Artist to Watch

GABRIEL MILLS

Portrait of Gabriel Mills. Photography by  Danielle DeJesus

NB: Can you tell us about your experience with art before Yale and how you have arrived at where you are now with your practice? 

GM: My training was classically inclined. I maintained non-academic experiments outside of my studies. At Yale, I synthesized my interests. Currently, I follow my hunches, and unforeseen space opens up. Simultaneously, I revisit familiar territory with an adjusted level of rigor and perspective.

Gabriel Mills, Love Can Last Forever:070612, 2021. Oil On Canvas, 72”x72”. Image courtesy of the artist.

NB: Can you speak on how the physicality of paint is used to address the subject matter of your work? 

GM: Love, time, and weight are central subjects to my practice. The range from heavy topographical to smooth atmospheric surfaces is a byproduct of a considerate process for those subjects.

Gabriel Mills, QUARAEM, 2022. Oil On Canvas. 73”x73”. Image courtesy of the artist.

NB: Could you share more about your painting process and in what ways the process differs between your abstract and representational work ? 

GM: On the surface, the abstract paintings aggressively deal with the physical nature of oil paint; The representational work moves towards non-narrative while weaving in and out of legibility. 

I’m bringing my full self to each work, to then go on an arduous journey. The destination isn’t ever a physical location; it’s an internal realization. The outcomes of said process aren’t predetermined to be on a binary of aesthetics. I understand the distinctions between modes of painting, but I don’t think in those terms while I’m creating.

Gabriel Mills, The Lily of The Field And The Bird Of The Air, 2022. Oil On Canvas, 73”x182”. Image courtesy of the artist.

NB: What is the intent behind the compositions of your diptychs and triptychs? Is there a particular story or narrative to these works?

GM: There is no specific grand narrative. Instead, there are themes for contemplation; occasionally, a piece will be narrative. Each painting is a new opportunity, and none of them are promises. My motivations are to examine relationships by forcing familiar situations to exist alongside an unlikely companion.. 

NB: In your recent show “Butterfly March” at Alexander Berggruen there’s a series of abstract ‘color field’ paintings. Could you walk us through the process behind these works, and tell us a little bit more about this exhibition? 

GM: The “Butterfly March” exhibition contained a wide range of approaches to painting revolving around existential themes; Living multiple metaphorical lives, dying through the flesh to be reborn in spirit.

Gabriel Mills, Sandman’s Crygarden, 2022. Oil On Wood Panel (Triptych) 24”x56”. Image courtesy of the artist.

NB: What are some projects in the future that you’re excited about?

GM: Painting is most exciting; seeing what comes of it all is exciting. That’ll always be my case. An exhibition catalog of “Butterfly March” will be coming out soon, via Alexander Berggruen. Regarding exhibitions, my next solo show is in March 2023, with Micki Meng gallery in San Francisco. 

Artist to Watch

RACHAEL ANDERSON

Portrait of Rachael Anderson. Photography by  Sarah Wonderling.

NB: What are your earliest memories of art?

RA: My upbringing on an apple orchard and flower farm is a huge influence on my art.  My earliest memories are of making things out of found materials outside while my parents worked in the orchard.

NB: Can you walk us through the process of your work, from the moment you chose an image for reference until completion of a painting? Would you consider your work to be premeditated or intuitive?

RA: I usually find objects and spaces that have a certain affect, mood or shape and put them in relation with other things and spaces.  Some of my favorite things to paint are bones, leaves, flowers, wheels, feathers, pumpkins, compost, and thickets. I try to paint from observation initially and as the painting develops, I abstract certain parts of it.  I don’t start with a full picture of the image I am making.  I begin imagining a bouquet of objects that can communicate  ideas related to cycles of growth or decay, non-human agency, human relationships to the biosphere, and biological fascination. Then I find things in the world and set them up in my studio or go out and paint them from observation where I find them. I sometimes paint from photographs in order to record specific lighting situations and it’s always a balance between referencing photos and looking at things directly. 

Rachael Anderson, Annihilation,Growth. Oil on canvas. 2022. 52 x 48 x 1.75 inches. Image courtesy of Anthony Gallery.

NB: Photography seems to play a very important role in your practice, can you tell us more about how it has influenced your choices as a painter?

RA:  I use photography as a research tool for finding things I want to reference for paintings. Polaroids distort things giving them an effect almost like an aura that I find ethereal and haunting. I try to replicate this aura with painting. The way polaroids develop in the atmosphere and space where they’re taken reminds me of painting, too. I love to photograph objects in natural lighting during certain times of the day and night such as very early in the morning or right before the sun goes down. This adds drama to whatever I’m looking at. I notice how light is always changing things–nothing is ever still.

Rachael Anderson, Terrestrial Twins Portal. Oil and marble dust on canvas. 2022. 37″ x 50″ x 1″. Image courtesy of the artist.

NB: What are some of your references in art history that impact your practice today? What are some artists you are looking at right now?

RA: Women surrealists and spiritualist painters like Leonora Carrington, Agnes Pelton, Georgia O’keeffe, Max Ernst, Victor Man, Fra Angelico, Bjork, Francesca Woodman, Albrecht Dürer. More specifically, I love O’keefe’s masterful painting. Her closeup crisp florals reinforce for me the wonderfully bizarre forms of plants and bones, they have character and personality and somehow it feels as if they don’t care about us. I love Fra Angelico’s colors and his use of light and Max Ernst’s nature at dawn paintings. I am attracted to classical paintings for their spiritualism and emphasis on light. I like the challenge of framing things with light that speaks to both the 21st century and the past, working in this way feels as if traveling in time.

Rachael Anderson, Pool of Narcissi. Oil on canvas, 2021. 30” x 24” x 1.75”. Image courtesy of the artist.

NB: Can you tell us what is the intent behind your use of light and color and how this is related to the titles in your work?

RA: I reference light and color in my titles to describe whatever phenomena I’m pointing to in the work. Some titles reference the golden hour, twilight, the coolness of a mirror, the spectral quality of green leaves, the blue radiance of the light cast by the moon, the fluorescence of a light bulb, the toxicity of cobalt. The distinct seasonal lighting within which the painting is made is often very influential to its title, and central to the work itself.

Rachael Anderson, Golden Hour Meidiland Rose Progression. Oil on canvas, 2021. 16″ x 20″ x 1″. Image courtesy of the artist.

NB:What are some projects that you are working on or are excited about in the future?

RA: I’m excited to explore my hand in painting more and more and to continue to surprise myself, for now I am focused on just painting in my studio. I am also very happy to be included in a group show titled the Floral Impulse curated by Xaviera Simmons at David Castillo in December.

Artist To Watch

RACHEL LIBESKIND

Portrait of Rachel Libeskind. Image courtesy of the artist. Photo by Ornellas Fieres.

NB: Can you share your experience with art as a younger woman and how you arrived at what your practice is today?  

RL: I am very lucky to have been raised in a very artistic family. As a child I was always encouraged to follow my dreams and was told that art was the best thing you could do with your life. I spent a lot of time making art, although as a child and young adult I was much more involved in acting and singing, and I did a lot of that professionally as a kid. At university I got a degree in French Literature; since I finished early and had two more years left, I figured I would get another degree in visual studies. I had a great professor who suggested I should be an artist, so this is where I ended up. (I also graduated into a profound recession and watched the government and economics majors struggle to find work – being an artist made sense in that context). 

I now realize that I’ve had great luck in terms of showing my work, selling my work, and being able to actually have a valuation of my work.

