually!
For this interview series, we sat down with the artists of “Intrinsic” – an exhibition on view at The Yard, Williamsburg Bridge in 2020 – to gain insights into their practice and learn more about what inspires them and the background informing the artworks they had on view in the exhibit (visible on the “Intrinsic” exhibition page on Antecedent Projects.) We spoke with artist Sarah G. Sharp on the concepts that feed into her practice, the projects she is embarking on and some new considerations that are pushing her work forward.
ANTE. For “Intrinsic” at The Yard, Williamsburg Bridge, you exhibited works that feature a range of different camouflage printed fabrics juxtaposed against boldly colored embroidery depicting sacred geometry. Can you explain the genesis of this body of work and its evolution?
Sarah G. Sharp. The work in “Intrinsic” is from my series Kinship. When I’m working outside of NYC, at artist residencies in rural areas, or while traveling, I end up going to commercial fabric stores for studio materials. During hunting season these stores, despite usually being located in suburban strip malls, often have displays of camouflage textiles and hunter’s shirting. There is usually a huge range of camouflages, including “real tree” which is a sort of trompe l’oeil pattern of oak leaves and tree bark, and multi-distance or multi-scale camo, which looks like a pixelated version of traditional camo, but is made to disrupt the figure for digital video cameras used in contemporary surveillance and war zones.
When I was developing this series, I was reading Donna Haraway’s Staying With The Trouble. Her writing about kinships combined with my research into early feminist publications framed my thinking about the kinship between knowledge bases represented in these fabric stores; who was selling and buying these “camoflage” textiles, who was sewing them, then who was using the sewn product and how does this intersect with gender roles, domesticity vs. public persona and our ideas about wildness and nature.
The Kinship Chevrons use various camo and hunters fabrics along with metallic fringe and original machine embroideries with designs based on sacred geometry as a way to evoke the complexities of these relationships to the land, animals and plants. I want to diffuse and complicate the meaning of these fabrics made for hunting and war by combining them with formal languages and materials that are craft-based, celebratory and propose a new futuristic use for these textiles.
ANTE mag. Can you tell us about your work on other projects as part of your extended practice, such as the Toolbook Project?
Sarah G. Sharp. One of my persistent studio interests over the past few years has been print media from last century, especially underground and radical presses. In 2017, I decided to make my own publication, “The Tool Book Project” (https://www.toolbookproject.org/). The Tool Book Project is a three volume set of publications, and a platform through which I organize related gallery exhibitions, readings, panel discussions and other public events where artists and community members address relevant social issues together while highlighting and supporting organizations that are doing meaningful social justice work.
The Tool Book project was, initially, a response to a crisis I saw many artist and writers facing after the 2016 election, both in very real terms regarding how their lives and the lives of the people they love would be affected by the budget cuts and fear mongering policies of the new Administration and in terms of a crisis within the studio, questioning the value of practices that may not obviously intersect with social justice or activism. I wanted to find a way for artists to use their practices to support organizations that were already doing meaningful social justice and community organizing work, and make a way for artists to connect with each other around these issues. I put out an open call and compiled over 40 responses into the first Tool Book, which was also a fundraiser for Black Lives Matter, [the] Callen Lorde [Community Health Center], the Sylvia Rivera Law Project and Sane Energy Project.
During the production of the first volume of Tool Book, I was an artist in residence at SOHO20 Gallery in Brooklyn where I held a series of events. For one of the events, Tool Share Roundtable: Art and Activism, I invited four artists and writers who are also longtime community activists to publicly discuss how their political engagement intersected with or ran parallel to their studio and writing practices. The most recent volume, The Tool Book Project Volume III: Work Book, focused on Art and Labor, reprinting Art Workers documents alongside contemporary artwork and essays in a risograph magazine. Last November, as an artist in residence at the Textile Arts Center, I was able to combine my studio practice with Tool Book. I invited the original members of Tool Share Roundtable: Art and Activism from the first volume of The Tool Book project to convene with members of the Textile Arts Center community to revisit our conversation from 2017, and consider where we are now, in the lead up to the next election. We worked on a community quilt and discussed self-care, impeachment, election anxiety and reflected on how our lives and practices have changed in the past few years.
