Artist Candace Jensen traces illuminated pathways through history, fine art, ecologies and landscapes. She is a self-proclaimed “interdisciplinary visual artist, writer, printmaker, calligrapher, activist and woods witch,” invested in a practice rooted in precepts of Deep Ecology. A Vermont-based artist, Jensen’s practice assimilates a rich range of inspirations, from illuminated manuscripts to poetry, environmental impact, mythology and fictions. As part of this conversation with the artist, a top prize winner of the “Alchemy” open call curated by Writer, Independent Curator and Wedge Studio Owner/Founder Douglas Turner, Jensen shares her reading list in tandem with her current body of work, its concepts and evolution, and a look forward at what’s to come: https://www.candacejensen.com/
(lead image: “Deconstructed Yantra: Gold, Red, White” by Candace Jensen; gold leaf, gouache, inkjet ink on plastic transfer and bronze leaf on paper 11” x 15” (2017))
ANTE mag. Thanks for chatting with us, Candace! Can you tell us what you’re currently reading (as a point of entry into your practice)?
Candace Jensen. Wow that is such a question. My TBR (to be read*-Ed.) stacks are plentiful, and I am a serial polytome reader. I should just send you a bunch of snappy pics of my coffee table, bedside table, the side of the couch the dog doesn’t sleep on… I just finished Mark Leidner’s Returning the Sword to the Stone, and Maria Dahvana Headley’s new translation of Beowulf in the wee hours of the night. They were both wry, and smart and very funny. Cindy Arrieu-King’s new book, The In Betweens, is a slim volume which has nonetheless lasted me a few weeks— she has such a wonderfully deliberate pace to her accounts, which all hover near the anecdotal but stay rooted in the contemplative, or vice-versa. So I’ve been sitting with that one for a while, chewing. I’ve begun reading Kate Soper’s Post-Growth Living: For An Alternate Hedonism, and Nedra Tawwab’s Set Boundaries, Find Peace, for theory and enrichment, but haven’t gotten far enough yet to report much on either (it’s looking good). My guilty-but-not-ashamed pleasure right now is the webcomic Lore Olympus by Rachel Smythe, which I anticipate every Saturday evening… I’ll stop there.
ANTE mag.We were hoping you could expand on the question: what has the artist to offer? Way-finding, escapism, mythical creation, distraction, contemplation, or exploration?
CJ. I am very attracted to this word group, and three triangulate to my work quite well: Way-finding, Mythical Creation, Contemplation. In a piece like Parzival, these are both my process and the verve of the finished piece. It was a messy throwaway scrap drawing, and it moved with me numerous times over a few years before it suddenly materialized into exactly what I needed as a vehicle for the grail myth, which I only recently became enamored with after reading more about it through Martin Shaw’s work.
I’m channeling myths, and echoing myths, and in this way I am hoping to create myths. But mythology by and large seems to me to be a “everything old is new again” kind of thing. They will always be read by the voice of the Zeitgeist, and can be appropriated and disrespected or exalted and magnified by our interest and lack therof.
I think about the meaning of the work a lot in terms of the materials I use: of course, paper is incredibly precious, but we culturally treat it as if it were worthless. The environmental cost of paper-making and the sheer magic of its history in so many different cultural contexts, really it should be revered. But we tear it, trash it, recycle it occasionally. So in a drawing, it can be elevated out of its presumed worthlessness, the lead state, but that requires the contemplation and reflection upon it.
The layers of my illuminations are something to look through, and see around. There is some digging involved, if the viewer is patient. The chance that a person viewing my work will pause to really figure out the language and the layering is about one in twelve, I’ve watched and counted. So there is also a barrier to some people to even get to the point of being able to think through some of the materials I am presenting.
ANTE mag.Can you respond to/speak more on this reflection?: “These ‘Gaia Illuminations’ are chimeras of ecological relationship theory, practiced and recorded systems of knowledge and magic, and both invented and inherited mythology. I investigate nature/culture dualism through the lens of deep ecology, and face my own hopes and skepticisms through layered symbolic and totemic images, organic textures, and text.”
CJ. I am at heart a maximalist, and when I endeavored to casually reinvent calligraphic illumination through the lens of Gaia theory and Deep Ecology, I used that lens. Everything needs to be in it, or reflected, or hinted at, to truly be representative of a Whole large enough that we could consider the Terra entity. So, I don’t weed the garden beds of these illuminations. I plant a few particular seeds, be it a poem or a myth, and then I let a polyculture grow around it without playing gatekeeper (metaphor mixing here, it’s giving me life right now). So the quote above from my artist statement is a dense shorthand for saying “everything including the kitchen sink” and the totality isn’t afraid of itself. The claws are a different animal than the neck and head, but they nonetheless are unified. The result is tricky to read or disentangle, and that is perhaps how it should be— resilience theory emphasizes complexity, diversity, layers, redundancy. And that is not at all the same type of communication we are used to trying for. We are quite used to essaying our damnedest to be understood, to be clear, and are often encouraged to be pithy— no one wants to read your expounding, mile long email. Clarity and simplicity are useful, beautiful, wonderful, or something else, but if the Terrestrial totality is to be the heart of this compendium (series), then it must be much messier and overfilled. The sheer volume of ingredients going into this work overwhelms me, chronic deep thinker that I am. The way the visual poetry of the entanglements hint at, reveal and obfuscate meaning are a way of reflecting, learning and accepting in the end, how little I know, and how small my powers are. Its a humbling process. To think back to the prompt of Alchemy, I suppose the artwork is more the spagyric, the transformational process, and I am the element undergoing its effects. Whether I come out as gold, or dross, is to be seen.
ANTE mag.What do you have upcoming that you can share with us?
CJ. I am juggling a couple of really exciting exhibitions and events this year. On May 13th I will be contributing to an online discussion with a few other very talented and interesting artists through EcoArtSpace, “Getting Off the Planet” at 1pm EST. https://ecoartspace.org/event-4262935I was also awarded a solo exhibition at the Southern Vermont Arts Center in Manchester, VT this summer. There is an opening reception planned (in person! wow) on Saturday, June 12th, and the show will run through July 2021.The planning and construction of the residency I founded with my partner, In Situ Polyculture Commons, continues; we are hoping to be able to announce an opening schedule for sometime in 2022, but in the meantime I have planted dozens of fruit and nut trees and perennials to support an edible landscape for our future guests. Lastly, in hopes that the health of communities abroad stabilize and recover from this last year and a half of pandemic, I will be looking forward to setting sail on the 2021 Arctic Circle Residency voyage in October of this year. Fingers crossed for many reasons!
Editors: Keep up with Candace on her website and/or follow her Instagramfor updates on current and upcoming exhibitions, such as her solo show at the Southern Vermont Arts Center (Summer 2021) and upcoming three-person show at Amos Eno gallery (Spring 2022.)
Contemporary interdisciplinary artist Kahori Kamiya is a New York-based artist whose work spans ideas of the body: its possibilities, limitations, identities, taboos and malleability. As part of this conversation with the artist, a top prize winner of the “Alchemy” open call curated by Writer, Independent Curator and Wedge Studio Owner/Founder Douglas Turner, Kamiya shares more with Turner about aspects of her work that have changed over time, including her current body of work, its concepts and evolution, and a view ahead into what she has in store in 2021 moving forward. Her work can be found on her website: https://www.kahorikamiya.com/
ANTE mag. Thanks for speaking with us, Kahori! So, you’ve mentioned breast-feeding as one important point – referring to its context as an influence on your current body of work, could you please tell us more about this as a departure point in examining this new work?
Kahori Kamiya. My current sculptures and hanging-works are focused on my breastfeeding time. My breastfeeding was an extreme experience: a dual experience between pain and pleasure. For women who don’t naturally produce milk, breastfeeding is an every-two-hours sleepless act of labor, work that is run in a solitary environment.