Rachel Libeskind. Image still from The Traveling Bag; Performed at MaryTwo in Lucerne, Switzerland on October 7th. (The remnants of the performance are on view now, as a part of their current exhibition Youth Hostel – curated by Kathy Battista). Image courtesy of the gallery and the artist. Photo by Sebastian Lendenmann.

NB: So can you speak on how the process of collage, installation, video and performance inform each other and how does your approach vary between them? How is a live performance different from other works?  

RL: The way I think about it is that all of my work has a collage logic. That is to say, I allow myself to freely take and mix any element I want in whatever form I’m using it –that’s the beauty of collage, that it’s the most liberating form. A lot of artists are very specific, and I have been told many times in my life that I should narrow my practice, but I just can’t. I am someone who’s very multifarious, and I really believe that every idea I have that I want to transmute to work deserves its own form and deserves to be critically examined in whatever form it needs. 

The performances are a little bit their own world, they serve to me as this connective tissue between my research and my studio practice. For me, performances are an opportunity to imprint people in a different type of way because it’s the most ephemeral form of art. I think a lot about my performance practice as an experience that someone has of me that they’ll never have again. In this way performance is an incredibly unique and wonderful thing that I believe all artists, even people who have nothing to do with performance, should pursue. 

NB: How do you describe the parallel between the personal experience and community engagement in your work? Are there certain projects that you feel are more personal than others?  

RL: Yes. The performance work is always hyper personal because I’m there as the work, and I’m always telling a story.  My studio practice and the work that gets shown in galleries and institutionally is personal because it’s me making it, but there’s a negotiation that happens with how much vulnerability is allowed to permeate into the presentation of work. Vulnerability and authenticity are, in my opinion, the key to what makes art “good”, although this also can make things too heavy-handed at times.

Another important aspect is history, the central framework of my practice. History is collective, but the way in which we encounter it is personal. I’m interested in the different ways in which we all think about history, the ways in which we were all taught history, and the ways through which we all connect to our own histories. It is within those fault lines, where the personal comes up for me and for my audience. 

Rachel Libeskind, Windows: She lives on (Face leaves), 2022. Scanned collage on stretcher bars, soft PVC, staples, printed foam and acrylic paint. 47.25” x 35.5” (120 x 90 cm). From the exhibition Transparent Things at Signs and Symbols. Image courtesy of the gallery and the artist.

NB: Your work often consists of image archives that reference history. Can you talk about this process and how the work evolves from the initial research towards a finalized work?  

RL: The initial research is often a very long and slow process. It begins when I encounter an image and I think “what is this crazy photograph? I’ve never seen this” or “who took this? Where does it come from? Who are the subjects and why were they chosen?” And then for years I will slowly build research around it, meaning there’s often multiple concurrent research projects happening in the studio. Luckily I have brilliant people to  help me with it. 

What ends up happening during this process is that my specific interests or questions begin to coalesce and I decide how narrow or wide the archive for a specific project is: then I make a choice about the form the work is going to take. Once I know whether it’s going to be a video, an installation, a performance and/or some sort of collage, I begin to build the archive that belongs with, and informs, the work. In the end every work of mine has its own archive and that archive comprises a selection from multiple archives that exist digitally or in real life. When the work is done, the archive is closed and I usually make a book, a password encrypted website, or something that encases the archive.

Rachel Libeskind, Windows: Three Moons (detail), 2022. Scanned collage on stretcher bars, rip-stock, printed silicone, acrylic, superglue and staples. 53” x 53” (135 x 135 cm). From the exhibition Transparent Things at Signs and Symbols. Image courtesy of the gallery and the artist.

NB: Can you tell us about your most recent show, Transparent Things at Signs and Symbols and your new body of work Windows?  

RL: My show at Signs and Symbols is a collection of 10 paintings (or as the director of the gallery calls them assemblages) that are made out of PVC, latex, silicone, paint, staples, linen, and paper. I basically wanted to work on a stretcher bar, to work on canvases, just because I really love Painting. I collect a lot of paintings myself but part of why I don’t usually paint, and part of why I’m sort of a mad woman in terms of how many forms I like to use, is because I’m always grappling with this masculinity of painting. Perhaps it’s because I studied with Benjamin Buchloh that I had this idea of post-war 20th century painting: I love Richter, Kiefer, Newman, Rothko, and Pollock, and these are all incredible painters, but I’ve always felt under a kind of suffocating claustrophobia of that work as a woman. 

Additionally, painting is so incredible because for thousands of years, before altars and frescos, screens and photographs, we’ve been making life-like marks on walls such as cave paintings. There is something deeply innate in that process and that encounter. In the Renaissance for example, the painting that lived in the home of a usually wealthy person was like a window, this other world or portal that you could transport yourself to, in the way that a screen is today. These works at Signs and Symbols are a meditation on that, both on my grappling with “what is painting?” and what can I get away with calling a painting and enshrining myself in the legacy of great male painters.

Installation view of STRIKE at Wild Palms (Düsseldorf, DE). Image courtesy of the gallery and the artist.

NB: Would you be able to share with us any upcoming exhibitions or projects that you’re excited about in the future?  

RL: Of course. I’ll be doing a very exciting Christmas Nativity scene for Half Gallery Annex that will be up for a few weeks over the holidays, at the corner of East 4th and Avenue B. I’m not actually Christian, but I really love nativity scenes because there’s no irony in them, and it’s such a wonderfully direct opposition. 

I’m also working on a project in Sicily about migration and diaspora. Sicily has such unbelievable, untouched, incredible churches and iconography that’s around, and so many people who are taking over abandoned churches and making shows in them. This whole art scene I’m starting to discover there is amazing.Lastly, I am very excited for my first solo museum show in 18 months, at the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art at Auburn University. I’ll be going to Alabama in a few months to do more research in their archive and I’m really looking forward to it.

Artist to Watch

NANA WOLKE

Portrait of Nana Wolke in her studio. Courtesy of the artist.

NB: What are your earliest memories of interacting with or experiencing art? 

NW: As a kid and only child surrounded by adults I spent a lot of time on my own, often drawing, as that was the sort of medium that came quite naturally to me. My primary school teacher picked up on my enthusiasm for art and enrolled me in several different competitions, so I had a few experiences showing my work early on.

The other big influence came from being glued to the TV set during the post-socialist Slovenia of the early 2000s. Back then, the shift to the capitalist embrace of US culture was something that I was absorbing rapidly, always imagining this near fantastical world behind the screen. This thin line between reality and fiction is something I continue to examine in my work today.

Nana Wolke, Monument to a Thief (One Humble Attempt at Holding Time Still), 2022. Oil and sand on linen. 71 x 51 inches (180 × 130 cm). © Nana Wolke.

NB: What is enticing about painting as a creative material for you? 

NW: My undergraduate education in Slovenia was very traditional, an academy style of program, where we had nude models and figure drawing classes, very rigid and structured. My professors thought of painting as something that had already been done. Video and installation were much more common and although painting was still treated as dead, it was also regarded as a craft of the highest order that needed to be studied in excruciating detail. I was distracted from painting for a year or so, but I naturally gravitated back towards it. I don’t believe you really get to choose the tools with which you explore and work through things.

Today I’m most excited about the element of time in painting, which is perceived as much more permanent than, for example, a freeze frame from a film or a photograph. Bringing in the logic of a slippage of a moment (the wrong frame, rather than the climactic moment itself), as well as incorporating other elements like sound, shifts the viewer’s perception of time and space within the work and away from more traditional conventions of the medium.

Nana Wolke, Night Watch, 2021. Oil on linen. 87 x 63 inches (220 x 160 cm). © Nana Wolke.

NB: Your work borrows from the visual language of cinema, what kind of influence does moving image have in your practice? How do you arrive at the visual references used in your work? 

