Nicole: So when did you first begin to paint and what drew you to be an artist?
Dylan: I don’t remember if there was a specific instance when I realized I wanted to be an artist. I’ve always been painting and drawing, and both of my grandmothers were artists or creatives in some ways so from a very early age I was always encouraged to use my hands. When I was younger I had some anxiety struggles and I think a big outlet for myself, that was encouraged by my family, was drawing. Drawing was always just very natural, it simply stuck with me and I can’t imagine my day-to-day without it. A lot of artists that I talk to, they say I didn’t have a choice, and this is who I am, although it sounds almost corny saying it out loud, but it’s very much true.
Nicole: So could you tell us about the storytelling narrative aspect in your work?
Dylan: In terms of the storytelling aspect I’m working with a narrative that’s non linear. When people are looking at my work, and also when I’m making the work, I like to think of all of the paintings in dialogue with each other. It’s hard for me to pick apart or speak to only one painting in series. The reason I like working in series and working on multiple pieces in unison is because I like to see how they interact and talk to each other. What’s also interesting to me in terms of the narrative is this aspect of self discovery, thinking about my identity and taking a look at girlhood. I’m interested in the transitional space between girlhood to womanhood, or even in a broader sense, childhood to adulthood.
Nicole: How is the process of painting and the use of mixed media related to this narrative?
Dylan: The first time I did a mixed media painting was when I was studying painting and screenprinting a couple years ago in Florence. Before that I studied illustration, so I was learning and going through an education that was focused on mastering the traditional skills before you could move on and come up with your own style. I had a really hard time with this more traditional education and got into a lot of altercations with my professors in my undergrad because I really didn’t like that way of learning. I’m grateful for having those skills mastered now, but it was really frustrating at the time.
Before that, I was never using mixed media because it wasn’t the traditional thing to do, and it wasn’t until Grad school, after that semester in Italy, when I started thinking about all of the layers I was trying to address through painting and how that fell hand in hand within my own narrative. Speaking as someone who comes from a mixed background in terms of race and religion, I think it also naturally evolved into pulling all these different materials together and layering, and layering, and building these pieces without realizing at the time the connection it had with who I am and my background. I also love mixing materials that are a bit more traditional or high end with things that you wouldn’t expect, and that speaks to the parallels of adolescents and the coming of age. I have on my desk these packs of sparkles or glitter that I’m mixing with these expensive oil sticks and navigating how they can work together and what emotions that can evoke: It’s the girlhood and the womanhood in one.
Nicole: What do you have pinned to your walls and what books do you have open right now?
Dylan: I have a lot of drawings currently pinned or taped to my walls, and all of these start off in the automatic drawing or automatic writing, surrealist automatism manner. So I’m not trying to think about it and I’m just trying to let the subconscious sink in. What I believe is successful is that they give off a dreamscape and surreal feel to them while also speaking of the narratives I’m interested in.
The books that I have open at the moment are Katherine Bradford, Rita Ackermann, Cy Twombly, David Humphrey, and a Tracey Emin book.
Nicole: The expressive line across all of them, you can see how that transgresses into your work.
Dylan: Thank you, that’s a big compliment! Also there’s Philip Guston, I feel like a lot of people have been looking at him recently, but he’s like my everything.
Nicole: So tell us what are some of your upcoming projects or exhibitions that you’re excited about.
Dylan: I’m very excited about my solo show at T293 Gallery in Rome opening May 11th through June 1st. The show will be taking form with eight large scale mixed media paintings and six wood panel studies that are also mixed media. These studies aren’t really traditional studies because they don’t look like an underpainting or an outline for any of the large scale works. There’s a layover between the objects and the symbolisms throughout those drawings and I think if you take your time and really look at the group together, you’ll find that there’s a lot of crossover with the larger works. After this show in Rome, I’m preparing for a solo show in the winter at M + B Gallery in Los Angeles.
NB: Linda, when did you first pick up a camera and what drew you to become an artist?
LC: Growing up, my father’s Zeiss Ikon rangefinder was always nearby. He carefully composed the photos of my childhood, and that of my 6 younger brothers and sisters, in ways that gave the appearance of happiness and harmony that were far different from my experience. When I set off for college he loaned me his camera and I took it with the determination to discover the world through my eyes. It’s ironic that the same camera my father used to cover up the messiness, the cruelty and contradictions in our family is the same one that allowed me to disarm and reveal. With a bus ticket from my grandparents and a scholarship I won to the Cleveland Institute of Art I began my new life in search of a community of people like me, with questions like mine. I went to study painting but was met with a very antiquated view from many (mostly male) professors that would often dismiss female students. I noticed an inverse relationship between the number of female students entering school and those graduating, so I went to the Director and suggested they add more female faculty. Instead, they rescinded my scholarship the following semester, so with the encouragement of my friend, April Gornick, who left CIA the year before to go to Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, I finished art school in Halifax, Nova Scotia. There I found a thriving avant-garde community of conceptual artists – Laurie Anderson, Martha Wilson, Katherine Knight, June Leaf and Robert Frank. I flourished there in its progressive, vibrant intellectual community, beside the open sea. It opened my eyes to performance art, art on the move.
