CELAYA BROTHERS GALLERY

Celaya Brothers Gallery (Mexico City), in collaboration with INEZ SUEN (Brooklyn)  is pleased to announce its first participation in TX Contemporary Art Fair

Celaya Brothers Gallery is presenting a selection of artworks by Agostino Iacurci (Italy), Camila Rodrigo (Peru), Josh Reames (USA), Juan Carlos Coppel (Mexico), and Mathew Zefeldt (USA) at Booth 517 at George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, Texas October 4-7 with special exhibitions by Houston’s own, Rene Garza (USA).  TX Contemporary will begin with the Opening​ Night​ Preview (Thursday, October 4, 6-10pm) and will open to the public October 5-6 (11am-7pm) and October 7 (12-6pm).

The exhibition pieces discuss the relationship between man and nature by way of still lifes, burning landscapes and eroded mountains. The artists explore -in various disciplines such as photography, sculpture, and painting and in a wide range of styles – how capitalism has driven societies to perceive progress as a (de)construction and to understand humanity as the opposite of nature.

Agostino Iacurci – Through his work with synthetic forms and bright colors, by means of an essential language, Agostino Iacurci is able to manage multiple layers of interpretation. This approach sets his tales on the perennial threshold between innocence and artifice, serenity and catastrophe; on a magnetic tension that is the interpretative key to our very existence. His recurrent themes include self-perception, uncertainty, imagination, and play. His work has a cynical and critical vision of reality —pessimistic at times— setting the stage for drama, and at the same time sublimating it, alleviating it. Iacurci’s work challenges the limits of sinuosity by presenting an image that seems familiar and innocent but is, fundamentally, malicious. And in that uncertainty lays its richness, a half-open door that leads to other interpretations.

●  Agostino Iacurci’s work has been exhibited at the MACRO Museum in Rome, Italy; the Italian Cultural Institute of New York, USA; the Media Library of Orly in France and the Biennial of Urban Art in Moscow, Russia.
●  Has collaborated with Adidas, Urban Outfitters, Penguin Books, La Repubblica, TBWA, Mailchimp, Laterza, Minimum fax, Herman Miller, L’ Unità, Orecchio acerbo, Sugar Music, Edizioni Lapis, , Cielo Tv, Smemoranda, WALLS_Contemporary Public Art, Rat Creatives, Roma 3 University, B5 Production and more.

Camila Rodrigo works with photography, sculpture and installation to reflect on the effects of erosion and wear, focusing on the idea of progress as a (de)construction, a contrast between past and future. Her images examine the passage of time, the transformation of the natural space parallel to the reorganization of society.

●  Finalist in the 2010 Lacoste Elysée Prize
●  Exhibited at the National Museum of Lima, Peru; the Museum Rosphoto in St. Petersburg, 
Russia; the Musée de L’Elysée in Lausanne, Switzerland; and the Palais de l’Árchevéché in Arles, 
France
●  Part of several private collections such as Juan Mulder (Lima, Peru), Eduardo Hoeschield (Lima, 
Peru), Jorge Villacorta (Lima, Peru), Fola (Buenos Aires, Argentina)
●  Published in: 77 Artistas Peruanos Contemporáneos by Mario Testino, YOUTH by: Prestel 
(Random House), Re Generation: tomorrow photographers today (Aperture foundation), and E l Placer es más importante que la Victoria (Tasneem Gallery), among others.

Josh Reames’ paintings use contemporary tools available on the Internet to create surreal patchworks of contemporary signs and symbols that portray the flattening of artistic hierarchies in our postmodern world. Reames employs computer drawing applications and Google images to create assemblages of “modern hieroglyphs.” His work considers abstraction and painting in relation to the Internet and is informed by the strange, new space where a majority of viewership takes place: online through blogs and websites. His conceptual framework functions as a kind of filtration device for cultural byproducts and its attending relativism, flattening signs, text and symbols, cultural objects and icons to the same-level composition, thereby removing their hierarchy.