ANTE mag. What aspects of your practice have you been deepening during lockdown and quarantine in recent times? Have you embarked on new projects, series or processes?
Sarah G. Sharp. I have found that this crisis has made me question some of my normal ways of working. I have been much more focused on the parts of my studio practice that are generative, for me, rather than making work for public consumption over the past few months. So, a lot of drawing and playing with materials. I’ve been thinking about how to adapt the parts of my studio practice and inspiration that is based on being out in the world and seeing and touching materials.
When the lockdown started, I was preparing for two Spring solo shows that were postponed (one of them will be at NARS in Brooklyn in May 2021.) My vision and the work for those shows has developed and shifted during quarantine, so they will be quite different from what I had initially planned.
ANTE mag. What upcoming projects can you share with us that are in the pipeline?
Sarah G. Sharp. I have been developing textile and wallpaper patterns based on my research into feminist publications from the early 1970’s, at the height of the fight for the ERA and leading up to Roe v. Wade. In my research, I was interested to see smaller, regional communities having conversations about issues we are still navigating today, like reproductive rights, fair pay for women, recognition for domestic labor and unchecked white privilege. I found a lot of dialogue around women using new media technologies of the era, like video and cable TV, but also radio and other art forms. There were also reminders about global resistance movements working in solidarity with each other and that armed struggle was seen as a viable option in the name of revolution.
The patterns I am developing, tentatively titled “Burn Witch, Burn,” are based on articles about witchcraft, the power of cable television, radical socialism and women in the art world. I am also developing an Augmented Reality component to this project. I hope to debut this work at NARS in Spring 2021.
Virtual Exhibition via Davis Editions: Instagram @DavisEditions
solo show of new works by Ann Tarantino
When describing the imagery present in her solo exhibit, Land Lines, with Davis Editions, artist Ann Tarantino recalls her time walking the streets of Kyoto during a trip to Japan. “I just remember power lines criss-crossing above the street while ambling through Kyoto,” the artist reminisces. “Seeing these overlapping lines made such a strong impression on me.” Works on view in the artist’s current solo show with Davis Editions evoke this sense of trajectory and overlap, with lines bisecting her compositions in translucent swaths of color. Slight hints of pattern and color gradients spread across the surface of these works on paper, forming a subtle shift in background that affects the manner in which the viewer absorbs the work. These shifting, nuanced colors muted beneath sharp lines cutting across the surface of these works form a strong contrast. This juxtaposition makes quite the impression, mirroring the artist’s own remarks about power lines crossing the Kyoto sky.
The dizzying dance of lines and colors across the surface of Tarantino’s works are achieved as an effect of her process. The artist works with a CNC machine to etch across the surface of each panel, creating an ethereal effect in the composition as a whole. This process is also a reason why the lines cut so clearly across such a complex background image, leading to the clear outline of specific elements which stand out so clearly against the patterns receding back into the picture plane. Tarantino’s works on view in Land Lines manages to capture clear, linear progressions, even within compositions so saturated with visual texture and such a vibrant range of color hues. Thus, minimal qualities of these works rises to the viewer’s eye first, emerging through the range of elements on view in each print.
With a range of public art projects, installation works and works on paper, Tarantino is an artist whose style is adaptable to multiple formats. Her flexibility and keen eye for composition serve her will in this stunning survey of recent works. Land Lines provides a window into the mind of an artist keenly observing her environment, breaking it down into its concrete components. Tarantino mines the sublime from the natural world, paying careful attention to gradations of light and repeating elements. The patterns crossing through urban cityscapes and the dappled shadows cast by a tree branches both find a home in equal measure in these evocative works Tarantino has produced in the past year. A meditative and rewarding foray into Tarantino’s practice for any who view the exhibition.
Land Lines is on the Davis Editions Artsy page and is visible on their Instagram, up through Nov 25, 2020.
Rusudan Khizanishvili (1979) is based in Tbilisi, Georgia. She is a figurative artist who has been exhibiting in the West in the last ten years, more so in Europe. Recent years have brought more exposure to her unique, sumptuous manner of handing acrylic and oil paints. She invites viewers into her multi-layered portals of distorted figures and animals, with these portals acting as symbolic doors between cultures, nations, times and identities. The artist explores borders as a cultural phenomenon while commenting on a society starved by the prevalence of digital reality in her practice. These works lack harmony because, to the artist, contemporary reality is more about the dissonance than about a peaceful co-existence.