NB: So at this time you’re studying painting, how did you come to integrate the performance aspect into your practice?
LC: In Halifax I began making cameras of my own: I made “pin-hole pigeon cameras” inspired from World War II spy cameras, when pigeons would fly over enemy lines with tiny cameras attached to them. I made a flock of seven pinhole pigeon cameras, each one with a string attached to open its shutter. I’d sit on the bench at a public park, waiting for live pigeons to interact with my decoy pigeons and then make a “pigeon pinhole” picture of the interplay. Performing my artwork in public gave me a place for my work to be seen and so art-making in the open became my conduit. My first artwork purchased by a museum was a silver gelatin pigeon photograph acquired by the Lehigh University Art Gallery in 1979.
NB: Your work is characterized by working in series. What is the process to help you determine each of these new series? How do you know the beginning and the end?
LC: When I start a project, I have mulled it over for quite a while. Once I find the materials that speak to, or reveal the idea, the process accelerates and becomes more organic and intuitive, but I always return to a conceptual basis. An artist gathers lots of impressions, whether in photographs, drawings, writings or sound scores, but knowing which one to save and follow, and which one to let go is the hardest part. Looking back now I see a recurring fascination in my artwork about the interplay of visible and invisible forces shape our lives. I think this goes back to my initial pigeon premise, the idea of the co-creation of the image by both subject and object, like the Heisenberg Principle that the act of observation changes the thing being observed. The end of a series is kind of an illusion. There really is no end, just a transformation in material or technique or subject matter. I mostly wait for something in the work to announce its own completion.
NB: Your current exhibition Slippages at 89 Greene was initially developed over a span of 10 years (1992 – 2002). Can you tell us a bit more about revisiting this body of work 20 years later and how has the work evolved over time?
LC: Slippages is a project that comes out of a desire to literally transcend the gravity of the past and reclaim what may have been left out, or invisible. Over time, though, I realized that what began as an attempt to picture hidden power dynamics of gender, was evolving into picturing the changing dynamics of power itself. A radical new invisible technology was simultaneously reshaping our landscape and lives. At the end of the millenia, once secure infrastructure and systems of knowledge based in the physical world began morphing and disappearing into a digital reality. I witnessed previously defined hallmarks of society, architecture and tradition begin to crumble and couldn’t help seeing the shifts in the social, cultural, economic and personal domain as inter-related to our increasing digital dependence.
For Slippages I found objects and sites that held cultural significance, and had power and history embedded in them. The garments I chose, seven slips, held powerful memories and associations. The slip was not only a uniform of gender, but also a potent word – both noun and verb – that resonated with the actual power slippages I saw happening in the world. Although the slip was a constant feature in the photographs, my initial subject of identity and resistance had transformed into a meditation on change itself – another invisible force, like the wind – that can be seen by virtue of its impact on the visible world and physical beings.
NB: So there’s this aspect of atemporality in your work and a sense of movement, do you want to just expand on that a little bit?
LC: I like to make artworks that tap into a sense of on-going being, an organic flow of time and process. Susan Sontag says “…There is no final photograph…” because the desire to look and to see and to learn is endless. Art and tradition transcend time, I think, because they spring from a human need to connect, to make meaning and to feel safe. Unconscious processes and unresolved conflicts, like wars, transcend time. They keep on going. Isn’t this why, 50 years after Roe v. Wade, we are coming back to the same question of who’s in control of the female body, even though we all thought it was settled law? Whose interpretation counts? We have differing interpretations and perspectives on events because we all see them through the filters of our own time and place. I search for a moment of recognition where reality and my imagination meet. It is at this moment, this intersection of inside and outside, the convergence of now and then, that I click the shutter and the photograph begins.
There was a project I did for four years, from 2004 to 2008, where I stood as a silent sentinel during the Iraq war in the same spot in front of the U.S. Army recruiting station at Times Square. There I made pictures of young men and women going through the doors to enlist. In the frame was also the war of words and images – glaring screens and billboards of military and commerce competing for attention from passers by. I took 24 frames within 24 minutes to underline the phenomenon of the persistence of vision and to reference the way cinema and news media construct their narratives. Afterwards I pieced frames together in photographic scrolls so the viewer could slow down and digest these different impulses and images screaming at each other.
NB: Amazing. Do you have any other upcoming projects or exhibitions that you would like to share with us?
LC: Yes, on view through March 25th is Slippages at 89 Greene, the project space for Signs and Symbols Gallery in the Lower East Side. And I am excited to be working on a large project titled Genesis 1.2 – a large 10-foot x 7-foot photographic glass artwork to be installed in June 2023 as a permanent installation in Temple Beth Tikvah in Madison, Connecticut. This project engages two passions of mine: understanding properties of light and advocating for the health of water bodies, rivers and estuaries that feed into Long Island Sound. It’s an artwork that was created in a collaborative spirit with members of the community. The guiding premise for the Ark given to me by the Rabbi was Genesis 1:1-5 and the birth of light from darkness, with the spirit of God hovering on the face of the waters. On the first morning of Hanukkah I captured a spectacular sunrise through a glass device I constructed to distort and expand the light rays, separating them into a shimmering spiral of color and transparency. The effect is iridescent, like an impressionist painting. I am constructing a physical space in a sanctuary, creating a stage within which to present an artwork intended to uplift the viewer, metaphorically, into a state of reverie, awe, and inspiration.