NW: I’ve always been excited about moving image, especially cinema, but it took me quite a long time to understand the full potential of how it could play a role in my practice. Around the time when I was graduating Goldsmiths, I started working with specific locations and setting private performances. I would photograph both real and scripted situations, recording atmospheric sound and other material evidence of the setting to use as reference for my work, and as  inspiration for sound pieces and prop-like sculptures. Really, my works are first and foremost artifacts of these private events. 

The spaces that I gravitate towards are often transitional spaces, historically pushed to the fringes of cities or fully operational when most of us are asleep; from short stay hotel rooms and public garages to inhabited apartments, and above all, the people who frequent them. 

One of the spaces I recently worked with was a two star hotel in Kings Cross where I rented out a room several times over a period of a month to familiarize myself with how people used the space. Then I developed my own fictional narrative, a meeting of two potential lovers scheduled between 4:28 and 5:28 AM. I brought in actors – which at the time were really just my friends and we responded to this context together during what seemed to be a nutty experiment. The nature of the work is pretty fast too since we never have permits. I take the photos with my phone and use hunting lights instead of proper film lights which give a familiar cinematic effect but are easier to carry around. 

Exhibition invitation for 4:28 – 5:28 AM. © Nana Wolke.

NB: Your paintings have a characteristic monochromatic palette. What informs and affects the choice of color? In what ways do you think of color to convey different emotions and scenarios? 

NW: The color range actually comes from me using hunting lights to stage with. These small handheld torches have an intense beam and come with four different color lenses – red, blue, green and yellow. I consider the kind of implications that colors have in terms of how the space is going to be portrayed, what kind of atmosphere it will create, and consequently how the viewer might approach it.

I was initially drawn to the color red, which both in art history and cinematic language, but also daily life, has a lot of different connotations that are linked to danger and power as well as desire. Red light is known to blur imperfections and beautify, that’s how it came to its initial use in red-light districts. I’m quite interested in that intersection between desire and shame, the desire to look and the shame of the act itself. Now I’m focusing on two different spaces for my new work; one space is captured as an intense blue environment, which has little to do with the color’s more traditional calming connotation, yet it preserves the mysteriousness of the tone. The second space is captured in this almost toxic yellow light, which is a lot more alarming, a warning sign of sorts.

Nana Wolke, Yo, are you ok bro?, 2021. Oil and sand on linen. 24 x 16 inches (60 x 40 cm). © Nana Wolke.

NB: So what is the role of shame in your work? 

NW: Shame is a compass and a productive force that leads me into unexpected territories with vulnerability and courage. Behind that which we’re ashamed of, lies something complex on how we wish to see ourselves, the sticky stuff. I spent a lot of time hiding that I grew up in socialist blocks in Yugoslavia during my early childhood. These were self-sufficient towns inspired by the Swedish model called The Million Programme, capsules where you didn’t really have to leave an area, secluding people and pushing them towards the edge of the towns near the highways. The social housing situation in London was handled very differently, but I still find the location of Westway flyover and its surrounding neighborhoods (that I’m working with for my upcoming solo exhibition), strangely familiar.

NB: Is your work always created in series? How do you determine the beginning and the end of a series? 

NW: I feel like every space I work with becomes one completed work. For example all of these new paintings that I’m working on, capturing a car park and a football pitch near Westway, are almost acting as a scenography of the place into which the viewer will walk in. So the space is mapped out and it becomes a ‘closed chapter’ in a sense. One series opens up a door into something new that naturally leaks into the next. It’s quite open-ended and flowing, and that’s one thing with painting that’s quite been quite amazing for me, like no other medium, it’s really leading me and I’m not in charge.

4:28 – 5:28 AM, Installation view at VIN VIN Gallery. © Nana Wolke.

NB: Can you tell us more about what you’re working on, or any other exciting projects in the future? 

NW: For my new show opening in November at Nicoletti Contemporary here in London, I took inspiration from the surroundings of London’s Westway overpass, a massive retrofuturist-looking construction, about which J. G. Ballard (author of Crash) wrote from a dystopian angle. I’m interested in how two completely different spaces intersect: a car park and a massive football pitch. I consider it as one interconnected unit because of how one is stacked on top of the other, but also because of how it’s socially used. Initially I got drawn to the incredible scene of a car park full of black cabs getting a car wash all at once. I later found out about the weekly ritual of five taxi drivers bringing in their cabs for a wash while they went upstairs to play soccer. This started my exploration of the space and then I added my own elements like the world of this fictional character, Wanda, and her admirers that are using the car park as a religious venue (which is actually inspired by activity taking place in one of the car parks where my parents live.) I will be also screening my first short film as part of the exhibition, which feels like a step closer to what’s been in the works for a long time.

I am also absolutely stoked about several shows scheduled in the new year and conversations open in New York which I can’t wait to pick up once I move back in a couple of months, after nearly four years in London.

Artist to Watch

MARIKA THUNDER

Portrait of Marika Thunder in the studio. Photo courtesy of the artist.

NB: What is your earliest memory of art?

MT: I was very lucky as a child because I’ve been surrounded by art for as long as I can remember. Art was never identified as a separate entity since it was so integrated in my daily life. I went to a Waldorf school where various arts were embedded in the curriculum such as painting, singing, theater, woodworking, etc. However, because I was always engaged in some sort of creative activity or project, discovering my own passion and voice was a heuristic process.

NB: What is your greatest creative inspiration?

MT: I would say my lived experiences and the internalization of them. Every now and then you come across an artwork that enlightens you by offering a new perspective, or peek into a new reality created by the artist. Such artworks show the magnificence of human creative capabilities and their impact, which inspires me to achieve that in my work someday.  Since I can only draw from within my own perspective to create, whenever I hear from someone that my work resonated with them it is incredibly rewarding to me as an artist.

Marika Thunder, Night Parade, 2022. Oil on wood panel. 20 x 20 inches. Image courtesy of the artist.

NB: How do you incorporate your own personal lived experience into your practice? 

MT: I am very interested in the human psyche and the subjects of community and faith/spirituality. When observing people in strikingly different environments and social groups, I try to track the consistent underpinnings of how a person develops within their community. No matter how different the circumstances, our innate drive leads us to seek purpose and passion within a community. It is also through faith and spirituality in these communities that a person may find their own feeling of fulfillment.

The particular images that I choose as reference for my works are extracted from my experiences living in very different communities. They’re not really determined by a conscious decision but rather by ontological circumstances that lead me to an intuitive choice.

Marika Thunder, Rainy Car Ride, 2022. Oil on wood panel. 24 x 36 inches. Image courtesy of the artist.

NB: What are your thoughts on art and pop culture, and how the two areas both intersect and diverge? 

MT: The two forever seem to be enmeshed through a self-perpetuating cycle of one reinforcing the other’s production- regardless of conscious intent. Even if there’s no obvious reference to or extraction from pop culture in an artist’s work, pop culture influences the environment an artist exists within and inevitably provides context for the audience’s interpretation of the work. Over time it’s also been interesting for me to observe how semiocapitalism and object fetishization has shown up in art.

Marika Thunder, Yeshiva Door 2, 2022. Oil on wood panel. 30 x 40 inches. Image courtesy of the artist.

NB: Can you tell us about any upcoming works or projects? 

MT: I’m working on a couple. I am painting a series of doors and interiors inspired by the ones I saw at an all-boys Yeshiva boarding school I visited in Yonkers, New York. There was a sacred energy present within the walls that’s generated by the boy’s dedicated practice to prayer and studying The Torah. You could feel a divine presence, which made me hyper-aware of ethereal lights and the smudges and markings on the walls indicating the presence of physical bodies passing through them. I wanted to see if I could make art that could evoke a similar experience. 