As it is with the music of Arnold Schoenberg and Igor Stravinsky, Khizanishvili creates tightly controlled dissonance within her overall harmonious tableaux. In the following interview, themes touched on include this atmosphere of uncertainty in Khizanishvili’s works as well as in the world at large. This interview occurs as the artist’s works are currently on view in Berlin for “Rooms & Beings,” a solo show at 68 Rooms, the project space of Galerie Kornfeld curated by Mdivani and up through January 9, 2021.
Nina Mdivani: On many levels this is a very disorienting time globally. How did it affect you?
Rusudan Khizanishvili: Right now, we are living through an extremely complex and stressful circumstances, our planned and structured life has been taken from us and we would need an extremely long time to return to our pre-pandemic frame of mind. By directly affecting the whole world the pandemic brought changes, pushing us to reconsider our own personal positions. The crisis pushed us into a deep self-analysis, and even more profound self-reflection was triggered by the public discussion of racism. In a certain way, Georgians can sympathize with what has happened in the wake of the outcry surrounding George Floyd’s murder in the United States. Going back to the 1990s collapse of the Soviet Union, this incident triggered civil war, bringing the question of rights for ethnic minorities to the forefront of public attention. And the question of ethnic as well as national identity is still an issue in Georgia, not fully resolved in the face of the continuously aggressive foreign policy of the neighboring Russia. This was a theme explored by a group presentation “Crawling Border” at Venice Biennale in 2015 where I represented Georgia along with several other artists.
ND: Has the pandemic changed anything directly in your work? If so, what precisely?
RK: Being blanketed by the cover of pandemic has significantly changed the visual aspect of my paintings. Until now, the closest I have ever experienced such an existential crisis was only through books such as Plague by Camus and Touch by Daniel Keyes. This spring served as a litmus test for my work, taking me on a faraway trip within myself. For a specific period of time, a ceaseless interaction with the outside – that, until now, was one of the ways of expressing myself -has been unexpectedly paused. This catapulted me more toward my subconscious rather than the real life. This change was somewhat traumatic, awakening fears that I have not faced before and bringing physical dimensions to unexpected states of mind.
NM: Fears play a role in your art.
RK: Yes, fears are integral to my visual language as I allegorically paint what terrifies me. This element came to my art over time. I graduated from Tbilisi Academy of the Arts with a degree in film studies what is roughly translated into art director in its Western understanding, so early on I started to create my compositions from a perspective different than a traditional figurative approach. Even today, I approach my paintings as though they are following one moving image after the other, creating a cycle of works. After my graduation I still felt like I was a student for the next 7-10 years. In those important years I worked through my own technical challenges, between what should be and where I was at that moment. Over time I started to travel abroad through invitations to various residencies and art symposiums and at one point found out that I am radically shifting away from any kind of national or folkloric themes in my art. My personal struggles, my search for identity started to gain some aggressive overtones.
I would say that in 2013 my visual language as you can partially observe it today started to take shape by inclusion of taboo images: images of my fears that I started to talk about openly. I found parallels to this approach in the art of African tribes, where interlocutors of the Higher Powers work with images of individual fears. At that time, I started to get feedback from viewers that some paintings produce anxiety in them, namely works about symbolic cross-breeding between animals and humans that I was exploring at that time. And I realized that I was on a right track, because whatever is hidden deeply scares us.
NM : Who are you as an artist now?
RK: For me, there exist two types of artists, artists who take their stand through actions and those who are storytellers. I certainly am the latter, because I concentrate on my own vision of the world. I look at global questions through my own viewfinder, understand how they affect me and then I retell this story using my own instruments. What I talk about now is the human being writ large. There is all this talk about human rights, but I deeply feel that humanness, uniqueness of any particular person as an individual became obsolete and forgotten. So, whatever I work on is always about a Human, how they try to survive in the world that they have personally created and how the process of saving one’s dignity or humanity is taking place.