By stitching thick foam with a long needle, I am re-experiencing my physical suffering during my several mastitis infections, doing so in order to make a abstracted breasts. Because of its function, shape, and sensation, I felt (breasts to be a separate objects,) another troublesome creature on top of my chest, and I was even calling my breasts as different names of mine. Coincidently, in Japan, ancient people often nicknamed mountains as “breasts”. This comes from the mountain’s shapes and (Japan’s) Animism ideas, and also (as) worship for Mother Nature.
For my ongoing sculpture, I am making a geographic sense of the breast and adding a narrative feature: letting a little toy baby sleep in a cave in front of a snake. The snake has a dual meaning of being poison and medicine.
ANTE mag.What does the artist have to offer? Way-finding, escapism, mythical creation, distraction, contemplation, or exploration?
Kamiya. I tend to offer in my works the opportunity for viewers to experience a mix of contemplation and exploration. For example, my new large sculpture titled Welcome Back (130” x 110” x 100”) is an interactive piece that visitors can sit and listen inside the ruffle sculpture. I am still working on the sound part and my goal of this piece is to connect with the viewers preconscious memories of being secure and cared for.
For the ruffle cave, I sew a unique synthetic fabric called Tulle to make a ruffle to present a breast milk shower. The lightness and see-thoroughness of this fabric evokes in me a feeling of non-substantial existence, such as I felt as if I was forgotten by society when I was on maternity leave. The shiny sculpture part on top of the chair, I paid homage to the Belvedere Torso. Belvedere Torso is an ancient Roman marble statue that presents masculine male nude. Since all mammals can breastfeed without taking a lactation class or watching YouTube videos, I optimistically thought I could magically do it with my “mother instinct” once I held my baby… however, I was all wrong. Humans seems don’t remember how to breastfeed anymore. As a result, my struggle and awkward breastfeeding posture always evokes for me the Belvedere Torso. You may feel strange that I recalled the macho nude statue as my post-natal body, but the reality of breastfeeding is more like cross-gender intense labor.
I also knit multitudes of nipple-ish mandala circles to attach to the ruffle parts. This idea refers to a Mandala design and meaning of co-healing. One unforgettable memory is that my husband started seeing the dream during his sleep that he also breastfed our baby. It was funny, but he wanted to help me, who was suffering to produce one drop of milk. I also wished that I could have more nipples (so that) then I could possibly get more help.
ANTE mag. What are you currently working on, and what can you share that is upcoming for you?
Kamiya. By using a hybrid technique, such as modeling, collaging, painting, sewing, knitting and embroidering into my sculpture, I am interested in transforming Mother Nature and my own reality of motherhood into my work. For example, I like to paint the motherhood gesture/left-over, such as blemish, spilling, scribble, stamp, and stretch marks onto the surface of sculpture. Also, the scribble-like-signs are reminiscent of numbers that I tracked in terms of the amount of breast milk and baby weight every day. At that time, those numbers were very emotional to me.
With continuous wiping and scrubbing motions with my paints, I try to catch a moment of being beautiful. Like how Robert Rauschenberg talked about his process of making art and his materials, he mentioned “Artists are almost a bystander while (they’re) working…”. Being a good bystander is a captivating part of my art practice. I am challenging myself to seek the combination of painting, sculpture, and possible architecture features with a motherhood theme. For a long time, having children was taboo in our contemporary art world. It’s a challenging topic for me to reveal the reality of motherhood, but I am more excited to share my ideas with viewers and develop my works.
My work is currently on view at Woodstock Artists Association & Museum and will show at Lacuna International Contemporary Art Festival in Spain from July – August. Also, some gallery exhibitions in NY will be up this year. Please follow my Instagram, @kahorikamiya to check out my updates!
Moving ahead as a means of re-visiting that which claims us: this process portends one potent lens through which visitors to Née, open through Sunday, May 2nd at REGULAR-NORMAL, can digest this sumptuous solo exhibit of works by Melissa Joseph.
The show, which opened to the public April 2nd at 41 Elizabeth Street in Manhattan (Fl 7), explores not only the artist’s own identity – a significant part of the exhibition’s scope – but also one’s identity within the context of a larger network, such as family. Joseph investigates, through her own relationship to her family and Indian-Irish-American identity, her childhood experiences in Pennsylvania and visits to the Jersey Shore. Mixed-media works portray approximations of accumulated memories, communicated through her intituitive understanding of the figures translated into felted wool, presented here in the show as a tableau-style homage to those who have influenced her upbringing. Through a range of mediums including sculpture, mixed media, textile, and found imagery, the artist reviews poignant moments of her own development, and her family’s past, through the veil of memory. The span of subjects represented here which form her life experience are as wide-ranging as the artist’s own explorations of materiality.
(above image: Clara Aunty at a sitar lesson (2021) needled felted wool on amate bark paper. Melissa Joseph.)
The show is not about nostalgia, remarks Joseph: rather, it is about utilizing different sleights of hand in the form of process – the hand sewing fabric, the hand connecting felt to a substrate, the hand wrapping found concrete fragments in silk – as means of linking aspects of our lives which determine who we are in relationship to our lived experience. The artist creates concrete steps toward this linkage – drawing together disparate elements in approximation to how we construct our identity through a range of relationships and experiences – within the solid forms of objects and artworks present within this exhibition. “I am still trying to understand where I came from. Most people are, but I have had some big paradigm shifts and reframes in the last 5-10 years, so looking back is never neutral,” reflects Joseph. “It’s really a way of “re-seeing” or trying to see things I might have missed more clearly.”
The artist mines a personal archive of family photo albums as a departure point for these mixed media portraits on view in the exhibit: visionary vignettes spanning a range of processes and artistic mediums. Joseph’s multi-disciplinary work often involves working with textiles. Joseph’s new floor-mounted sculptures offer a concrete departure from her work with softer materials, heralding a new embarkation in her practice and approach to art-making. Works such as “Captain Clara, Backwaters”, “Golden hour quarantine walk: Brooklyn Piers” and “Jim, Olive and Albert on Crawford St.” all offer the opportunity for the lived environment to intrude upon Joseph’s more textile-based ruminations. In these scuptural works, the artist creates with silk and wool, integrating these materials in an embrace with firm natural objects, such as rocks, found cement and clay. These objects, gathered from the artist’s experiences traversing Brooklyn, form cogent marks delineating the artist’s trajectory in physical space inasmuch as the artist traces her lineage and memories in the imagery presenting her life’s trajectory in other works on view.
Where more solid materials make their presence known, Joseph applies a softer material, such as felted wool and silk, in dialogue with these less malleable objects. This contradiction in terms of soft and hard material can represent the divergent aspects of memory and identity, particularly as relates to our closest relatives: our relationships to relatives are concrete and easily expressed through language, while remaining in some ways harder to communicate and/or express through the lens of memory. Joseph relates this concept to the idea of an “Aunty”: this formative role, present in families cross-culturally, can indicate a mother-like figure, a mentor, a tutor, or a moral guidepost. While the definitions we apply to our relationships with family members seem straightforward, in many cases it is how members of a family translate and express those roles for those individuals closest to them that adds more dimensions to these roles, and therefore, directing how we ourselves develop as a result of these meaningful relationships. Joseph is able to grasp these keen nuances by shifting between tangible, smooth surfaces and more painterly, hazy images created by working with felted wool, expressing layers of concrete relationships while also abstracting these relationships: much as we grasp a feeling aroundhow someone has impacted our lives, as opposed to tracing our genetic lineage.
The body of work on view was produced in dialogue with, and directly impacted, by the artist re-examining archives translating her family life and the memories that form the bedrock of her experiences in the wake of her father’s passing in 2015. Her work – which, she affirms, is object-based first and image-based second – takes her back to a re-examination of close personal relationships and the frameworks of family dynamics, poignantly expressed through a range of processes. Many of the artist’s works present the artist’s process of incorporating needle felted wool into her work, as she observes, “Felt allows for slippage.” Perhaps it is this practice of hovering liminal spaces between nebulous and concrete, present and past, which allow room for the artist to so forcefully communicate color, line and image, translating identity and memory in such a tactile and visceral manner.