●  Represented by industry leading galleries.
●  Named one of the 30 Emerging Artists During Frieze Week by Artsy
●  Juror’s pick in the 2011 New American Paintings, Midwest Edition #95
●  Was artist-in-residence at Ox Bow (funded by Joan Mitchell Foundation)
●  Exhibited at the Museo Di Capodimonte in Naples, Italy; Urban Institute of Contemporary Art in 
Michigan; Luis de Jesus Gallery in Los Angeles, The Hole in New York, and Guerrero Gallery in 
San Francisco, among others.
●  Published in Artcritical, Artnews, Artsy, Hyperallergic, New American Paintings, Chicago Tribune, 
Chicago Art Review, among others.

Juan Carlos Coppel 
The burning of tires is a practice carried out by farmers to raise the temperature of the fields and avoid the crops to frost during the winter preserving months of work, one of the main economic activities of the state. This procedure poses an ethical and environmental problem related to the ecological devastation of the agricultural field, even in the context of a rationalized production. The images, taken in a field to the north of Sonora, play ironically with the nineteenth-century painting by pondering, on a romantic mood, a concern of our time.

●  Took specialized courses in photography with Jay Dickman (Pulitzer Award winner) at the National Geographic, in Paris with Manuel Abellán and at the International Center of Photography in New York.
●  Won the Acquisition Prize in Fotoseptiembre and the Acquisition Prize in the XV Bienal de Artes Visuales del Noroeste.
●  Exhibited in the National Center for the Arts CENART (MX), Sonora Museum of Art MUSAS (MX), the Santa Barbara Museum of Art (USA), among others.
●  He was invited to the 4th edition of Salón Acme (MX), the XVII Biennial of Photography in Centro de La Imagen (MX), the VII Biennial of Visual Arts MIRADAS in Tijuana (MX), Guatephoto (GT) and Foto España (SPA).
●  He was member of the 2016-2017 Young Creators Program of the National Fund for Culture and Arts FONCA and the Contemporary Photography Program in North Mexico.
●  He is part of the private collections of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art in California and the Sonora Museum of Art in Mexico.

Mathew Zefeldt – His work uses representational imagery as an element within a larger composition. It’s less about what the repeated image represents necessarily, but rather the interplay and relationships of the parts to the whole, and each other— reflecting the pluralist landscape we find ourselves in today. Zefeldt uses images from our life and culture, to reproduce them in an almost lifeless, systematic way. His interest in the aesthetics of digital collage is addressing the multiple visual languages and bringing them together in one plane, creating an overlay of styles and gestures that echo the fragmented, heterogeneous nature of contemporary reality.
●  One of two national recipients of the Dedalus MFA Fellowship in 2011
●  Exhibited at the Santa Monica Museum of Art, the Contemporary Art Museum of St. Louis, the 
Minneapolis Institute of Arte, the Minnesota Museum of American Art, the Marin Museum of 
Contemporary Art, Circuit 12, Joshua Liner Gallery, and Lisa Cooley among others.
●  Published in LA Times, Art Ltd., New American Paintings, and Art Fuse, among others.

Rene Garza is a New York based Artist that is in residency in Houston, TX where he was raised. Garza has spent over 15 years as a fashion and celebrity stylist traveling the world in a business ruled by visceral aesthetics. Using this time to create a body of work that reflects his long standing love of conceptual art. As an artist in many mediums, Garza notes his inspirations usually comes from travel, minimalism, geometry, dark gothic and romanticism. Garza currently has a public art installation in Houston, Texas called “A Moment” that covers an entire building’s facade and is meant to inspire calmness in our busy lives. “A Moment” follows up the exhibition of a drawing of graphite on paper at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

ABOUT Celaya Brother Gallery – IG @celayabrothers

Celaya Brothers Gallery (CBG) is a unique space that challenges the creative limits of the participating artists. A contemporary art gallery with a proactive offer that invites international artists to develop unique concepts and defy the parameters of their time.