What I am working on right now could be understood through the phrase that there is no harmony left in this world, so I am exploring disharmony and dissonance in the world of total aggression. I am certain that art should not strive to be beautiful. I might change my opinion, but this needs to happen naturally. This perception of the world is also visible in my choice of materials. When I started, I was consistently working with oil paints that dictate their own classical laws of painting; gradually, I switched to acrylic and mixed media. I believe our synthetic existence should be envisaged by synthetic means.
Something new and as-of-yet-unexpressed unexpectedly returned me to oil paints during the pandemic, though. Several exhibitions were postponed and, unexpectedly, this allowed me new space for a deeper self-exploration. As an artist I was given a new stimulus through this release from my comfort zone and this state will continue for a bit as the main motive of my next works.
NM: Do you have a clear idea of what exactly you want to do when you start a painting?
RK: Literature plays an important role in this. The first step I take with a new work is: I think of a sentence that centers a painting around it. Inside my mind it always comes in English, probably as certain homage to American novelists and poets as they have considerably influenced me over the years. Steinbeck, Faulkner, Kerouac, Plath, Whitman and many other classics of the American writing tradition act as creators of the first outline for my art. This tradition of literature taught me honesty and differentiation of who I want to be and what I want to say. As with them, I am trying to be very open in my works and express what is hidden deep within me.
Symbols inside my works are pertinent to me in the process of painting them, but I never try to force my view onto the observer. To me, they are at a complete freedom to see what there is in that particular point of their life trajectory. I often use religious or mythological themes in my works, I am drawn to sacred nature of this or that story. I am in an imaginary dialogue with an artist who created the work on that theme before: it never is a direct homage, more like a very broad variation on the theme.
NM: Where do you see yourself within mainstream Georgian and international art?
RK: Because I was born when the Soviet Union still existed not in Georgia, but in neighboring Northern Caucasus, Russian was my first language. Later when my family moved back when I was thirteen, I had to learn Georgian. I suspect that at that time my own visual language had been conceived, as what I could not verbalize at that time later became part of my work. My visual vocabulary developed organically from the combination of mythological, pagan symbols as well as in dialogue with elements of Classical art. Based on this I consciously or unconsciously have always perceived myself as an outsider artist within the tightly knit Georgian ‘mainstream’ art. Subsequently, I keep feeling a much deeper affinity with Western and, even more so, with the American art (Louise Bourgeois, Helen Frankenthaler, Rauschenberg, Rothko, Basquiat, de Kooning, Henry Taylor, Kara Walker, Sam Doyle, Henry Darger.) For me, the most important part has always been a creation of a universal painterly language that would be completely free from any national or folkloric references, any kind of national self-identification. Being an artist who lives in Georgia and converses using a global language about private as well as more abstract questions, this has become my most important artistic task.
NM: What are the main obstacles and breakthroughs you have encountered in the past two years?
RK: These past two years have been very important for me as far as my own self-positioning goes as well as for analyzing my work in the context of the larger society. A big obstacle I encounter is distance, and although I travel a lot and this helps in enriching and globalizing my visual language, I still feel this is not enough. For me to be understood in the West and to be seen by a larger audience, a wish of any artist if she is honest with herself, I need to be more closely connected to the international art scene. And this is my main goal, to be an actor of the big stage: a goal that I am slowly and diligently work towards. – ANTE
In 2021 a dual exhibition is planned at Annarumma Gallery in Napoli, Italy and a group show at Thisted Museum of Contemporary Art in Thisted, Denmark.
Exerting a critical lens on our perceptive faculties, works on view entice the senses with a range of materiality and contrast between analog and digital, 2-D and 3-D formats. Mahboubian’s curatorial statement comments on the perceived interconnectedness of the artists present in this exhibition, along with our own inherent interconnectedness, noting that the exhibition creates an “…environment intended to stimulate and please the viewer’s senses, much as would happen if one were to take a walk in a beautiful garden. Each artist’s work is somehow connected to that of one or two others in the group, but not to all of them.”