I’m also working on some paintings that are inspired by photographs I took of crowds at a big street parade in Corpus Christi, Texas when I lived there for a couple of years as a teen. I’m spending a lot of time in the studio making work for my upcoming solo exhibition in January 2023 at Nina Johnson Gallery in Miami Florida.

Marika Thunder, Yeshiva Classroom, 2022. Oil on canvas. 20 x 24 inches. Image courtesy of the artist.

Artist to Watch

LITA ALBUQUERQUE

Portrait of Lita Albuquerque by Tarek Naga. Image courtesy the artist.

NB: What are some of your earliest memories of art?

LA: The very first one is a very odd one! We lived in a stone house in a fishing village in North Africa called Le Goulette. It was the house that my grandmother (who I never met) owned and had then passed on to my mother. In the kitchen closet was a sculpture that was literally thrown in there. I couldn’t believe that was a place where art went! We had a lot of literary things; we had a lot of music, but the visual arts came to me later on. That was my very first art piece. However, in the convent [where I studied] later, there were a lot of Renaissance paintings referencing biblical scenes. There was also a lot of Islamic art, pieces like mosaics. Tunisia has a lot of artifacts – not fine art per se, but beautiful blues and golds and reds. A lot of my work comes out of that. In terms of art I saw later on, I’m a romantic, so William Turner was my first love. 

NB: How do you believe art informs spirituality, and vice versa? 

LA: I think one of the things about art – really good art – is that there are no words for it. When you’re in front of a wonderful work of art, it’s an embodiment. How the work has gotten there is the product of the intricacies, life, and very lifeblood of the artist. It’s also their thoughts [as an artist] and the greater force of art history. It’s like good wine, it takes so long to be this work of art for which there are no words. There are no words because everything is already in there. How does that relate to spirituality? Some people don’t see this [all in a] work of art; to be able to see it, you have to be open. The very word ‘spirit’ means breath. For me, the spiritual is about being open, it’s about being in the moment. It relates to the cosmic address and having a perspective that takes one out of just being ‘here’ and puts one in the context of the reality of the whole. The spiritual is really the process of opening up to oneself, and to the cosmos. And that’s very different from religion.

NB: Is there a specific place, location or environment that has been particularly inspiring to you as a creator? 

LA: I run on the beach and jump in the ocean everyday. I have to have that. Also – sunsets and sunrises, that kind of connection of beginnings. That concept of time, and the rotation of the earth around the sun, is totally inspiring. The desert – whether it’s dry lake beds or Antarctica which is also a desert as well – it’s such a minimal space that you instantly have to listen. There are certain spaces that bring our poetry in you, and you have no idea how or why. Tunisia is like that. People who come from Tunisia, if they’ve left, always talk about that. There was also the artist’s colony [in Malibu] where I grew up as an artist, that place had the same sense and feeling. It wasn’t anywhere else. It’s very interesting, in that way. It all comes down to nature.

Lita Albuquerque, Stellar Axis: Antarctica, 2006, photo by Jean de Pomereu. Image courtesy the artist.

NB: You’ve created many incredible site-specific installations in very dramatic climates. Could you speak further to your projects at the Great Pyramids for the Cairo Biennale, and the work Stellar Axis in Antarctica? 

LA: For a long time I have been thinking about connecting the planet to the stellar system it is surrounded by.  What I mean by that is that my interest is to show that planet Earth is not an isolated planetary body, that it is in a vast system of moving stars, within a moving galaxy etc. By placing circles of blue pigment on the desert floor in alignment to the stars above or sculptural blue spheres on the ice in Antarctica, is a way of presencing that moment in time which makes us think of our connection, that everything is interconnected.  Both projects stem from the same idea of connection, but the first one in Cairo, was going off of the Stellar Correlation theory devised by Robert Beauval, that the pyramids at Giza had been placed in alignment to the Orion Constellation.  I went off of that premise.  In Antarctica, it was slightly different, by then I had had the vision of seeing Planet Earth from space, dotted with gold tipped pyramids, all aligned to the stars.  This created an even greater urgency in me. To re-create that map (for it is almost certain that it had been made in ancient times), and that I would start at the north and south poles.  Antarctica has many restrictions and I could not bring in any particles that might pollute the atmosphere (pigment) so I came up with creating blue spheres of different diameters to correspond to the different brightness of the stars above, and positioned them in alignment to the 99 brightest stars in the southern hemisphere. The difference in the two projects is that I also did a performance showing the motion of the stars at the poles in which they move in concentric spiraling circles around the pole, and not from East to West as in the northern Hemisphere. The Stellar Axis project spoke to a much larger vision because I created that performance at both the north and south poles; it was taking on the whole globe.

Lita Albuquerque, Sol Star, 1996, photo by Tarek Naga. Image courtesy the artist.

NB: Can you tell us about the projects that you have coming up?

LA: The big project that I have coming up is at the Venice Biennale, Collateral. It’s a film installation with a film that I shot in Bolivia called Liquid Light, which is the second part of a trilogy featuring the character that I’ve been creating – a 25th century female astronaut who comes to the planet to teach us about all of these ideas of light and relationships to the stars. We’re presenting the film as a three-part projection and there will be salt and honey spheres in the installation, along with gold spheres. There’s also sound. 

NB: Is there anything else coming up?

LA: I’m having a solo show at the Kohn Gallery coming up soon. I’m also working on some performances, films and a book.

Lita Albuquerque, Liquid Light, 2022, photo by Ugo Carmeni. Image courtesy the artist.

Artist to Watch

Reuven Israel

Reuven Israel in his studio. Photo credit: Itay Marom. Image courtesy the Artist.

NB: What are your earliest memories of art?

RI: I grew up in a religious household, Jewish Orthodox, not Ultra-Orthodox, but modern Orthodox. My mother was on the religious side of the family, and my father was more secular. In this religious background, there wasn’t much visual stimulation. Art in our local Synagogue was limited to attributes to the twelve tribes of Israel and the lions of Judah ornaments on the coverings of the Torah scrolls. On the other hand, I used to accompany my father–who was a Journalist and writer–on his research trips for a guide he was writing on the monasteries in Israel. I would sit in chapels and churches, waiting for him to finish interviewing a monk in the back room. These spaces were in contrast to my Jewish upbringing, full of forbidden artifacts, statues, depictions of Mary, Jesus and saints. Everything was radiating a forbidden sense wrapped in the smell of incense and damp corners, hundreds of years old.

In regard to Western Art, I think the first painting that I was aware of was Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights. We had a reproduction of it hanging in our dining room, and as kids, we spent hours finding all these little sexual perversions – all these little anecdotes. When having friends from school over, I was embarrassed by this hanging in our house, but enjoyed seeing their shock.

Growing up, around the age of 17 I started teaching myself oil painting. I was inspired by looking at art books and some museum guides my father had brought back from Europe and America. It was before the internet became what it is now, so to look up paintings, I had to go to bookshops. I used to buy all these handbooks, these Taschen volumes about artists. I was obsessed! I would stare at them endlessly and read everything. Many of my thoughts emerged from art history and looking at these books and artworks reproductions. Then, one day, I realized there was a museum not too far from me, the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. It dawned on me that I could go and see some of these paintings in their original form. My memories from childhood of the museum were of the archaeological parts – like seeing the Dead Sea Scrolls. I hadn’t realized that they had a European painting collection – and they have quite an impressive one! It was amazing, and I went many, many times. Those were my first memories. Later on, in my early twenties, I traveled to Europe to see Caravaggio in Rome and Vermeer in Amsterdam.