” Née” is on view by appointment through Sunday, May 2nd at REGULAR-NORMAL in Manhattan’s Chinatown neighborhood. This exhibition is at 41 Elizabeth Street in Manhattan, Floor 7. For appointments, contact email@example.com .
Lines approach and recede from view in the effervescent compositions comprising Sugawara-Beda’s “I’ll Be There,” on view now through May 1, 2021, at the Thelma Sadoff Center for the Arts in Fond du Lac, WI. Tradition and expansion are present in the exhibit in equal measure, with the artist embracing traditional mounting techniques typically used to present Japanese paintings on paper on scroll format. This aspect of her exhibition, which exhibits work from her “KuroKuroShiro” series (the series title is Japanese for black-black-white,) has allowed the artist to approach new formats and avenues of collaboration. “For this exhibition, I incorporated tradition directly into my art by having my art mounted in a traditional mounting called Kakejiku,” remarks Sugawara-Beda. “This activity has become a collaboration with craftsmen and merchants and formed a new dimension in my art-making process.”
Collaborations notwithstanding, the artist’s work asserts its expansive presence through a dynamic sensibility that transcends the shades of gray it is composed of, seemingly eluding the two-dimensionality of the picture plane. Sumi ink is a medium that lends itself more readily to form broad, abstract washes, so it’s exciting to see Sugawara-Beda’s sharp use of individually distinguished lines and forms traversing the picture plane. While incorporating traditional elements, the artist’s work is anything but, sharing art historical space with the canon of Op Art and Abstract Expressionist painters as much as the traditional Japanese Sumi ink painting tradition.
Borrowing from the lexicon of seasonal paintings, which in Japan are often mounted on scrolls often related to the nation’s traditional 72 seasonsinforming the land’s literary traditions, and depicting landscape scenes relevant to each portion of the year, the artist here has provided elevated, abstracted pathways for visitors to construct their own relation to each ‘season’ on view. Whereas her KuroKuroShiro CI Sacred Lot – winter work provides the viewer with an expanse of space in which to lose their train of thought, much like a wind and snow-swept field, her work KuroKuroShiro CV Sacred Lot – summer seems to allude to the June rainy season in Japan giving way to the warm nights of summer and the kero-kero cries of frogs in the balmy air. Even visitors unfamiliar with Japanese traditions can find respite in these works, which provide a hypnotic assembly of overlapping and receding lines for viewers to ruminate over.
Meditative and idiosyncratic in equal measure, the artist’s work finds its own path to nature. The artist notes of the works mounted on Kakejiku that they allude to a higher, spiritual sense of nature and the seasons. “Even though [these works] are in a vertical format, they are still landscapes, and each generates a seasonal tone: spring, summer, autumn, and winter,” observes Sugawara-Beda in her work statement. Each work opens up a reverie for viewers to explore, with seasons mounted specific to the traditions of patterned fabrics as adopted for use in Japanese traditional painting presentation. The artist hearkens back to the highly developed appreciation for the season’s procession embedded within Japanese perspectives, while adapting a sensibility aligned with Western abstract painting traditions, giving way to a Third Space in which visitors can find their own framework for navigating the formal elements of her paintings. There is something ready waiting for everyone to find in “I’ll Be There.” Check back with the Thelma Sadoff Center for the Arts for exact directions and visiting hours.
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.
MaryKate Maher is one of those conceptual juggernauts whose work you discover and instantly wonder how you haven’t run across it sooner. Her awareness of the nuances of structure and the volume of forms create lyrical and compelling sculptures and installation work. A thoughtful artist with a strong record of exhibitions who also just so happens to be an alumna of both Skowhegan and MacDowell, Maher proves through her practice to create gradual crescendos, impressing her admirers with a criticality and subtlety that holds precious secrets for all who encounter her work.
We touched base with Maher to gain a more in-depth appreciation of her practice in light of her selection as an Open Call winner, learning about her background in painting, her ruminations on balance and the careful, tenuous relationships binding individual components to the whole.
ANTE.Thanks for chatting with us MaryKate. Can you tell us about your practice and specifically the tension between the organic and industrial latent in your work?
MaryKate Maher.I have a background in painting and drawing that has transitioned over time to include sculpture and elements of photography. They influence each other in ongoing conversation. This dynamic between structure and tonality, color and line serves as a useful aesthetic corollary to the organic/industrial duality. I find industrial landscapes beautiful and sad. In their pristine states, the industrial dominates the organic, cutting through it, confident and domineering. In its dilapidated state, one sees the organic reasserting itself, softening the borders. That juxtaposition interests me. I don’t go out looking specifically for it but it seems to find me, catching my attention when something seems “right”.
For example, one moment I keep trying to recreate occurred about two years ago when I was driving home from my studio in Bushwick, Brooklyn. It was sunset and I was driving near Kingsland Avenue, which is a very industrial route. There is this large white holding tank (oil or fuel). On this particular evening the sunset was reflecting perfectly onto the tank so that both the tank and the sky had the same pink and purple gradients. The industrial was acting as a mirror for the organic. I didn’t have my camera with me and I kept trying to pull over in traffic to either take a picture with my phone or figure out what I wanted from that moment. It was rush hour-hectic and I missed my chance. I drive by there all the time trying to re-catch that experience, but I haven’t seen it again. I’m not sure what I expect from seeing it again but the gradients I saw from the light that day have found their way into my work.
ANTE.You specifically mention cairns as an influence in your practice. Can you speak to the impact that and other natural phenomena have on your work?
MaryKate Maher. Rocks and cairns have been a fixture in my work. With cairns, you have something very organic with a touch of the human added. The most basic human gesture. I think about how that gesture would feel to someone wandering alone through the wilderness. Is it reassuring? Is it spooky? There’s also a sort of game to making rocks, which do not on their own lend themselves to stacking, balance one on top of the other. In my work, it turns into manipulating weight and balance in ways that emphasize awkward and precarious arrangements. I’m not interested in picture-perfect compilations. I tend to stack and pile using chunks of concrete and other fabricated forms, wedging something into another form. There is a deliberateness to this action which is weird, imperfect, and provisional.
Nature isn’t pristine. It creates all sorts of bizarre conglomerations like “plastiglomerates’ which are a literal fusing of plastic pollution with organic debris to create a new form of rock – a direct result from human pollution. In my personal collection I have an oyster shell which has fused itself to styrofoam like a barnacle. Its a perfect riddle: what is overtaking what?
I also love the tradition of the Scholars’ Rock and Odin stones where natural formations are so thoroughly aesthetified that they come to read as sculpture. Other phenomena like Fata Morgana and mirages, light refracting on the horizon creating interesting effects: all of these influence my work in some way. When I can travel and explore I collect all these feelings and moments from different places and bring that back into the studio. I love geology and seeing famous collections, like that of Roger Caillois, and Standing Stones in Britain. There is a power to all of these objects and for centuries people have tapped into that.
ANTE.Recently you have shown at venues such as Triangle Arts Association and the Brooklyn Army Terminal. You’ve also shown at outdoor sculpture venues. Can you walk us through the positive aspects of both gallery and public/outdoor sculpture exhibitions?