ABOUT INEZ SUEN  –  IG @inezsuenart

INEZ SUEN is a multi-service international creative company for a changing art market. INEZ SUEN offers a wide range of services such as strategic planning, advising and consulting, and art exhibition production.

ABOUT TX Contemporary

Texas Contemporary, Houston’s leading contemporary and modern art fair, brings top galleries to the area’s discerning collector base. Now going into its seventh edition, Texas Contemporary 2018 will feature 65 exhibitors and an innovative program of special projects and public installations.

THE ORIGIN OF LOVE: THE SONGS AND STORIES OF HEDWIG – INTERVIEW WITH COSTUME DESIGNER ERIK BERGRIN

Photographs of Hedwig by Mick Rock | Talent: John Cameron Mitchell | Interview by Benjamin Price | Costume Design by Erik Bergin @ The Industry MGMT | Video by Brian Lynch and Pier 59 Studios | Production by Liz Vap/FeralCat Productions | Wig and Makeup by Mike Potter using MAC Cosmetics @ Ray Brown | Costume Assistant Lauren Hoffman | Makeup Assistant Andrew D’Angelo 

John Cameron Mitchell rose in the world of cult-entertainment after directing, writing, and starring in the award-winning film Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001). His Broadway production of Hedwig garnered him a 2014 Tony Award for Best Revival of Musical and a Special Tony Award for his return to the role in 2015. His seriously impressive depth of work includes the improv-based film Shortbus (2006), and 2010’s Rabbit Hole starring Nicole Kidman which scored an Academy Award nomination for her role. He executive produced Jonathan Caouette’s Tarnation (2004) and has played recurring roles in HBO’s Girls, Martin Scorsese’s HBO series Vinyl, The Good Fight and current season of Mozart in the Jungle. Mitchell has also been busy behind the camera directing and co-writing the film adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s punk-era How to Talk to Girls at Parties starring Elle Fanning and Nicole Kidman.

“At last! My journey to Oz, long-deferred by silly obstacles like unemployment and air fare, is a reality! I shall strap on a Cubist corsette and chromium wig, regale you with haphazard stories from 55 years of fake rock stardom and wail your favorite Hedwig songs like some kind of wonder woman within. Please prepare for my eminent arrival”, Mitchell said.

Producer David M Hawkins said, “John Cameron Mitchell is one of the great artists of our generation – a multi-award winning writer, actor and director. I first saw him on Broadway as Dickon in ‘The Secret Garden’ in the early 90’s and next in his Tony winning rock star turn in ‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch’. Since producing Hedwig in Australia in 2006 I have become good friends with John, our connection means the world to me. We have talked since 2008 about a concert tour to Australia and at last the stars have aligned. We intend to bring a decent hit of the Greenwich Village vibe to Oz. I am so very excited to share  this incredible artist with my country. You are in the best hands for one hell of a ride meeting the original Hedwig, and the man behind her!”

We had the chance to interview the artist behind the transformational costumes, Erik Bergrin, and discuss Hedwig, lucid dreaming, and finding inspiration as a bored teen at Blockbuster.

Photo by Eva Mueller at the artist’s studio

What was your inspiration behind the costumes for the tour?

John came to me and said he was thinking about a costume that had this cubist, geometric, Trompe-l’œil, black and white thing happening that wasn’t Hedwig but Meta-Hedwig. As in, it has some reference to Hedwig in the costume and there should be panels that are removed during the show to become more boy in the end. He mentioned there was not going to be a built set, but that the costume should act somehow like a set–which was the sentence that made me convulse with excitement. I love doing huge wearable things, which I think is one of the reasons he came to me.

Initially I made tons of drawings of huge pieces on wheels that would drag behind him. All of these outfits packed with tricks such as a gigantic overcoat that would slowly come apart and piece by piece be thrown onto a giant magnet board behind him to reveal a story on the inside. Or this huge mirrored contraption that would come out backstage and be placed around John, and he would spin in a circle and the drawings on the costume would come to life in an animation reflected through the mirrors of the contraption. But I had to edit it down after every meeting and not let my imagination get carried away. I knew he was going to the Sydney Opera House, so I thought it would be fun to play with multiple overlapping triangle shapes. Basically my inspiration was working in these parameters, but still making it my own.