Exhibition view, F.L.O.O.R. (Formulated Liminal Oblique Openable Rectangles), Center for Contemporary Art Tel Aviv-Yafo, 2021. Photo credit: Elad Sarig. Image courtesy of the Artist, CCA Tel Aviv-Yafo, Braverman Gallery Tel Aviv and Shulamit Nazarian Los Angeles.

NB: Could you speak to your source of inspiration for your practice? I’ve read that concepts such as religious monuments and science fiction have had an impact on your work.

RI: I can draw a thread from my practice now, back to when I started my interest in sculpture more than 15 years ago. There is this very gradual evolution in my work, both of the forms and the conceptual framework. Like scaffoldings, each new body of work is built upon the previous one. Religion has been an ongoing inspiration, rooted in the fetish quality of the works. I used to work a lot with MDF and manipulate it to look like different materials, such as plastic and metal. This fetish treatment of endlessly sanding and caressing the forms avoked this feeling of sanctity in the final objects. It took me back to my personal story, sitting in churches and staring at religious architecture and artifacts. I incorporated into my work particular geometries relating to specific places in Jerusalem. I was trying to decode the feeling of sanctity that certain objects and places have and use it as a means inside the pieces I create. Planting this religious “DNA,” provoking an aura of sanctity in pieces that look like they relate to mass production and furniture, that seems to almost have a functional purpose, but then again, you’re not quite sure what.

In addition to looking more and more into religion, science fiction started to evolve as another source of inspiration. My sculptures often felt like they had landed on the gallery floor from outer space, which led me to do watercolor studies of the shapes I was working on, drawn on large blackened sheets of paper. I draw sculptural elements as if hovering without gravity on the black surface of the paper, peculiar alien forms floating in space. Some of these studies became actual sculptures, and most didn’t. I then started looking further into sci-fi to make the pieces reflect this alien feeling even more. I went on a ‘sci-fi diet’ for a few years, where I mostly read sci-fi books and watched sci-fi movies and TV series – I was trying to break down that language. I wanted to see how this visual diet would come out in my work. Looking into sci-fi somehow took me back again to religion and archaeology. The original elements that drew me to sci-fi (or made my objects look a bit sci-fi) were such because I was looking at the same things for inspiration as people interested in sci-fi were. There is this paradox in sci-fi wherein trying to imagine the future and far away alien civilizations. Instead of looking forward, one looks back to history, to periods like the Middle Ages or ancient Egypt.

In the folding objects series that I’m working on now, a very specific geometry is created when the pieces open and close. This geometric language reminded me of weaving, specifically native American indigenous weavings. I started looking into Navajo rugs and then into designs on Hopi ceramics, trying to understand why this language that I’m working on suddenly has this association with these cultures. No doubt that this exploration influenced the shapes I created. From this exploration, I understood the connection between the mythological framework behind the indigenous patterns to my personal experiences, participating in shamanic ceremonies, relating to what I believe to be linked to this visual language.

Left: S.B.M.6, 2013, copper-clad steel, MDF and industrial paint, 96 x 10 x 10 inches. Right: S.B.M.5 , 2013, copper-clad steel, MDF and industrial paint, 96 x 19 x 12 inches. Photo credit: Niv Rozenberg. Image courtesy of the Artist and Braverman Gallery Tel Aviv.

NB: I know you use a wide range of materials in your pieces. How do you think about these different substances in the creation of your work? What do the interactions between the materials mean to you in your practice?

RI: When I started experimenting with sculpture, I wanted to imitate plastic. I didn’t want to work with plastic, and I didn’t want to cast plastic. I wanted to work with a material pretending it is plastic. This led me to MDF. By sanding it in a certain way, rounding the edges, and coating it with paint, it could take on the appearance of different materials. I like the basic idea in art that a thing is not what it represents, taking something and making it look like something else. I was interested in representation, but without representing a figurative depiction. I didn’t see a reason for sculptures to represent something else because they are already objects in the world. Why should one object represent another object?! Why couldn’t it just be itself ?! At the same time, I didn’t want my work to lose a relationship to concrete things in the world entirely. One of the core relationships I maintain is representing material almost as an image. Plastic and all of these sleek surfaces that surround us come with their luggage; they have a subtext. Plastic is taking over the world! This artificial material has a seed of destruction.

When you look at a lot of my pieces, the material itself is a piece of the puzzle, and it’s not what you think it is. There is a distance between what the sculpture is talking about and how it looks. It’s deceiving your senses and your thoughts. I still work with MDF but less and less. I also started using materials that spoke the same language. I found these metal rods used for grounding electricity. They are made of steel coated with a thin layer of copper, relating to my logic of painting things to hide them. I bought a bunch of these rods, and I started skewering sculptural elements on them. Individual wooden elements come together as a sculpture, a visual poem.

When I started the folding pieces, I initially continued with similar logic and painted their edges in color spectrums, reaching from green to red through small gradual color changes. A couple of years ago, I started work on a site-specific installation for the CCA in Tel Aviv that required 5,000 segments of wood. To paint 5,000 segments of wood is ridiculous! I also wanted people to walk on the piece without scratching or damaging it. I found an edge banding technique to apply a very thin layer of colored PVC on the wood. Nowadays, I use this technic to create large-scale immersive installations.

Exhibition view, Offshoot, Braverman Gallery Tel Aviv, 2018. Photo credit: Elad Sarig. Image courtesy of the Artist and Braverman Gallery Tel Aviv.

NB: Do you have any upcoming exhibitions or projects that you’d like to share?

RI: I just had two solo shows recently. One was at Shulamit Nazarian Gallery in Los Angeles, and the other was at the Center of Contemporary Art in Tel Aviv, which I just mentioned.  

When I was invited to propose a piece for the Center of Contemporary Art, I had just finished working on folding sculptures that could unfold into different shapes and forms and shift in scale from flat rectangular shapes into large geometric patterns in the space. I decided to tile an entire gallery with thousands of wood segments connected to each other. From the interconnected tiled floor, I pulled groups of segments that opened up into three-dimensional structures, leaving empty swathes of the bare floor beneath them: an intricate game between two and three-dimensional patterns, resembling a digital space coming to life. To enter, one had to walk on the art. This took me back to religious ideas – like, taking off your shoes before entering a mosque or temple.

At the same time, I had another show in Los Angeles, with wall pieces that could also shift. Sleek geometric surfaces moved on tracks, opening from closed shapes into larger geometric landscapes. There were other folding pieces too, hung like rugs on the wall, unfolding down and spilling to the floor, with parts of them rising back up into sculpture in space. I liked the idea of having a floor show on one continent and a wall show on another.

I have two upcoming projects in Istanbul. A solo show in May at Sevil Dolmaci Gallery. The other will be in September, at a non-profit space. It’s a project I’ve been working on for a while, with Panos Tsagaris-A New York-based Greek artist, and Christian Oxenius, an Istanbul-based, German-Italian curator. The project is growing, and a Turkish curator and another Turkish artist are joining. It will be a satellite event during the Istanbul Biennale.

Left: More Half Truths, 2020, MDF, industrial paint and lacquer, 74.25 x 9 x 9 inches. Right: Half Truths, 2020, MDF, industrial paint and lacquer, 90.5 x 9 x 9 inches. Photo credit: Gili Getz. Image courtesy of the Artist and Shulamit Nazarian Los Angeles.

Artist to Watch

DAZE

Daze in his studio. Image courtesy the artist.

NB: Can you share the origin of your name, Daze?