MaryKate Maher. My studio is pretty messy most of the time and venues that are more of a traditional gallery space are ideal for seeing the work in that clean, open space. You can control the presentation, the lighting, all of those things. You can play with scale and formality. There aren’t many “unknowns” thrown into the mix. Outdoor sculpture is usually just one work and it has to stand up to other criteria like weather, scale, and durability in addition to it being a finished work. It’s a fun (and stressful) challenge. It’s like being a director: making sure everything is happening on schedule and organizing all of the components, renting equipment, hiring help, etc. Working outdoors can have perks that can’t really be created indoors, and it’s always a big learning experience. Last year, I was curated into a sculpture exhibition in the Poconos along a local hiking trail. All of the works that were included had to address the natural world and couldn’t interfere with the natural environment there. It took me a long time to figure out what to create. It had to stand out against the camouflage of the woods, but also meet my standards of refinement. I had been working on and off with large blocks of livestock salt but had only ever shown the salt works in an indoor setting. I ended up creating a totemic form that stood out against the earth-toned surroundings. Salt is elementally of the earth, so it’s soft and organic in its own way, but compressed in this form it becomes rigid and structured. I knew the rain would erode it and that animals might eat it, that it might kill the grass underneath. I envisioned it melting away in this beautiful spire-like form to create an entirely new sculpture (which didn’t happen). As the exhibition progressed over the twelve months of the show an evolution occured: morning dew ensured a permanent wet, sweaty gloss to the salt, rain eroded the edges making it eerie and otherworldly, and deer and racoons came in the night to lick the blocks thereby leaving divets and marks, but the sculpture never changed the way I thought it would. All of the moisture kept eroding my anchors and epoxies and those blocks are so damn dense they take forever to melt. The animals did create an impromptu performative aspect of the work. Eventually it just became a ruin. It was still a cool piece, but there are a lot more “what ifs” with outdoor work. I find that when I’m invited to make outdoor work, I try to go as large as the budget can go and when I’m invited to show in a gallery setting I can scale up or down as needed.
The show at Triangle Arts was a really beautifully curated exhibition by Annesofie Sandal who I had recently met while exhibiting work at the Brooklyn Army Terminal. It was a nice connection and both of those shows were great to be involved in.
ANTE.Can you tell us more about what you’re working on recently and what direction your practice is moving toward?
MaryKate Maher. The pandemic has really thrown a wrench in things for me. In February/March 2020, I was in residency at the Wassaic Project. I was exploring all sorts of new ideas and thoughts, testing out new materials and processes. Within 5 days of returning to NYC, the city completely shut down. Many of those ideas that would have had the chance to possibly cultivate into something interesting suddenly seemed moot. So they’re all on the back burner for now. My brain – and body – just don’t have the energy at the moment to tackle them. Instead, I’ve been focusing on works on paper and collages. There were too many unknowns and a lingering lack of structure present in my day to day, so I created a project with set parameters. I printed a bunch of images and photographs that I had been working with and cut them all up. My task is to create new collages from the same cut papers by rearranging and reusing the pieces. Then I take a photograph of the ones I like and turn them into a print. There is a nice immediacy about working this way as well as permission to put it all away on the days when it feels frustrating. The completed works are turning out pretty well. The original images included lots of gradients and abstractions of light, and they create these interesting depths and spaces. They are very abstract and surreal, but I’m digging it for now and just rolling with it. There is a lot of repetition because the same forms show up throughout the work, but it’s helping to create this concise series. They’re also helping me think about ways to translate that into sculptural forms.
ANTE.What’s one specific work you’ve made in the past three months, and what about it is inspiring you consider new concepts and formal evolutions in your work?
MaryKate Maher. The collages I’ve made during the quarantine. These branched out from work I was doing right before the pandemic but the previous work wasn’t really there yet and needed to be pushed further. Being stuck in my small apartment, with my family, all of us on top of each other, I would sneak away and sit in my window sill and stare out at the world below. Listening to the intense quiet, watching the sunsets, seeing the birds going about business as usual, spying on neighbors using their roofs for exercise. I thought a lot about light, space and bodies. The colors I was working with were magentas, pinks and reds and they felt bodily and intensely oversaturated. Color has been moving into my work in a way it wasn’t before. My neutral palette is evolving for sure from this recent work. As I start to get back to the studio, I see the work continuing in this direction as I figure out what it means: cut forms, saturated colors and finding new ways to create space through flat planes.
(Lead Image: Prussian Blue (head), 2019, resin, concrete, brass, gold leaf, prussian blue flashe, 16 x 12 x 8.5in)
An Interview between Audra Lambert and Eileen O’Kane Kornreich
Our current dual American crises of pandemic outbreak and social inequality are both eerily present in this visceral body of work I encountered by artist Eileen O’Kane Kornreich, “Mortality Path.” The series is open to viewer interpretation as the artist depicts the site of Washington Square Park, a space that has served various functions over the years: a place for organized protest, leisurely strolls, farmland, and a burial ground. Kornreich presents scenes from this locale not with realistic details but charged with facets of the various histories that compose the elements of the site itself.
I first became aware of this series a few months ago, when I met with the artist after encountering her current body of work, “Creatures,” which explores concepts related to the “Gilgamesh” epic. The artist’s powerful dual approaches contrasting the historical realm of Myth against the personal myths we build around our own lives intrigued me, enticing me to learn more about her past body of work. Encountering “Mortality Path,” it became clear that Kornreich invested significant time in researching the purpose of this site throughout New York City’s nearly 400-year history, particularly as it relates to the settlement of Manhattan as it spanned northward from its origins in the current Financial District. The artist charts her engagement with the site from a personal level as someone who frequented the park, diving into its secrets and hidden history in the wake of poignant personal grief she was experiencing during the time period that this series emerged. Kornreich observes rather than comments: she views the psychological aspects of the park’s trajectory, tracing the multi-layered history informing the experience of walking paths along the northwest corner of the park. I sat down with Kornreich for this somber and reflective journey through grief, contemplation, and the intractable pall that past histories indelibly cast on our experience of the present moment.
ANTE mag. Walk us through the origin of “Mortality Path” and your early foray into capturing the vistas of Washington Square Park, how did this space first attract your attention and inspire you to begin work on this series?
Eileen O’Kane Kornreich.After my husband died early 2015, I had been thinking of our mortality and how we humans manipulate the natural world and ritualize our deaths. Death of a beloved brings one down memory lane, and I found myself digging out work from forty years earlier. In the late 1970’s I went through several years of painting landscapes. I was charmed by one oil of the trees out of my studio window. Everything I loved and lived with during those years are dead: the dog, the boyfriend. Everything gone – but not the trees. I drove to see them, still outside that window, the dog buried not more than twenty feet away. I thought of trees and burials, like burials in Indonesia where they inter dead babies in a ritual where they and their spirits are absorbed by nature, which I believe is lovely. I thought of all the markers for our dead, all the bodies moved into catacombs, then I reminded myself of potters’ fields. There are thousands of dumping grounds for human remains; we walk on them daily and are unaware. Washington Square Park’s northwest corner is something I am very aware of and that is so centric to our city and country’s history, yet there are no markers for all those people.
ANTE mag. The theme of this work is site-specific, dwelling on a certain location: The Northwest corner of Washington Square Park. Are you drawn to working with spaces and their layered histories? Why or why not?
EO’KK.This was a first [for me to use a particular site.] This is so specific a site: fifty to two hundred feet of a site. It was not a conscience decision to use a small-scale location. It was a conscience decision to use a mammoth atrocity to over tens of thousands of people, acknowledged. These bodies that were dumped, hidden, ignored, and historically expunged and that one American Elm onsite who saw it all and is still alive. That’s the story.
ANTE mag. You note that in this body of work that you build… “from society’s constructed beauty that masks atrocities below.” What about this contrast compelled you to create these artworks?
EO’KK. There are several written histories of the what and why of the potter’s field in and around what is now known as Washington Square Park. New York City has records of purchasing sections of the eastern side of the park for a potter’s field in 1790s. At that time, this land was already used by several African churches located near that same land when this area was farmland owned by freed slaves. The city has notes of the bodies dumped in the north west corned on the banks of the Minetta Creek: this was an area, again, long in use by the native population. This undesirable area was partitioned off to native peoples, freed slaves and rogue New Yorkers, The English and Dutch, then reclaimed as a potter’s field – can you imagine? I imagined then and still to this day, all the bodies laid or splayed, then topped with fill for years as the pandemic raged during humid summers or a citizen was murderer. A few decades after the last of the stink and vermin had died off, only then a military square is constructed for pageantry around the square mansions that have since been constructed. Imagine bunting and flags and shots of rifles children playing in and around where just a generation ago lay the bodies of a putrid death, some named some not, thrown into a ditch. We have a similar situation to this now at the area near World Trade Center: different, clearly, in terms of intent, but so many go about their day and eat lunches over the bodies of those killed in 9/11. Across the street is an African burial site that just received its historical plaque. And so, it goes, it’s all around us.