How did you get involved with the project?

I met John years ago as an extra on one of his films, “Shortbus.” We stayed in touch and I guess he thought of me after seeing the pictures from my latest art exhibition, Shadowwork. It is a series of 9 large figurative fiber sculptures, each about 7 feet tall. I have a background in costuming and I work as a costume tailor for Broadway shows, so I think it was the combination of my large costume work and the fact that I know how to create for the stage. I was working on the costumes at the same time as preparing for Shaddowwork. At a meeting with John, I met Mike Potter who did the wigs, hair, and makeup for Hedwig since the very beginning and we became very close. He was helping me with both shows and I was helping him with sewing the wigs. We worked closely, bouncing ideas off each other, so the wig and costume were from the same world. It made the whole process such a blast!

How did the idea of the gender binary and Hedwig’s transformation from female fantasy to undressed man come about?

I always felt that the film is more about finding yourself and less about gender or another person that can define you.

And speaking of Mike Potter who has been with the show since the beginning, the film and original show, I will quote him as a more qualified source…, “It’s like she gradually sheds her armor. Her costume and hair are almost a defense mechanism. But she comes to realize she doesn’t need any of the things that she think she needs. i.e. all her artifice, in order to be whole. She’s only whole when she’s stripped bare. It’s like being reborn.”

How does the idea of Hedwig’s iconic character come into the costume construction?

Hedwig was always famous for her brilliant handmade-style clothes and is now busting out on an international stage. Enjoying the spoils of her riches, she is debuting a next-level, more mature, steel-hued Meta-Hedwig look. Shining like the brightest star. The tour is called The Origin of Love, and when the show opens John comes out singing the titular song. The sleeves open up to reveal the faces from the origin of love animation, and when closed the front of the sleeves form Hedwig’s tattoo. Mike Potter’s wig and makeup are classic Hedwig, but aged to show her impending mortality, as he says in the show.

When you began your artistic career making costumes for the clubs in NYC while in school, did you ever think it would become a career in fine art/ performance?

I don’t think so? But I’m not sure because I never really had any goals. Which I know is unusual to say, but I never really did anything with a goal in the end. I started sewing when I started making costumes. Eventually, I put a book together of the things I made and got hired at a costume shop my friend was working in. Then I hopped to other shops and spent a long time working with really brilliant tailors. Every day I used to leave feeling terrible because I was working with super talented and experienced people and I wasn’t able to do anything properly. That kind of experience really humbles you when trying to learn. It taught me to put severe focus into everything, because I never wanted to have that feeling of a broken spirit when I left the shop. I soon realized that the fear of not wanting to feel like that caused a snowball effect that grew until it was impossible to do anything right. As soon as the tiny seed of fear was planted, I kept at it and at some point something shifted, and I can’t at all tell you when, but things seem to work like that with me.

Some of Erik’s early sketches of Hedwig’s transforming costume

Can you elaborate on how your background/education in psychology influenced your work on Hedwig?

I would say everything in my life up until I made this costume are causes and conditions for the way I designed it. All of the experiences in my past have subtle effects on how I design, so its difficult to distinguish how each particular experience directly influences me. I can, however, tell you that my psychology education brought me to my study of eastern philosophy and meditation, and lucid dreaming. One instance where lucid dreaming directly influenced the costume happened a couple of weeks into the project..

I was hitting a block when I was sketching. When I get stuck sometimes I’ll turn to my dream practice for advice. I do several exercises during the day that help me become aware of the fact I am dreaming when I am asleep. When you’re in a dream you’re in a subtle part of your subconscious, so there are all of these practices you can do to explore the darkness or shadows you have lurking in there. I was in the middle of a dream that had my best friend in it, who I have a deep and long history with, and I became lucid and turned to him to ask for help.