Daze: The origin story is funny and typical. It’s very important to choose a name that will define you as you continue on; a name that no one else has at the same time. The originality is a big factor. I went through a lot of different possibilities. I started thinking more along the lines of which letters I could draw best, and which letters had a certain flow. That’s pretty much how I came up with it. It’s not just choosing a name, but that name and the letters in that name have to have a certain compatibility. That’s how it came about.

NB: Around what year was that?

Daze: This was in 1976.

Daily Commute, 2021. Spray paint, acrylic on canvas. 65 x 68 inches. Image courtesy the artist.

NB: When I saw your recent show Give It All You Got at PPOW, it felt like such a love letter to New York and the streets. It was beautiful. Which part of New York City are you from, and which part of the city – either physical or philosophical – inspires you most?

Daze: I’m originally from Crown Heights, Brooklyn, although I have maintained a studio practice in the South Bronx for more than 30 years. I’m definitely immersed in the culture and what’s going on in the Bronx. In terms of my favorite part of the city, I have a love/hate relationship – like a lot of people – with New York. I draw inspiration from all five boroughs. I try to focus on things that are really distinct about each borough. For example, I did a series of paintings and photographs of Times Square. It was from a touristic point of view and not from the point of view of the old school Times Square – the one that I knew while coming up in the city; it’s a bit more contemporary. In the Bronx, I’ve done paintings of everyday life and everyday street scenes that I encounter in my commute to and from the studio. In Brooklyn, I’ve done a huge series about Coney Island, which is very distinct. Also, I did a whole series of paintings about Staten Island, and it’s ferry, because that’s something that I enjoyed doing as a child – taking the ferry ride on a hot summer day. As a child going to Staten Island seemed somehow exotic. Watching the ferry pull away from the terminal in lower Manhattan I felt that anything was possible here. I draw from all of those experiences, and try to focus on things that can only be found in New York.

The Explorers, 2021. Spray paint, acrylic, pumice on canvas. 96 x 108 inches. Image courtesy the artist.

NB: Tell us about the transition process from creating your work as graffiti interventions in the city environment, to presenting your pieces in the fine art gallery space — from the streets to the studio? How did you navigate that, and how did it feel as a creator to make that change?

Daze: For me, the transition from doing my work in the subways or streets to the studio was very natural. I was always drawing and creating on paper as a kid, whether it was just illustrations or comics. The return to that practice was, for me, a very natural part of my evolution as an artist. There are two different mindsets when you’re painting in the street, and when you’re painting in the studio. When you’re in the street, you’re working in this very physical environment, and you’re interacting with everyday people. There is also a sense of immediacy, the sense of ‘I’m not going to paint something and come back to it tomorrow.’ I generally like to create my mural works in a couple of days at the most, if not one day. In the studio, you have the luxury of being able to spend more time on a specific work. However, it’s much more of a considered process. I’m thinking about what I’m doing and I’m creating work gradually. Some works could take a couple of days, and some works could take six months, depending on the painting. That’s really the luxury that having a studio provides you. You’re able to stand back and live with your own work for a while.

NB: The wonderful exhibition of your work, Give It All You Got, recently closed at PPOW. Can you share with us the background of the show?

Daze: A large part of the work was created during the quarantine that New York endured in the early stages of the pandemic. A lot of the work examines my reaction to it. However, I see the show as a bridge between many different things. It’s a bridge between old New York and contemporary New York; it’s a bridge between my two sons and myself, because they appear in several of the works; it’s a bridge between a culture that is very much underground and the more mainstream populous, and presenting [the underground culture] to the [mainstream populous]. It’s about creating these bridges that people can cross to see what’s happening. A lot of work went into it, hence the title. When I came up with the title (it came from a song) I thought ‘wow, this really sums up how I feel right now.’ I didn’t want to hold back, I wanted to put everything into the show. Especially at a time like now, in New York and in the way that people are feeling. People are longing for some sort of return to the way things were (before two years ago), but also perhaps for something new – at the same time.

Daze installation, “Give It All You Got” at PPOW, January 7 – February 12, 2022. Image courtesy the artist.

NB: Are there any upcoming projects or exhibitions you can share?

Daze: I am going to continue to work in the studio. I also do a lot of work with students that had been on hold for the last two years, because of not being able to work together in person. I am going to make a return to those mural projects with students, as I think we’re in a climate now where that can happen. In terms of exhibitions, I have a lot of exhibitions coming up in Asia. The first one is at the K11 Art Space in Hong Kong, called City as Studio, it’s a large exhibition that will be curated by Jeffrey Deitch. After that, Beyond The Streets, curated by Roger Gasman, is traveling to Shanghai. Finally, there is an exhibition called Somewhere Downtown which will take place in Beijing at the UCCA, curated by Carl McCormick.

NB: One last thing – my own personal question – do you have any good stories from the Mudd Club?

Daze: The Mudd Club was really interesting; I was so young. Here’s a story: the fourth floor of that space was run by Keith Haring. The owner of the Mudd Club had sort of just said ‘I have this space, you can do what you want.’ He would let Futura or Fab Five Freddy come and curate. There was a real seminal exhibition called Beyond Words. A lot of now-famous people were in it, who weren’t really famous at the time. I remember Keith had this piece of wood that he wanted to put in the show, and on the wood he had these crawling babies sort of following dogs. Keith said, ‘this is my stuff; this is what I do’ and I remember saying to him ‘oh, cool!’ – but thinking to myself, ‘wow, he doesn’t really have a future, if this is what he does.’ But very quickly, I was proven wrong, because of course he created a whole vocabulary from those two simple figures.

NB: We read in the history books about the Mudd Club – not that many people are still around who got to go there!

Chambers Street, 2018. Oil, spray paint, acrylic, glitter, pumice on canvas. 50 x 40 inches. Image courtesy the artist.

Artist to Watch

ANNE VIEUX

Anne Vieux in her Brooklyn studio. Image courtesy the artist.

NB: What was the genesis of your practice incorporating both digital and analog concepts? Could you speak to how you view the boundaries and tensions between these two areas?

AV: The boundaries between these spaces are constantly being negotiated and redefined. Every material including pixels and paint have physical and visual limitations. I enjoy combining them in my work and find a sense of play in that process.

The distortion of data and capturing light have been important to me since I started working as an artist. My parents started a weather modeling company out of our home when I was a kid, so I grew up around meteorology images and computers. I have always found the effect of mediation by technology on reality fascinating.

When I moved to New York the limited amount of space I had to work in provoked me to start experimenting with my scanner more and digitally manipulating the images I created. I always thought of these distorted images as painterly, so it felt natural as they started coming into my paintings. Working back and forth from software to physical paint, there is a dissonance in that process (as well as experience in daily life) that comes into some kind of order when I work through my pieces.

moxie, 2021, acrylic and pigment ink on canvas, 96 x 74 inches. Image courtesy the artist.

NB: How do you look to past ideas and concepts from art history in creating your pieces? Are there other artists you look to in your practice?

AV: I feel connected to so many artists and periods of history for different reasons. The history of painting is rich with subjects around the sublime and importance of light. I think of part of my practice as in search for a technological sublime. There is also a history of artists experimenting with technologies and using unlikely tools to discover their own kind of idiosyncratic language.

I look at Color Field painting and think of the gestural application and surface concerns when thinking about abstraction. I think of light, color and pixels as fluid mediums. I use color and form that can be associated with cosmetic or narcotic, that are contained by strong abstract compositions and gestures. The idea of combining “high and low” cultural influences that seem to me as very American art history influence.

I look to the: experiential approach to painting of Katharina Grosse or Helen Frankenthaler. The material exploration and abstraction of Judy Chicago or Larry Bell, and Albert Oehlen and Sigmar Polke, to the sense of play and freedom in the compositions.