Evocative textures, lines and materials greet the visitor arriving at “Forget What You Know.” Evocative portraiture spans a range of hues, suggesting the subject’s posture and gesture to the viewer. Painted portraits share visual space with juxtapositions of textured materials approximating the figure, alluding to the shared subject of figuration. Where some works on view share subject matter but diverge in medium, other artists display a similar approach in their process while tackling wildly different subject matter. Where artists McCannon and Nazari create depth and three dimensionality in their works, narrative processes and figuration permeate works by Moghaddam, Sharafshahi, and Turner. The breadth of stylistic and conceptual approaches on view in the exhibition makes it a stunning, not-to-be-missed exhibition for any and all attendees.
“Forget What You Know” is on view 12-6 pm tomorrow and Sunday, November 15th from 12-6 pm at Art of Our Century, 137 West 14th Street in Manhattan, NY.
The influence of Afro-Carribean and Latin American culture permeates CANTAR DE CIEGOS/SONG OF THE BLIND: Esperanza Cortés’ solo show at the Turchin Center for the Visual Arts at Appalachian State University. On view through February 6, 2021, this meticulously curated solo show brings Cortés’ work to a new audience through a presentation of the artist’s installation and sculpture works. The spirit of Frantz Fanon and the critical lens he cast onto the fraught legacy of colonialism across the Americas seeps through the framework Cortés creates in her installations and sculptures, latent in the textures, materials and compositions on view at this solo exhibition.
The artist reflects on the works on view in her own words, noting, “My work is informed by the extraordinary hybridization of our Americas…its title speaks of the seizures of lands, the enslavement of people and pillaging of precious natural resources which created the massive wealth of the European Nations and the United States. 90% of Indigenous people in the Americas were decimated by Europeans, from a combined impact of massacres, disease, and overwork. Through this genocide there was a loss of cultures, languages, knowledge, and the rewriting of histories. The history we consumed afterwards in the Americas was written by people of European lineage. For that reason we are unable to recognize the history and accomplishments of people of Indigenous and African descent without prejudicial rhetoric. Which leads us back to this moment in time.” Throughout the exhibition, the artist refers to her own Colombian heritage and the rituals, folk traditions and performing arts that she has encountered and embraced in her own personal legacy. Trained as an Afro-Latin dancer, the artist mines the traversal of sacred space and incorporates this rhythmic and three-dimensional approach in her artistic practice.
Cortés notes, “My installations which are organic and improvisational constructions are infused with hope and renewal.” Her works bring the figurative into dialogue with the abstract, bringing out motifs that reference folk iconography from Colombia and pay homage to her roots. With two grandmothers who served as community healers, or Curanderas, in her native land, the artist reflects on the impact of community on individual and the ability of transcultural transcendence to provide a new perspective on what brings out the shared commonality across communities while acknowledging the hierarchical oppression that colonialism brought to the Americas.
In her work, the artist pays homage to the Afro-Carribean and Indigenous histories that have guided her, giving space to the plants, materials and patterns that various cultural influences have guided her and informed her artistic practice. The artist honors and elevates women of these communities as the vital pillars who have worked to hold together families, traditions and enduring craftsmanship. Her loving appreciation for these vital histories and the legends of women who have made their mark in Afro-Carribean and Latin American history is palpable. The balance of aspects of the figurative as combined with organically derived materials such as glass and metal reference the land itself: the constant factor that continues through generations and roots communities to their location and histories.
CANTAR DE CIEGOS/SONG OF THE BLIND, a solo show of works by Esperanza Cortés, is on view at the Turchin Center’s Mayer gallery through the first week of February 2021. Contact the gallery for a video and/or virtual tour of the exhibition: email@example.com .
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.
The fault lines that are determining our future are trembling in the lead up to this Fall 2020 election, which will be one of the most consequential Presidential elections in our lifetime. Honoring the scale and seriousness of the voter turnout this fall, the New York Foundation for the Arts is partnering with KODA creative lab for the panel discussion, “Womanhood & Women’s Rights.”
This virtual event will take place on Wednesday, October 21st from 6-7:30 pm, and features a conversation led by professor Ginetta Candelario in discussion with artist Lina Puerta, artist and author Elia Alba, and art historian Tatiana Reinoza. Honoring the the 100th anniversary of the women’s suffrage in the United States, the purpose – according to KODA Lab – marks an occasion to encourage especially Latinx communities to vote.