I turned to my friend and said, ”What should I do with my project?,” In a quick and desperate manner, because I wanted the answer before I woke up. Every time I leaned in close to ask him this question, his face morphed into wolf features. He wasn’t answering so I asked again, “WHAT SHOULD I DO WITH MY PROJECT?” The wolf morph happened again, and again he didn’t answer, so I asked a third time and this time we fell together off of a balcony to the ground floor. We were looking at each other and he said to me,”This is all I ever wanted. For you to be nice to me…” I completely froze and remained still for a minute, just staring, and it generated this incredibly raw feeling of tenderness. I immediately had my heart broken open. I woke up after a minute or so and even when recalling this now I get choked-up. It left me in a sensitive and vulnerable state. I woke up a minute later and the strong feeling was still there. I knew what I had to do was stop working from a mass of thoughts and references and just hold this feeling to guide my mind to make the decisions. I made some drawings from this place of vulnerability and it all came together that day. I trust any design that comes from that place. I had so many moments like that when I was making, “Shaddowwork.” These experiences have taught me my creativity is best accessed from a place of vulnerability and tenderness.

What was it like working with John Cameron Mitchell?

Magical. He’s the perfect mixture of professionalism and fun. He is super sharp, always coming up with new puns. Working with someone who can bring a costume to life so magically is so valuable. I had my idea of what the costume would look like on him, and then he would try it on and animate it in a whole new way. You just have to surrender to the magic because it’s so much greater than anything you could have come up with in your head. It forces you to detach yourself from your original ideas. Something like that can only come from someone who has the magic.

When did you first watch Hedwig and the Angry Inch (the movie or the Broadway adaptation) and what did you feel from that experience?

I think I was 18 on a really boring vacation in Florida with family, and I rented it from Blockbuster video. VHS. My sister fell asleep and I watched it alone, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it the next day. I don’t think I fully understood all of it, but was so mesmerized by the way it looked and sounded, that I watched it a couple of times in the 2 days. The songs stayed with me. I got the soundtrack and the more I listened to the soundtrack the more I wanted to watch the film, and the more I watched the film the more I wanted to listen to it.

What was it like working with the legendary rock ‘n’ roll photographer Mick Rock?

It feels like you’re working with a legend. Reading about his background and everyone he’s been on tour with and the iconic shots he has photographed, it’s all in him as soon as he walks in the room. He had amazing stories; I could listen to them all day.

What was the inspiration behind the photoshoot and video?

The goal was to really capture this next interpretation of Hedwig in an amazing way. This is a whole new direction for the character, which was truly born for The stage. Mick Rock, who already shot one of the penultimate Hedwig photos as well as so many other iconic rock photographs, was the perfect photographer to capture it.

As an artist and costume designer, what is your goal with each piece? What do you want the viewer to take away from your work’s message?

I definitely made Shadowwork as a way to get something out of me. I know there are ways to merge the dream state and the conscious state. I’ve read a lot of about it and have experienced glimpses where the lines were almost blurred. It’s like lucid dreaming. When you become lucid in the dream state you can call out to different shadows in your subconscious. Shadowwork was one of my ways of doing this in the waking state. Building this series of my own mental hell in order to get it out and confront it. So one of the larger goals is to merge the dream state and the waking state.

For this costume, I think I just wanted to live up to the legacy of Hedwig and make the fans excited and proud.

What can we expect next from you? Are you going to collaborate further with John Cameron Mitchell on any other projects? Or Mick Rock?

I am currently doing a book called WORDS AND PICTURES  about my Shaddowwork series consisting of stories, drawings, and photos… and about John and Mick: I HOPE SO!!!!!!!!