NB: Can you tell us more about your experiments with materials, and how the materials used translate into your different media (i.e. painting and NFTs)?

AV: Pushing the limits of the image data, my source material is created by scanning holographic paper. I make images that are processed into a highly personal language of painting from this source material that expands into other media. Scanning holographic paper—transforming light into image—results in a chaotic prismatic dispersion that is the starting point of my analogue/digital hybrid painting process. I am fascinated by taking this kind of chintzy material from my childhood, transforming it and giving this kind of randomized data a materiality. In my paintings, installations, and videos layered gestures and distortions shift upon colorfields in infinite loops at an experiential scale.

Minting my videos as NFTs was an exciting way to access a new audience and archival method living on the blockchain rather than quietly existing and potentially disappearing on my own harddrive.

For a few years now I have brought images of my paintings into animation software and further explored them as a kind of drawing process for me. I then moved towards bringing digital gestures from my iPad layered on my source material to animate and explore the limitations of that world. The color palettes are cool and evokes a kind of artificial natural idea, and ultimately embrace the physics and dimension of virtual space.

## violet, 2021, acrylic and pigment ink on canvas, 63 x 55 inches. Image courtesy the artist.

NB: We would love to hear more about your recent installation at Brookfield Place entitled { float } as well as the pieces you created for the fall 2021 group show BIOTECH at The Hole.

AV: { float } was a site specific commission for a commercial space, Brookfield Place in lower Manhattan. Brookfield property, engaging with tropes of painting as a window, mirror, or frame, are compressed into a screen space, playing on historical models of abstraction, approaching the sublime through a technological mediation. It uses imagery from a painting floating above a scanned topography and an experiential scale. I enjoyed working on this project in this space one would expect advertising or something they would passively walk by. It kind of draws you in and reflects movements but also feels very meditative. My titles evoke typing into a browser search field, defining a personalized quest with particular parameters. These titles evoke the immediacy of online space and add a layer of meaning to abstraction.

BIOTECH was a group show that had works by three artists, Audrey Large, and Vickie Vainionpaa. I showed paintings and 1/1 video NFTs. The other artists exhibited sculpture and painting that were “both futuristic and organic, and the show was about the dematerialization of the digital and the embodiment of a gorgeous and seductive virtual world.” I was thrilled to show my videos as NFTs alongside my paintings as I have wanted to make that conversation in my work more clear for a few years now

Anne Vieux installation, BIOTECH at The Hole, October 14 – November 14, 2021.

NB: Do you have any upcoming projects, works, or installations you can share with us?

AV: I’m working on a screen print edition with Louis Buhl that will be released in the upcoming months. I am unsure where they are going yet – but I am continuing to develop my paintings and videos in my studio

##, 2021, acrylic and pigment ink on canvas, 96 x 74 inches. Image courtesy the artist.

Artist to Watch

SARAH MEYOHAS

Sarah Meyohas. Image courtesy the artist.

NB: When we first met and spoke in November 2016, you had already created the BitchCoin project and the Stock Performance takeover of 303 Gallery, where you traded stocks and artistically shared the immediate impact, or lack thereof. The stock changes were reflected in oil stick on canvas. How we conceive and understand value, and how it’s represented, is a central theme in your work. Can you remind us how you came to examine this intersection of the finance world and the art world? 

SM: My background is finance so that was the first lens through which I was looking at the world. Then I went to art school. Art obviously has a relationship to value, whether it be economic, spiritual or cultural. It has a very complex relationship to value. Given my background, and given what I wanted to explore, value became this conceptual knot that I was looking to understand and untangle. Value doesn’t exist in a vacuum; it isn’t a standalone thing. It is a relationship, and it appears in exchange. In a void, there is no such thing as value. An exchange is a play of substitutions: one thing is in the place of the other, and that is ultimately a representation. The reason that art has to do with value, and therefore has to do with currency, is that currency is the representation [of value] that circulates. 

I was reading theory — “The Currency of Images” — and thinking about value, very abstractly, from that side of it. I was also thinking about value very practically, in terms of things like our economy and how values emerge from that in a global system. I was developing BitchCoin in 2014, after I had heard about blockchain and thought it was an amazing construction of value, that didn’t rely on the force of government. Blockchain was a completely new concept. The metaphor of gold was also very interesting, because that relates to both the blockchain and art. Bitcoin, as a coin that’s mined, goes through an exertion process to get the output; that’s how the currency expands. Art, obviously, has a very strong relationship with gold. Gold is at its base an artistic material that was only used for cultural purposes; it didn’t have any other purpose, and that’s why it became currency. 

So, in doing the operation of linking the two, I wanted to make my own currency as an artwork, and I wanted to make it hyperfeminine as a statement. I decided to back it with my own artwork — to give it some sort of value — and that’s where I came up with the Speculations series. The visual motif of the Speculations is the metaphor for the blockchain; they’re blocks that go on infinitely. It’s the same play on words — specular relation — it’s about an image of an image of an image of an image. It’s a constant exchange, with the image as the operation of the three dimensional thing appraising itself in two dimensions. It’s an operation of making a value of something. It all turns into a kind of soup of concepts — values and reflections. The fundamental thing that I’m doing is connecting — whether it’s blockchain, the public markets, big data or the cutting edge of augmented reality tech — to identity, and to a body (the most subjective things in life) because they’re actually just related. 

Installation view, Sarah Meyohas, 303 Gallery, New York, January 8, 2016.

NB: In your September 2021 artnet op-ed, you address the differences between BitchCoin (which predated Ethereum), and Damien Hirst’s project The Currency. What are your thoughts on gender, and gendering, in the crypto space? What has been your impression of the recent surge in NFTs, and the crypto space in general?

SM: In terms of gender, being in the NFT space — it’s tricky. The crypto space is about anonymity; people are anonymous on crypto. To a certain extent, your genetic makeup is unimportant. That’s not what it’s about. It’s not about who you are in the real world, it’s about what you’re like in the metaverse. To some extent, that is really refreshing, because it does feel like — in the real world — my genetics have way too much bearing on how people judge my identity. 

In crypto, you’re anonymous, and that’s a breath of fresh air compared to identity in the real world. The downside is that most of the audience is men. It’s just the reality. The people who are buying NFTs — they’re traders and they’re crypto investors. Even if they don’t know who you are — and they don’t care if you’re a woman, a Black person or a trans person — the type of work that appeals to them [men, as the audience] is work that is very masculine. Think of the Bored Apes — this work is obviously very ‘bro culture’ masculine. Even generative art, as a concept and how it works, is fundamentally masculine. Maybe people will find this controversial, but it’s true. 

There is a deluge of material out there, that in order to give value to an NFT you need to develop a community with a Discord, on which everyone is chatting and contributing, and it feels like you’re building some sort of movement. You need to constantly engage your audience, which is not necessarily what makes a great work of art. Great art is not consistently engaging you in a chat room. That’s why some of these projects aren’t really art; they’re cultural, collectable moments with aesthetic and artistic parts. 

Then you have the generative art. As a cultural movement, people like to have editions where you can pick one (and one is better than another) but they’re all sort of random, and there is the element of rarity. This set-up kind of exists in the traditional art world. A painter makes somewhat similar works, and some are better than others, and you can make a sort of contest of which one is the better one, even if they look similar. Generative art is a crypto version of that. They have limited the tools of production to be a limited number of lines of code, and it’s all on chain. By limiting the tools of production, you’re allowing someone to display some sort of mastery with a tiny JPEG — that’s the movement of generative art. And it’s fine; it’s not a bad thing. It’s just, sometimes the results can be underwhelming. But I don’t want to speak ill of generative art — I think that out of all the things in NFTs, it’s one of the better things.