ANTE mag. These works feature emotionally charged colors, and the strong use of perspective in these works creates a sense of heightened anxiety and alienation. What are some of the emotions present in these works and why?
EO’KK. Emotionally charged color is my grammar, the construction of my visual language. While making these drawings, I am aware that I’m in a graveyard, that there is death beneath my feet – it brings to mind my husband’s graveyard in Valhalla, NY, which is gorgeous and shows diversity across its many sections, yet beneath these graves are even older burial sites of native peoples, settlers, anicent beasts….these layers of history continue endlessly. With Washington Square Park, that one particular corner has never had a plaque until they put a plaque at the arch noting that in the 19th century, ten African wooden caskets were placed at this site in 1850. But that begs the question of why these freed men and women of color were in this site, which at that time was still relatively undeveloped? Early settlers had no qualms about using free slaves as a buffer from native people’s attacks on first the Dutch, then the English took over. This is a part of our history we can find if we dig through the layers. There are many perspectives in the park, off in one area you can even watch the light bouncing off the distant Hudson River, even noting a small square where you can see New Jersey. These photos were taken during walks in the winter and there is refracted light, light shining on in the darkness. This is my contemplation on color and perspective: how it’s read or absorbed by the viewer is for them to tell that story, I’ve told mine.
ANTE mag. The presence of trees is palpable in these works: what meaning do these park trees have for you, metaphorically, in this series?
EO’KK. The four-hundred-year-old American Elm in the Northwest corner of the park is a monument we locals call the Hanging Tree. That is my leading lady. If she could talk, she would set me straight. She would tell the burden of the dead and dying, and hangmen alike. The other trees, the recent plantings by our wealthy society, those represent the frivolous, the pageantry, the amnesia of a city wanting to not remember or know what they did, what happened in the past.
ANTE mag. Can you explain your process in creating these compositions? For example, did you photograph the site from different angles then draw those with pencil on paper? Did you create these works en plein air?
EO’KK. While in the park, I photograph a path, a tree. I take upwards of three hundred shots with my camera and print what is valid to my eye. From these I construct a photo-collage of multiple perspectives, giving me a 360-degree view of a tree, shadow or path. It is a very cubist drawing which arises from the collage. I create the base drawing in pencil. From the base drawing, I work with acrylic, conte crayon, pastel, crayon and graphite to build the finished work.
ANTE mag. You reference that these works recall “mysterious dreamscapes of nature.” Can you elaborate on that sentiment in relation to this body of work?
EO’KK. Once I start layering color with crayon and pastel the hard cubist edges are removed, and the multi-perspectives become one trippy, mysterious landscape.
What happens when we die? Every person who has lived during the age of reason has thought of the why’s and where’s of the afterlife. Does the answer lie with a god or gods, or spirits, or is it science? Why are some deaths celebrated and interred in strong, elaborate shrines while others are burned on a river or dumped in a marsh that becomes a celebrated park a few decades later? That’s just luck. My deeper thoughts are what happens after our internal light is out.
ANTE Mag is focusing on ten projects that span creative disciplines and seek to build wider community ties between creative disciplines in our new series of interviews, 10xCommunity. Featuring artistic projects, community-building initiatives and interdisciplinary platforms, ANTE is sharing these interviews on the mag and across social media that spotlight these endeavors through the current social crisis to pivot to sharing positivity and uplifting creative news to our audience. We here at ANTE have long been fans of Culture Push, a New York City-based nonprofit that unites art and social justice through its programs, including fellowships, an online journal, exhibitions and much more. Below we caught up with Artist, Professor and Culture Push Co-Founder Clarinda Mac Low for insights into the current events and initiatives Culture Push is moving ahead with in the time of CoVid-19.
ANTE: So tell us what inspired the creation of Culture Push, and how did you envision this organization as a way to foster artistic initiatives through public participation?
Culture Push: Dreaming up Culture Push was always a collective endeavor, because everything good, for me, happens in conversation. When the first glimmerings of Culture Push started, in 2008, I had been in conversation with many different people about the lack of space for hybrid artforms. At the time I was mostly situated in the dance and performance world, but not really fitting in there anymore (if I ever did) and talking to other people who felt the same way. I wanted to create a home for ideas that didn’t fit anywhere else. The name “Culture Push” came to me after a few conversations I had with Alejandra Martorell and Paul Benney, my partners in the collective TRYST. Culture Push was a name that left room for interpretation, but conveyed a sense of urgency. Then, after a series of conversations with Aki Sasamoto and Arturo Vidich, recent graduates of my alma mater, Wesleyan University, the first form of Culture Push was born. All three of us, though we were from different generations, had expertise both in dance and performance and in other disciplines and sectors, and an abiding interest in how art practice could function beyond the black box and the white cube. We could see how, by creating an entity, we could make a home for hybridity by creating an institution that was expansive in intent and encouraged cross-sector, public-facing conversation.
We saw the institution itself as the art material, so, when we began, we didn’t actually know exactly what our focus would be. We were performance-makers, so we decided that the form of the organization would rise from experimentation and trial and error–our first step was just to create the institution–the entity–and then the form would emerge from action. So, in 2009, with the help of our amazing initial Board, we incorporated as a non-profit, and because of our Board member Michael Yi it went quite smoothly.
As movement artists we were committed to corporeal practice and knowledge, and we began with a set of broad principles–our programs would bring together different sectors, would involve “hands-on” public participation and horizontal knowledge share, and would allow for collaboration. The first programs that we devised proceeded from these principles, and from our desire to nurture a fluid culture where the lines between art, politics, daily life, and social experiment could blur, and where challenging the lines between disciplines leads to challenging the form of society.
ANTE: During this difficult time of the COVID-19 crisis, what are some ways that your organization plans to continue its mission in helping artists and communities affected by the pandemic?
CP:We currently have two major programs–The Fellowship for Utopian Practice (our bedrock) and the newer Associated Artists program. All of the artists we serve are in precarious situations financially and socially. Most of these artists also work as independent contractors, often within an arts context where they are facing cancellations, postponements, and lay-offs, as well as loss of future work. Many of these artists also act as community supporters, and are donating their time and energy to creating space and providing essential services to their fellow New Yorkers.
To support our artists, we are working with our funders to expand the financial support we offer our current Fellows and Associated Artists, as well as our recent alumni, by offering expanded funding for their ongoing projects and funding for the projects they have begun during this crisis. We also want to offer them opportunities to share work and be in community with each other and with the wider world, and will be brainstorming about how to re-cast their projects for the current time. We are also planning on offering new opportunities, like paying them to give online workshops or presentations, or setting up networking events. The bottom line is to support these important voices in any way we can–they are the voices that will help us remake the world in a better form as this crisis develops and (hopefully!) resolves.
ANTE: Can you talk about how Culture Push has been able to amplify initiatives that have been started by individuals and groups to help artists and others who have been financially impacted by COVID-19?
CP:The people who are connected to Culture Push tend to be self-starters and community responders. In the initial shock of the shutdown, for example, Shawn Escarciga – at the time Assistant Director of Culture Push – reacted as an individual concerned for the impact that the loss of work would have on people who are already living precariously and responded by immediately starting a GoFundMe, theNYC Low-Income Artist/Freelancer Relief Fund. He was immediately joined by Nadia Tykulsker, one of the current Culture Push Board members. This was not an initiative begun by Culture Push, but, early in the process Shawn and Nadia reached out to Culture Push staff to talk about fiscal sponsorship for the Fund. I had also been thinking about this, and it was great to come together and offer this fiscal sponsorship to a fund that was addressing such urgent need. The fund has, to date, raised over $150,000.
