Place as a Moment: Melissa Joseph’s Née at REGULAR-NORMAL Gallery

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.)

installation view, “Née” solo show by Melissa Joseph on view through Sunday, May 2nd at REGULAR-NORMAL

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.”

Above: “Rural roots” (needle felted wool and sari silk and inkjet-print on Indian duppioni silk) (2020) Melissa Joseph. Below: “Hourglass” (needle felted wool and sari silk, embroidery mirrors and thread on raw silk) (2020) Melissa Joseph.

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.

Above: “Captain Clara, Backwaters” (needle and wet felted wool in ceramic) (2021) Melissa Joseph. Below: “Golden hour quarantine walks: Brooklyn Piers” (needle felted wool and sari silk, knitted jute on raw Indian silk) (2020) Melissa Joseph.

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 danny@regularnormal.org .

Artist Melissa Joseph Reflects on Weaving it All Together

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″)

Above work, “When the penpal came from England with Annalee” by Melissa Joseph
Wet felted wool and sari silk
5x 6 in
2020

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. 

Above image, “Mary Aunty’s wedding to Thankachan Uncle” by Melissa Joseph
Wet felted wool in hydrocal with embroidery mirrors
8 x 10 x 1.5
2020


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 JosephI 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!

Artist Sarah G. Sharp Stays Inquisitive – Intrinsic Interview Series

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.

Sarah G. Sharp, Kinship Series “KinShip Chevron (Teal)” Mixed materials. 36 x 32”
2019 – https://sarahgsharp.net/artwork/4655649-KinShip-Chevron-Teal.html

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. 

Sarah G. Sharp, “Volume II: Tool Box” Boxes: paper, book-board, fabric, magnets, edition of 10
12″ x 12″ x 12″
2018
https://sarahgsharp.net/artwork/4465417-Volume-II-Tool-Box.html

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.