As per the event site, the conversation will focus on identity at the crossroads of the individual and the collective, and re-examine how gender identity influences our social, political, and economic rights. This event is open to everyone and is particularly geared towards women-identifying individuals. At the intersection of our current sociopolitical reality, and in dialogue with art history and art and culture, this discussion will hold valuable insights for anyone seeking social equanimity in increasingly unequal times.
My work gets called “Didactic” a lot, which I learned in grad school is often the white-elitist way of saying “I don’t want to learn history that is not compulsory Euro-centric history.”
Multi-disciplinary Xicana artist and activist Alicia Smith is the featured winner of our open call, and it is with great satisfaction that we are featuring her in a weeklong Instagram takeover she’s spearheading this week (if you haven’t seen her videos you’re missing out!) and in this special interview with the artist. The artist holds her MFA from the School of Visual Arts, and was featured at the art fair UNTITLED in San Francisco in Fall 2019.
Smith’s work spans video, performance, printmaking and sculpture to bring awareness to the existing, inaccurately romanticized tropes that deny indigenous women their individual complexity, simultaneously demonstrating their beauty and strength. We learned more from Smith’s perspective on the implications her practice has on the greater art world, as well as the lessons that she has learned from her ancestors and from the wider diaspora of indigenous nations that have informed her practice as an artist and activist.
(Featured Image: “Erendira”, image courtesy the artist.)
ANTE mag. Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Alicia! We recently learned about an artwork that you donated to raise bail funds for Black Lives Matter, can you tell us more about how this came about?
Alicia Smith. Thank you! That piece is “Molotov Hare,” and it was created really with Black and Brown solidarity in mind. A marriage of indigenous archetypes and anarchist imagery.
There are many indigenous traditions that involve the rabbit as a symbol of rights of passage for young warriors. The Aztecs had their Eagle Warriors walk through underground caves and emerge, ready to defend their tribe. There are jade sculptures depicting rabbits protecting men wearing eagle headdresses to illustrate this ceremony. Black Elk once said: “For the rabbit represents humility, because he is quiet and soft and not self asserting – a quality which we must all possess when we go to the center of the world.” The rabbit is also a trickster. The Anishinaabe’s Nanabozho in the North and Cherokee and Black communities in the South. Many stories of Br’er rabbit are in fact adaptions of West African tales of Anansi the spider. The trickster felt important in the piece because of his ceremonial role. He forces us to re-evaluate where we delineate societal rules and agreements. He does this through perpetually undermining them.
The image is about duty to your people, and that to change the rules you first have to break them. It felt extremely urgent: I cut the block in a day and started taking orders and I did use the piece to raise bail funds for Black Lives Matter OKC and Millions for Prisoners New Mexico. I’m really proud of this work and [proud] that people have been using that image when they protest police brutality.
ANTE mag. As a Xicana artist and activist, your work embraces themes such as decolonization, the Americas’ native nations and knowledge of the natural world such as plant life and medicinal practices. Can you tell us more about the origin of this journey for you as an artist to research and integrate the crucial, yet still too often overlooked, history of indigenous peoples in your work?
Alicia Smith. I feel like I didn’t have a choice, haha… when the ancestors come knocking you better stand at attention and that is sort of what began this path for me. I had always been a pretty feral child, bringing wild animals inside of the house, and I always had a real lust for knowledge, especially in the way of ecology. I feel like re-examining those complex relationships through that cultural lens has taught me more than anything else. My work gets called “Didactic” a lot, which I learned in grad school is often the white-elitist way of saying “I don’t want to learn history that is not compulsory Euro-centric history.” I know doing that kind of work might dissuade people from wanting to look at my art but I hope given the political climate at large that those same folks are at least taking a moment of pause as to why they don’t want to learn indigenous history of the land they are on. But above all else, if it isn’t for them – it’s not for them, and that’s fine too. I love encountering first-generation kids, folks who went through a diaspora, who immediately connect and resonate with the work. At the end of the day if all I did was preserve one inch of sacred knowledge in a piece, then I’ve done my job of being a good ancestor for those who come after me with questions.
ANTE mag. To expand on the above question, can you delve into the range of your practice – spanning video, installation, mixed-media – as relates to the themes such as native culture and traditions and decolonization in your work?