At Culture Push we often talk about the “performance of institution”: that is, we are very small and barebones with a modest budget, but, because we are in good financial standing and our organizational bona fides are strong, we are able to act as a institutional partner when people require a financial or otherwise established entity to get what they need. So, after the success of the partnership with the NYC Low-Income Artist/Freelancer Relief Fund, we decided, for now, to expand our fiscal sponsorship program to include emergency funds independently initiated by staff, Fellows, and other artists in our community that serve low-income, BIPOC, and queer artists, and artists and others based in vulnerable New York City neighborhoods. So far, besides the NYC Low-Income Artist/Freelancer Relief Fund, we are also acting as a sponsor for the Dance Union’sNYC Dancers Relief Fund (COVID-19), started by J. Bouey and Melanie Greene, and for theNorth Bronx Collective, a group of activists in the Bronx (Alicia Grullòn, a Fellowship alum and current Board member, is a member of the group). By serving as a conduit for higher levels of funding from foundations or individuals, this fiscal sponsorship has so far enabled these emergency funds to greatly expand the financial support they can offer to the people they serve. We don’t take an admin fee, so all funds go directly to the people who need it.
ANTE: In your most recent exhibition, RE-TOOLING, artists developed multidisciplinary “practical tools” for resistance and social change, incorporating dance, performance, installation, and writing. A tool was redefined as a means for “individuals to change their environment (socially, politically, physically) or engage with it in a new way.” Can you speak on the power of creative tools and outlets to help us cope in times of hardship/uncertainty?
CP:Culture Push is grounded in the conviction that having space for imagination is as important to survival as more tangible resources like food and shelter. Indeed, imagination is how we figure out how to gain those resources under difficult circumstances. Imagination allows us to create work-arounds and new situations when a situation is challenging, but also gives us space to be present, or to escape, or to fully realize ourselves as individuals or as members of a group. It allows us to transcend difficulty, to connect to each other and to the other creatures we share space with, to invent new ways of being.
So having access to creativity is imperative for all people, especially people in difficult circumstances. And everybody is creative–whether the results of creative endeavor are recognized as “art” by a mainstream art world is immaterial. Sometimes it takes a nudge here and there for people to find a voice, but it’s always present. The artists in the RE-TOOLING show have developed some nudging tools par excellence, and there are many important voices that are born from their experiments. I’m also reminded of Claudia Prado, who has devised a writing workshop that she runs with working-class Spanish-speaking immigrants (documented and undocumented). The work these people, mostly women, come up with is gorgeous and valuable, from voices we don’t hear often enough. The voices come out easily–they just need the right opportunity and the right catalyst.
ANTE: In addition to physical exhibitions and public projects, Culture Push also features the online journal PUSH/PULL. Can you explain how this publication is integral to the Culture Push mission, and how digital publications/exhibitions could be a way for arts organizations to adapt in the time of social distancing?
CP:This is a great question, and definitely one we have been thinking about a lot. From the beginning we have seen some form of publication as an asset to the Culture Push community. The first version of this was IdeaNEWS, a publication that reflected on the year that had passed through its form rather than its content. IdeaNEWS was active from 2009-2011. Then, in 2015, our then-Assistant Director Madelyn Ringold-Brown, proposed starting an online publication as a supplement to the Fellowship–a place for Fellows to publicly share their process, work with collaborators, develop ancillary philosophies… basically another part of the public square. It’s since evolved to be a venue where our Associated Artists engage as well.
CP artists usually bring together groups of people as an integral part of their projects, but now that physical distancing has become a norm and so much of our lives are happening online, we will need a different venue for gathering and creating community. Since PUSH/PULL is already there, and is already known as a venue for quality content, we plan to expand it as a platform, and bring in as much of our community as possible. It’s an exciting possibility, because, while it has been an effective venue for writing, because it lives mainly online it also has been a repository for video, images, graphics, and other media. We are also exploring how it can be interactive.
ANTE: One of your organization’s early projects, ArtCraftTech, brought together several creative disciplines (artists, scientists, technology experts) to find artistic and practical solutions to short-term problems, like waste management, through collaboration and dialogue. What are some takeaways on how creative, publicly engaged projects like these can help us deal with real-world problems and inspire collective action for change?
CP:When we first established Culture Push, all three co-founders started different programs. ArtCraftTech was my “baby,” so to speak, and the form of the program reflected both my experience in devising collaborative performance and my experience working in microbiology laboratories.
I have a desire to address so-called “real-world” problems directly, but I am also suspicious of the abbreviated process that many cross-sector endeavours seem to engage in. With ArtCraftTech, I gathered people from different professions together and acted as a facilitator as we decided, all together, what problem(s) we wanted to take on. Once we determined that, we decided what questions we wanted to ask, but were not expected to come up with workable solutions–it was clear that solving the problems we were taking on required deep systemic change and far more resources than we had on hand. We did generally end up coming up with some very concrete possibilities for mitigating the problem, but also more subtle approaches, and projects that were provocations as well as “solutions.”
Engaging in this process, which was a series of meetings that took place over several months, really showed us all how a long, slow, thoughtful process of development can illuminate different aspects of a problem, and bring new ideas to the fore that may have been hiding underneath the more obvious solutions. This was reminiscent of (good) laboratory research, where repeated experiments and the data they bring leads you into unexpected territory, and shows you where you need to go. It’s interesting to think about this now, because, when I was working in laboratories, I was working with HIV, and there is a delicate tension, in disease research, between the urgency of cure and the need for caution and careful observation. I think we’re all being gripped in that narrative now–so much desiring a quick fix for this overwhelming pandemic, but in danger of grabbing on to the first dubious solution that comes along…
Anyway, I digress. 🙂 This understanding of the importance of process imbued all of the co-founders’ programs, and it definitely influenced the form for the Fellowship for Utopian Practice. We were clear from the beginning that the Fellowship needed to be at least a year long, and it needed to privilege process over product, or, as I eventually said, “Process is our product.” This was somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but it’s also true–we are advocating for an arts ecosystem that privileges and supports a thoughtful development process as much as if not more than a specific product or object. Only this will truly allow for deep conversation and lasting change.
ANTE: Can you tell us about some of your recent initiatives and where Culture Push headed in the near future?
CP: Currently our big project is Walking the Edge, a project we’re doing in collaboration with Works on Water and the NYC Department of City Planning. The two arts organizations are working with the Waterfront and Open Spaces Division of the NYC DCP to create a durational artwork that invites everybody to walk all 520 miles of New York City’s coastline, to get people involved with thinking about NYC as a city of water, and to gather deep engagement around the DCP’s Comprehensive Waterfront Plan for 2030. That walk was supposed to start on May 1 (520 in 5/20, get it?) and continue for 24 hours a day until the whole coast was covered. So yeah. We are adjusting. It’s interesting, actually, and not entirely bad, to slow down and reconsider. So, instead of the walk this year, now we are launching prompts and questions and suggestions and performances about our waterfronts, by artists from Culture Push and Works on Water, every Friday at noon on Instagram (at @works_on_water, @culturepusher, and @nycwaterfront).
Also, we have gathered all the materials for a 10th Anniversary publication that featured several Fellows writing about subjects related to the projects they did with CP, and we were planning to publish and print in April and distribute in June of this year. Of course now that timeline has shifted, but we will be making that available soon as a downloadable .pdf
For the future? Interesting question. There was the Plan for the Future Before, and there’s a Plan for the Future Now. We were finally thinking about creating a hub space for Culture Push (we have been an itinerant organization this whole time, with no fixed physical location or office). That’s still our desire, but, because so many things are so up in the air, how that will play out is very much an open question. Regardless, we will continue supporting artists as they collaborate with communities and create spaces for imagination and solidarity.
ANTE – Thanks, Paul, for speaking with us today! Your practice spans Architecture, Design and Art; yet, you’ve noted in past interviews that you work across different disciplines in order to best translate a “concept” into reality. Can you explain more about this philosophy of working to adapt concepts into the real world, and how that has manifested both in artistic projects and commercial projects with clients?
Paul Mok – There are two tricky terms here: concept and disciplines. “Concept” is tricky because it usually means a “clear idea”, and that is precisely what I have gradually walked away from in the past few years as a designer. I was trained to derive iterations of design from a clear concept very early on in my career. However, the more I worked in the design field, the more I have come to realize that concepts are too often just alibis to rhetorically justify certain irrational, personal design decisions. I find the irrationality productive and even necessary, but not the alibis.