Still image of The Non-Existent Token (2021). Custom Ethereum smart contract. Courtesy the artist.

NB: In the relatively short period of time since NFTs have entered the mainstream, what’s your impression of the market, and this recent surge? In the crypto space you are one of the few women in this area, so I’m curious to hear your experience. 

SM: I feel as though I’m in this odd Venn Diagram where I’m the only person who is in the traditional art world, in the crypto space, and is a woman. I’m alone in that convergence of the diagram. 

NB: You’re the poster child for women in the crypto crossover space!

SM: I am and I’m not. The original work was a conceptual work where I proposed a system as an artwork, embodied it, and later invested in it. I didn’t come from the digital art space. The Venn Diagram then, by adding in ‘Conceptual Artist,’ becomes smaller and there really is no one else. But, I’m not a poster child, I’m just a weird outlier. The poster child is someone like Beeple. He’s a poster child for the NFTs. 

NB: What has it been like?

SM: It has been fascinating. The thing that’s amazing about NFTs is that you’re selling something for which someone doesn’t necessarily need wall space. It’s the revenge against painters — all the time, everywhere  — making more money than anyone else. It’s revenge! Finally, the weirdos can thrive! That’s the amazing thing. Normally, if you just collect for the love of it — with no thought or concern about where you’re going to put it and deal with it — you are in a very small, very amazingly privileged group. With NFTs, if you’re someone without a large apartment, you can still have a collection. What I hope for NFTs is that they end up bridging to the physical world, and allow for a separation of the stewardship of the physical asset from its ability to have some sort of financial value.

Fallen Speculation, Chromogenic Print, 40 x 60 inches (101 x 152 cm), Private collection.

NB: Have you explored that in your work? BitchCoin has the physical piece that goes with it, but in terms of a display process for the NFTs, is that something you’ve looked at?

SM: Displaying the coin? No. Some people do choose to display the coin — I’ve seen it displayed in a residence. The longtime benefit of painting has been that it’s portable, archival, and easily comparable. For all of the art that is not like that, it’s very difficult. I think people should start making NFTs and start linking them in legal ways to physical artworks — but not linking just to another painting. It should be with things that can’t otherwise move, for example. 

The NFT market is on fire. Communities are being built around it. It’s a new type of collecting, and the collectors value different things.

Still image of Bitchcoin (2021). Courtesy the artist.

NB: It’s a different type of collector, too. The people who are buying NFTs don’t necessarily know the names Judy Chicago or Gerhard Richter. And those names might just not be relevant to them. I do liken NFT culture to sneaker collectors. It’s very much driven by community, the culture of likes, social media followings, and the persona that is ultimately built around the identity of the artist. This is why you see so many of these collaborations happening with Steve Aoki or Paris Hilton. It’s about how many social media followers you have, which can ultimately drive up the price. Could you tell us a little bit about your Cloud of Petals series, and the incorporation of artificial intelligence into this project? Could you also speak to the role of gender in this series?

SM: It’s sometimes hard to articulate the Cloud of Petals because of its physical and conceptual breadth. It feels so all-encompassing that it’s hard to summarize one part of it. The mechanics of it are somewhat straightforward: 16 men, temporary workers, all male. Male hands, picking apart [flowers], in a way an act of judgment and somewhat an act of violence. But they’re doing it kindly, and they’ve been told to do it — it’s their job to do it. They’re picking apart and photographing 100,000 rose petals in the former Bell Labs. Fun fact: some of the beginnings of blockchain, one famous paper that Satoshi mentions in the bitcoin white paper, that famous paper was developed at Bell Labs. So, Bell Labs is kind of the source of it all. 

NB: It has come full circle!

SM: Yes, really full circle! This is a giant proof of work. These men are photographing 100,000 rose petals, and then they pick one petal per rose that they consider the most beautiful. At the time I did that, I wanted part of it to be a physical relic. A lot of this is about trying to locate the truth at its most fundamental level. At a high level, it’s about automation and AI as trends: where do we locate beauty and subjectivity? But, at a deeper level, it’s really just about truth and ‘the record.’ There are the photographs; the films on 16mm, which has a completely different way of recording; there are the pressed petals, which are the relics; there are the digital petals that turn into the AI experience of the petals, which is it’s own truth, too. In terms of a Platonic ideal of ‘what is a petal?’ and ‘what are petals?’ that then gets substantiated a gazillion times. The project has to do with the sublime, and the specific sublime of hyperobjects and big data. The nature of photography as it shifts and turns into data; that whole element is part of the project, too. The project also partially mimics the world, especially given the narrative — which is now changing — of how companies should function. At the time of the project, these companies harvested our data to feed our desire back to us. I was essentially doing that same process, but with rose petals. A lot of my projects take things to an extreme. Now, the promise of Web3 is that you’ll be in control of your own data — there won’t be a centralized hosting platform. This project [Cloud of Petals] was very much Web2 inspired. 

In a sense, it’s a perfect tie to BitchCoin, because that was backed by the Speculation photographs. There was a funnel process: making 100,000 new photographs, and then the resulting BitchCoins that come out of it are the relics; the pressed petals. The elements that have gone through the entire proof of work process to make it completely deflationary. Nobody wants a BitchCoin currency that goes on forever. Cloud of Petals is essentially the method to get BitchCoin (a fork of bitcoin) to Ethereum in an artistic way. 

Cloud of Petals (2017), Performance, Courtesy of the artist.

NB: What’s coming up for you? What other projects do you have going on, what’s next?

SM: I have a few projects. I’ll have a solo booth at Untitled at Art Basel Miami, with new AI petals and photographs. I’m making holograms, too. 

NB: Is it with a gallery? 

SM: Yes, it’s with COUNTY gallery, they’re based in Palm Beach, so this is their home turf! 

In mid-February, I’m going to have a show with Nahmad Projects in London. That show is about my work around structural color, meaning, how birds and butterflies create color, and different instatiations of that. 

One will be a piece in HoloLens (Microsoft’s Augmented Reality software), with a physical player piano. In augmented reality, there will be birds and watercolor effects that land on the piano and trigger it to play. There will also be sound spatialization that tracks the bird’s flight. You’re composing the birds and the music together. 

Another piece that I’m working on uses diffraction grating, which is the glass used in Hololens. Diffraction grating is glass that has been etched 3000x per millimeter, so it refracts light and creates structural color that shifts when you move. Any grating can really be any color, it just depends on the angle of light, and the angle at which you’re viewing it. This is used in all sorts of optical devices — in airplane displays and in military technology — but I’m using it to create artworks. I will also put photographs into diffraction gratings.

The third work is that I’m also making holograms. It’s funny; it’s not as political or economic as some of my other works, it’s just more about pushing the structures of technology and what we can see. For the holograms, I made some super macro shots of plants that start to look quite hairy and weird. 

NB: Just out of curiosity, do you have a studio where you produce your works? Or do you do this all on your laptop?

SM: I don’t have a studio, and I don’t think I will ever have a studio. If anything, I would have a place where I keep things. The truth is, even for my photographs, I used to use a studio and make my photographs on my own. This summer, instead, I went to Paris and worked with a few people. We rented one of the professional fashion shoot studios, with all the gear. Normally, the fashion shoots would be for one day. I went in and rented the place for a week, and did a full intensive! I got a much better work product than I would otherwise, being on my own in a studio. One day, maybe I’ll have a space. At this point, I don’t think that’s my plan.

Petal backing Bitchcoin #02.243 (2021), Rose petal on archival paper, ERC-1155 Token. Private collection.