Alicia Smith. By foundation I am a printmaker. So all my work often starts as a relief print before it goes into the world of durational art. I like the idea of being a Tlacuilo: a scribe or codex painter, someone who is recording history, ceremony, etc. So I think my 2-dimensional work acts as a kind of codex and my performances and video are the ceremonies themselves.
I call my work “Secondhand Ceremonies,” inspired by Robin Wall Kimmerer, because these are partial reconstructions and partial innovations. When you are descended from people who survived genocide it means necessarily reconstructing the old with new innovations: Adaptations.
ANTE mag. You reflect on the words of Anishinaabe cultural ecologist Melissa K. Nelson in your description of your work, “Teomama.” Nelson remarked, “the Native Woman’s body [in so] many stories acts as a kind of meeting place.” Can you expand on how this reflection impacted the development of your work?
Alicia Smith. It’s cosmogeneology. In science it’s just evolutionary biology. The most seemingly innocuous Ant has been on this earth for 120 million years. And in indigenous ways of knowing we don’t look at the ecosystem from this sort of colonial scientific gaze. These beings are our siblings. Plants, animals, insects, fungi, they’re our older brothers. And to explain that ethic of kinship, rather than talking about primordial soup, we do it through these eco-erotic stories, where women are often at the intersection. In the Popol Vuh a woman becomes pregnant eating fruit from a tree. There are stories of women marrying stars, bears, becoming pregnant by the wind and on and on. It establishes an ethic of kinship. When I do these performances with Hawks, Wolves, Deer, Horses, Rivers, and so on, its so important to me to convey the medicines of these beings and their teachings as well as the metaphors I imbue them with in the work.
ANTE mag. How has the uncertainty of 2020 impacted your practice, and what current body of work are you focused on?
Alicia Smith. I am very fortunate because I have a government job where we were put on admin leave. I’m also very fortunate that I have been given some room to do what I love to do and share stories from my home, for the museum that I work for. This time at home has been really beneficial for my practice. Unfortunately people who are privileged who dont have to work a 9 to 5 job are usually the ones who can devote more time to their practices and end up rising in their art careers. But this time has allowed me to be so much more productive and to do what I really want to do which is engage with my community and in social justice causes.
On view at Paradice Palase(1260 Broadway, Brooklyn, NY) through Saturday, August 29th, Courtney Dudley’s transcendent “Sudden Relics”makes manifest a new body of work reflecting the natural materials and flashing screens that define our confined yet simplified lifestyle during quarantine. Composed of new works made made with clay and pit-fired in the artist’s own Kingston, NY backyard, these works – and the resulting video “Dig” on display – present this primitive process-as-creatively re-imagined practice.
Works titled “Burial” (and numbered 4-11) on display present a vision of the world through the lens of the artist’s own personal loss during the time of CoVid-19 in addition to the general anxiety and stress caused by the pandemic. The works elevate circumstances of chance and resurrection, borrowing from the sophisticated yet ancient Japanese concept of “Kintsugi”: an elegant means of re-evaluating how broken and re-assembled sculpture can be elevated through the process of applying decorative adhesive to resurrect the final artwork. This theme of resurrection buoys the exhibition, echoing the quarantine optimist’s belief in a better world post-CoVid19 pandemic subsiding.
“Nest,” a sculpture created from dried and twisted vines that are an invasive species in the artist’s local ecosystem, further complicate the concept of what is actually natural. The video documenting the artist’s practice that is mounted on display, titled “Dig,” flanks the “Curios” (1-5) series which consists of shadowboxes containing shards of the pit-fired ceramics that have been gathered and presented as artifacts: relics of a contemporary body of work borrowing an ancient process. This re-imagining of the primitive in the contemporary moment demonstrates the power of Dudley’s vision: by elevating the material and re-contextualizing this practice for a new audience, the artist makes more immediate connections to an abstract, historic process.
The presentation of this dynamic show firmly establishes the connections between the visceral quality of the material and the labor-intensive practice the artist employed to create works for “Sudden Relics.” The homage to those artists who have spent time creating those enigmatic, elegant ceramics and clay artworks of eras past whose names are lost to the sands of time. The artist’s dedication and enthusiasm toward this body of work infuses the exhibition with a timeless spirit that elevates and soars toward a hopeful future.