To unlearn anything would be a years-long process. I started rejecting my acquired design method, subconsciously at first, then consciously, gradually replacing the void that used to be the “concept” with collections of seemingly unrelated elements – short writings, aimless strokes on paper, gestural forms made of clay and a few other projects – some art installations, some small commercial projects, and some academic works – have been delivered through this process. So, in a way, the concept I am adopting now is precisely the lack of it [the lack of any defined concept]. It is not about bringing a concept into reality. It is about letting reality – a specific set of circumstances – be translated into and – more importantly – addressed through the design process. And because of that, I am skeptical of the confinements implied by the notion of “disciplines”. Architecture, design and art are different only in a practical, circumstantial sense, I think, not in the essence.
ANTE – The value of the projects you’ve worked on is not only respected by clients and your peers, it is also shown by the awards they have received. In 2014, you worked on a project that won the AIA’s Honor Award for Interior – just as you entered Harvard for your Master’s degree in Architecture. Can you tell us about this project? Can you also discuss how this experience informed the beginning of your studies at Harvard?
PM – That [project] was a dining hall renovation that I worked on during my two years as a designer at Index Architecture Ltd.: a small architectural office in Hong Kong led by an AIA architect. We were given an existing space with lots of pipes and ducts that were to remain along the walls, and we proposed to conceal them with some curved panels made of weaved synthetic rattan. We also embedded lighting fixtures and storage spaces within those panels. The project won the AIA International Regional Award, I think, because we managed to resolve almost all the given site conditions and programing requirements with a minimal, singular design gesture. That was one of the last projects I worked on in the office before moving on to grad-school.
In those 2 years of practicing in Hong Kong, I was working full-time in the architecture office and, on the side, working on a house renovation as a personal project, along with a monastery renovation and an idea competition (with Dennis Chau and Florence Lam, which we won third place) all at the same time. My “normal” work day would begin at 9am and end at around 3-4am. I thought the more I worked, the clearer my vision as a designer would be. I recently saw an interview with [recently deceased artist] Ulay in which he described how he tattooed and cut his own skin off as an art project but after all that effort, he said, “it still didn’t deliver the answer”. That was how I felt by the end of the second year practicing in Hong Kong.
Entering grad school gave me the time and space that I didn’t know I needed to explore the more abstract, essential, and fundamental side of design. Instead of what and how to design, I needed to know why I design.
ANTE -Your professionalism and dedication to your studies has earned you multiple scholarships and Dean’s List mentions, both during your architecture studies at the University of Hong Kong, which honored you with a prestigious study abroad exchange semester at Princeton University, and during your Master’s in Architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Can you talk to us a bit about your dedication to your academic development: what were some of your favorite classes and how have they translated to success as a professional architectural designer?
PM – I was drawn to both the theoretical and the making aspects of design education very early on. At the Harvard GSD, I took an option studio with Ken Smith, a New York-based landscape architect. It was one of the first studios in which I explored a design process driven primarily by the making process. I rhetorically titled the project “Project Noctambulism”, hinting on the idea of taking actions subconsciously. In the same semester, I worked on the Komorebi Pavilion with Professor Mark Mulligan, Japanese engineer Jun Sato, and a team of schoolmates at the GSD. It was a plexiglass pavilion that was weaved together in a somewhat ad-hoc manner.
Both experiences had a significant impact in reinforcing my confidence in the essence of making, which later became a method to address abstract issues, and gradually becoming a core design philosophy.
ANTE – Can you walk us through your Harvard Graduate thesis project and the concept of “play” both as it relates to your studies and your professional projects?
PM – I titled the thesis “To Play”. In developmental psychology, “playing” could mean negotiating the perception of reality through the act of creating.
I began the thesis by asking “how is reality perceived?” I soon came across a demolished social housing, and I found it a perfect architectural anchor point – social housing is the most objective architectural typology, but its demolition made it a highly subjective event.
Through a series of drawings, architecture models and conversations, I reacted to a found Youtube video of the housing recorded by a former tenant of the housing who went back to record it before its eventual demolition. The final outcome was an absurd speculative proposal for a student-housing in LA based on the idiosyncratic personality I deduced from the 12-minute video. Looking back, it wasn’t a thesis that set out to resolve a specific problem, but it demonstrates a crucial self-awareness as a designer that opened up the design process to intuition, personal realities, subconsciousness, and the notion of craftsmanship. And it was from a very similar process that I have designed the installations <A Fountain Head> and <You Killed A Kiwi – A Situation Comedy For Those With Wounded Egoes>, and the two displays – <Gross Grows> and <Out Of Thick Air> – that I made for lifestyle brand WORM NY.
ANTE – Since graduating Harvard Graduate School of Design in 2018, you have worked as a designer at nARCHITECTS PLLC in New York: this experience comes after you have worked at both Michael Maltzan Architecture in LA, and PARA Project in New York. Can you walk us through some of the key projects you have contributed to during each of these roles in your career?
PM – At Michael Maltzan Architecture, I worked on the schematic design of a student dormitory for Art Center College of Design. At PARA Project, I worked on the schematic design of an artist studio extension in New York.
I have been working as a designer at nARCHITECTS for almost 2 years now. The first project I worked on was a 5-story warehouse renovation project commissioned by the EDC. We were tasked to convert the 200,000-square-feet existing building into a new Made-In-NY campus for the garment industry in New York. I worked through the Schematic Design phase, the Design Development phase, as well as producing the final construction documents. Currently, I am working on the renovation of Ciszek Hall – a dormitory for the Jesuit men-in-formation in the Bronx.
ANTE – Can you walk us through a few recent projects that have demonstrated your achievement and engagement as a leading architect/designer in your field?
PM – Aside from all the professional and conceptual projects I previously mentioned, I have been working on a school design with Joe Qiu, my former classmate at the GSD, since 2015. It is a primary school design that pioneers small-class-teaching in rural China.
The decades-long implementation of one-child policy and rigorous rural-urban migration have led to a significant reduction of students in rural China. Small-class-teaching, as an alternative model of child education, implies a reduction in teacher-student ratio and increasing opportunity of group activities among students.
In terms of layout, we proposed to break down the typical teacher office into smaller “satellite” offices, and pair one with every two classrooms to form the primary module for space planning. We further proposed to reduce classroom sizes from 45 students per class (typical in the city, as recommended by the codes) to 36. The additional floor areas are given to the semi-outdoor “pocket” spaces, distributed along the corridors, where inter-class activities could take place.
The project is near completion and was scheduled to open in September 2020. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, however, the opening date will very likely be delayed.
ANTE – How has building your architectural career in the US contributed to growth in your professional practice?
PM – It’s been almost six years since I moved to the States. So far I find the US – and particularly New York City – a productive context for both my professional and conceptual practice.
I have worked with quite a few collaborators and designers here. When I first moved to the city, for example, I met Isabella Bhoan, the founder of ILF Landscape. Coming from similar professional backgrounds, we saw how each of our specific interests could lead to meaningful collaboration. We worked together on the project Outside In – a speculative design proposal for Château de la Mothe-Chandeniers – before she relocated her practice to London in the end of 2019.
It is also a city where I could find the audience to have productive conversations about my conceptual interests. I have exhibited my works periodically in various venues. The most recent exhibition – The Study on Mundane – is currently on display at Gallery GAIA.
Artist Petra Nimtz is the first to admit that a career in fine art was about as unfathomable to her twenty years ago as winding up in New York State from her native Germany. The artist has made a path for herself as an abstract painter, following her academic pursuits from country to country and state to state. Currently based both in Hudson Valley and Manhattan, Nimtz carefully pushes her practice forward with a nuanced look at texture and color. She is unafraid to explore alternative processes in her practice as well. ANTE sat down with Nimtz in her Midtown studio to peruse her recent works and pursue the depth of her considerations in art-making.