NB: Can you tell us what are some of your earliest memories of art and how do they relate to where you’re at with your practice today?
KC: I believe my earliest memories of art were that my family had an Ernie Barnes print in our living room at home and I think it was the Sugar Shack painting. Also, I was always a doodler when I was a kid, and I remember I would get in trouble a lot for drawing in class. I think I’ve always been creative and drawn to art although I didn’t really go to art galleries or anything like that when I was younger, but I’ve always been interested in art making in some capacity. Actually my father, he was a photographer on the side, but as a kid I didn’t view that as an art form, just for documentation. It wasn’t until I started learning and I taught myself how to do film photography that I realized it had such power to be used for art. Once I started practicing, I got more into it and eventually developed my own conceptual practice.
NB: Your work and writings are characterized by themes of mental health, identity and trauma. Can you tell us more about how you approach these topics?
KC: Through my writing I always try to maintain a certain level of honesty, transparency and introspection. After going through a lot of mental health issues myself, a few years ago I realized that writing was one of the best ways to deal with and understand those issues and concerns. Also making work about something that I’ve personally experienced helps me understand more about myself. After speaking to my mother recently about mental health struggles that she also dealt with, I started to learn more about how these things can be cyclical and repetitive within my own family and within my friends’ families. I try to use that in my work and writing as a tool to understand why these patterns continue to reoccur as I search for solutions to break those patterns. I also have a background in math and one thing you learn in math is that almost everything can be broken down into some sort of pattern. I’ve always been a logical thinker looking for patterns, but art is a creative way to isolate patterns and change your understanding around certain issues. Art making also helps develop your understanding of yourself in relation to those issues, whether on a social micro level or a macro, wider level.
NB: Given the wide range of disciplines within your practice, video, collage, sculpture, writing, photography, silkscreen painting, how do you determine which medium to work with next? Do you think different mediums apply to different concepts?
KC: Absolutely. I love working in multiple mediums because I feel like it allows me a level of freedom that I believe all artists should give to themselves. I don’t think any artist should be boxed into one medium or mode of making. I think you should definitely take the time to master at least one, yet I think it’s more beneficial and advantageous to your practice if you try to do things that you’re not an expert in because you end up learning new techniques or approaches to your main mode of making. I also don’t like limiting my approach to the one that I’m strong in, because you don’t always know the one you’re the strongest in (you might think you know, but you don’t always know).
That’s why I try to work with the idea first, the medium second. If I work that way, then it gives the idea more space to evolve beyond me constricting the idea into a box of “this idea has to be a photo, or a painting, or this idea has to be a sculpture” If I just say this is the idea and then allow that idea to tell me how to present it or not present it then I think the idea gets to live longer in a better way.
NB: So what are some artists or people that you admire or that you’re looking at right now?
KC: I’ve also been listening to a lot of Gil Scott Heron, his spoken word and older albums and looking at the artwork of Tomashi Jackson and Torkwase Dyson. Those are probably the only two as of this week, because it’s ever changing and there’s way too many talented people to keep track of. I try not to get too caught up in what other artists are doing because it may be distracting, although I think it’s a good thing that nowadays we can see what people are doing through social media – what they’re doing within their own practices and if they’re taking risks.
NB: So can you tell us about your most recent exhibition, Understand Me at Osmos Gallery and the group show Dark Matter at Kates-Ferri Projects?
KC: The solo show at OSMOS consists of photo collage and paintings. The series of paintings are titled The Unconformity Series, and they’re inspired by the Great Unconformity which is a missing chunk of sediment in the Earth’s crust about 100 million years to 1 billion years long. The image and text works in the show consist of found imagery from my family archive and from books that I own referencing West African sculpture and art. It’s a show about fragmentation of identity, it’s about lost history, and it’s about reclaiming or recreating one’s personal and historical and familial narrative. The Dark Matter show at Kates-Ferri Projects is about how dark matter exists in space, but it’s not something that can be observed and the group show takes a bunch of different approaches to documenting or creating that which cannot be observed or captured. The works that I have in the show are one of the Unconformity paintings and one collage, a piece of abstraction with a piece of fragmentation. I love how the show came together, there’s a lot of variety within the works and mediums, and how people are using those mediums in unconventional ways.
NB: So lastly, what are some projects that you’re excited about in the future?
KC: I’m working on a solo show that will be in Sweden this year at Public Service gallery in Stockholm and working on a group show in New York for June. Personally, I am trying to use more of my writing within my work. I’m really interested in trying to figure out different ways that my writing, my language, and words can exist within my work, and trying to step outside of my comfort zone when it comes to the way in which I use my text and poetry and the word itself.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
NB: Do you have any upcoming exhibitions or projects that you’d like to share?
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.
NICOLE BRAY ART ADVISOR & APPRAISER, MANHATTAN, NY
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