ANTE – Thanks Petra for sitting down with us today! So tell us: How did you get your start as an artist?
Petra Nimtz – I was born in Germany and left in 2002, ending up in Vancouver, BC, Canada. After two years, I began to think I should paint. I took a course at the Emily Carr institute and began sharing a studio, it all came together very naturally…
ANTE – And had you painted at all before that?
PN– Yes, as a child – as a student in school, but I had never approached it other than as a student…
ANTE – So not as a vocation?
PN– Right, not until I lived in Vancouver. I began to study the basics of painting by starting with acrylics. I began this way, sharing a studio, working in acrylic before moving onto working with oil paints. Once I began working with oil, I was hooked immediately. I then visited NYC and began to study at the Art Students League in New York under Frank O’Kane, I know he’s still teaching – he’s quite a force of nature, and I love his work. I was writing down notes in his classes like a maniac… he mentioned Abstract Expressionists, all this information that was quite new to me – I had never studied art history, had never heard of that. Their work really resonated with me – he told me to study the painters who I liked, and that’s what I started doing and it helped me evolve my practice at my studio back in Canada.
ANTE – What timeframe was this?
PN– This was about 2005-06 when I began working as a painter, and showing in local cafes in Vancouver. Living there in Vancouver at the time, the abstract art scene was not very active and I didn’t have much to look at, so in 2010 I moved to upstate New York for three months to rent a place to paint – a live/work space. A friend of mine directed me to Woodstock, so I went and spent three months there painting in a barn and going into New York City often. I then decided to move here – exactly ten years ago.
ANTE – So then have you primarily been working in abstraction?
PN– Yes, I work in abstraction. I am an abstract artist, and I’m not interested in drawing or painting figuratively, or creating work with the human figure. I don’t want to pursue it.
ANTE – At the time you began living in Woodstock, were you working on a larger scale?
PN– The largest at that studio was 6×7’ size artwork, working in that barn. Actually when I began painting I started out smaller, but over the years I have become emboldened to try out larger sizes in my painting. I now like working in a 4×5’ format, it’s comfortable for me.
ANTE – Observing a work in progress, I do see some pencil and sketching/drawing, are you working with an oil stick as well?
PN– Yes, all of that – this particular work has so many layers. I work on multiple layers as each is still fresh – the paint is still wet, and for some works I’ll be building up, say, ten layers. I like showing layers and allowing them to shine through, giving them a chance to shine through – suffice it to say that I don’t spend too much time hiding the layers.
ANTE – Can you talk about the brushstrokes you use in these artworks, particularly works in these smaller sizes? There is an expressive energy…
PN– Yes it’s easier for me to use looser brushstrokes – it’s more animated, what I like to call my “messy” paintings. I can work with a more expressive style in a smaller format, using a palette knife and brushes to create a more dynamic work.
ANTE – Do you frequently use a palette knife in your work?
PN– Yes, I use the edge of it: I use it to spread the paint onto the canvas directly. I can make strong and decisive gestures, and the paint can be applied more thickly. It allows me to direct my compositions and make certain areas of a painting stronger. This allows a certain side of the canvas to dominate the overall composition. I have been using the palette knife since I first delved into working with oil on canvas.
ANTE – What is new to your recent work?
PN– The colors I utilize in my practice always change. The color palette varies organically according to my mood.
ANTE – Do you feel influenced by working in Woodstock?
PN– Yes, it’s very inspiring – I’m surrounded by nature, blues and greens and whites. In nature, I’m inspired to paint using these colors.
ANTE – Do you feel that you are inspired by light in your work?
PN– I frequently do use white through the layers of my artworks, and I am often influenced by light in my work. While I frequently use white painting in my work, I don’t often work with purple as a color in my compositions.
ANTE – Interesting to know! And do you work on a single painting at a time?
PN– Oh no, I always work on multiple paintings at a time because I get stuck. I’ll get stuck on a work. I have multiple works in progress hanging on walls – I have quite a large studio space in Woodstock so it’s easier to move from one wall to another to change what I’m working on when I get stuck on a certain artwork. I have never worked on an easel; I always work on the wall. It helps me to work on several pieces at a time – I’ve always worked this way in my process, since I very first started painting.
ANTE – Tell me about your approach to painting: you already referenced infusing gesture with the palette knife, what other considerations inform your painting?
PN– I’ve always worked with palette knife and brush, but now I’ve even used my hands or even gloves to directly apply paint to the canvas. I like working with different methods of application – brush, palette knife, hand – in contrast to create tension and create clear gestures in my work. It’s easier to carefully construct a composition borrowing from these different styles of line and gesture in a smaller format works, however. Smaller size works are easier to control this dialogue within.
ANTE – So you only work in painting? Not in other mediums?
PN– I actually have also worked in monoprint, collage and works on paper. I’ll sometimes create a monoprint. I make monoprints in addition to paintings, but I don’t view this as my main style of work. Painting will always be my medium.
ANTE – In terms of expanded practice: Do you frequently work in collage, or have you worked in other formats than oil on canvas?
PN – In 2015-16 I was working in acrylic a bit in addition to my oil painting, and around that time I started making collage a bit. Some of these works I’ve since covered with oil paint – since 2018, I’ve worked almost exclusively with oil paints. I was working with acrylic before, but it dries so fast and you can’t build up layers, so I returned to exclusively working with oil paints so that I could build up layers in my work. Adding a new element to the work with collage is exciting for me – I was happy to paint over my collage works with oil as it added it an exciting texture for me.
ANTE – Can you talk to us more about other artists whose work has inspired you?
PN – I’m really interested in New York City as a moment in the 1950s and 60s and the artists who lived here then – they inspired one another, challenged one another, and built up a camaraderie. Reading about their lives, they were all wild. They were also great artists. Of course many wonderful women artists of this time period – Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell – continue to inspire me. Among contemporary artists, I love Amy Sillman. In addition to her wonderful practice she also has a great sense of humor that has come through when I’ve heard her speak.
ANTE – So what are you working on at the moment? Have you worked more in one certain style over, say, the past six months?
PN – What I’ve liked recently is that my work has become more gestural, more loose. The style I call “Messy” – I think of Joan Mitchell and her messiness, which I love. I was thrilled to see my style evolve into this messier look – my painting style changes over time without planning out, but the positive feedback I’ve had from others is that while my style changes, it is always recognizable. My changes in style over time do shift, but it remains recognizable and I’m happy to go with the flow.
ANTE – So a few years ago you mentioned that you had a studio in Bushwick before moving to this Midtown location, can you tell me about your experiences as an artist working in Bushwick?
PN – Well, Paul D’Agostino who is very knowledgeable came out to visit my studio. He’s lovely and helped me – really became a great resource for me, he’s wonderful. He hosted a few shows at his studios, and suggested my work to other members of the community. I did enjoy being a part of the community as best I could, but I live in Woodstock – I was mostly in Bushwick on the weekends, most studios were closed and most artists were gone when I was working there. Here being based in Manhattan, it’s an easier commute and I can walk to Chelsea galleries and other nearby galleries to go observe the art exhibitions that are on at the moment.
ANTE – So what exhibitions have you been in recently?
PN – Well, I participated at a group show in Bushwick, and I’ve also recently shown with Julie Torres in a space just outside of Hudson in Hudson Valley, New York. It’s nice to have a footprint both in Woodstock and in New York City, I can appreciate the benefits of both.
ANTE – So what exhibitions have you visited in recent days and months that you enjoyed?
PN – I finally went to the new MoMA, and enjoyed the Amy Sillman-curated section “The Shape of Shape” that they have on view now. Recently, I went to an interesting show in Chelsea (NYC) at Albertz Benda, “Substrate”. The show was really beautiful. I also did get the chance to witness the show at the Katonah Museum of Art, “Sparkling Amazons.” It was an intriguing show and I had the chance to learn about artists who were not previously known to me. There was also an intriguing show recently featuring artist Cat Balco, “My Exploding Stars,” at Rick Wester Fine Art.