STUDIO VISITS: WING YAU

Jacket by Comme des Garçons, Vintage White Dress from The Break

Photography by Dustin Mansyur | Hair and Makeup by Nina Soriano | Interview by Benjamin Price

Breaking from convention, WWAKE creates a new perspective of jewelry as an extension of one’s self, personal sculpture, history, and a thoroughly modern reinterpretation of heirloom design. Wing Yau, the designer behind the CFDA finalist brand WWAKE, has successfully blended the concept of fine art sculpture with the intimacy of jewelry. The Rhode Island School of Design graduate came to New York to follow her passion for sculpture, only to find that her love of fine details and complex concepts lent themselves better to the creation of jewelry. Defined by signature shapes, unexpectedly light arrangements, and other-worldly stones, WWAKE jewelry has found a loyal following from women around the world, including notable names such as Rihanna, Cate Blanchett, and Emma Watson. In an interview with Iris Covet Book, the young artist discusses her inspirations, sustainability, and her various upcoming and exciting projects

You studied sculpture at the Rhode Island School of Design, how did you transition to jewelry design?

Truthfully, I thought I wanted to be a practicing studio artist—but nothing was clicking for me. My biggest challenge was making pieces without knowing who my audience was, I kept making these little textile sculptures and hitting a creative dead-end. WWAKE was born out of a need for a more personal connection. I transformed my sculptures into wearable pieces, and when even those felt too avant garde for most, I worked with more traditional materials, such as gold and precious stones, which allowed customers to have a personal, potentially lifelong, connection to my designs. My approach to design was meant to be subversive, but as I’ve built a real community behind our pieces overtime, it’s become a lot more meaningful than that.

When would you say you experienced your big break? And what has been your journey since?

2015 was a breakout year for the brand all around, it’s hard to name just one event! I was named one of Forbes 30 under 30, we picked up our first major retailers, and we became finalists in the CFDA x Lexus Fashion Initiative! All of these things gave the brand huge exposure that I’m grateful for, which has allowed me to expand my design offering and build a team that represents a new generation of fine jewelry—everyone is savvy and passionate about what they do—from the miners, to the jewelers, to sales managers. It’s so inspiring.

How would you describe the WWAKE woman? What makes her differ from your secondary line CLOSER?

Our core woman believes in simplicity and the value of art, and while she believes in the value of tradition as well, she’s taking her own distinct approach to all rituals. WWAKE and CLOSER break the expectation of traditional jewelry design while retaining the heirloom qualities. It’s jewelry to honor, with a touch of something inexplicable, a little bit of magic. The WWAKE woman is all about subtle, quiet luxuries—the pieces are designed at a personal scale, they’re not flashy or for anyone but yourself to enjoy. To contrast, the CLOSER woman wants bold, sculptural statements from her jewelry. Our jewelry is both a reinforcement of your most valued memories and simultaneously an escape from everyday life to the world of art and the poetics behind our materials.

What design inspiration are you currently obsessed with and why?

Currently I’m obsessing over the sculptural and dramatic mineral formations found in nature, like tourmaline and kyanite, opals and ethereal-colored stones—they’re worlds within themselves, and really just take me away from wherever I may be in the moment. There’s no better sculptor than Mother Nature.

How does WWAKE and CLOSER reconcile mining and consumption of precious materials with the brands’ ethos?

For me, the process of sustainability truly starts with selecting our sources carefully. I’m dedicated to working with micromining communities who rely on this practice to sustain their families and livelihood. I’ve visited several of these communities now and am happy to share that they work with environmentally responsible practices and use their proceeds to further develop their own communities. A lot of people villainize mining, but it’s an incredible opportunity for these individuals to support themselves and develop infrastructure for their future. It’s personal. My goal with WWAKE jewelry is to connect you to the earth, and every person that touches it.

What can you tell us of your upcoming projects and collections?

We’re super excited to launch our art objects this year that will bring a new layer of artistry to the brand. We will also launch our debut couture collection in Vegas this June!

Currently there are a large number of women taking a stance and voicing their power across multiple fields and industries—how do you feel as a female designer in this day and age?

WWAKE is a company run completely by young, like-minded women, and as painful as this political climate has been, it’s driven us to work harder and fight for the future that we want to see. I want to see more female designers, more thoughtful brands that design for progress and use their platforms to bridge difficult conversations, and I want to see customers that stand behind this and make thoughtful purchases.

Vintage Dress from Nice Piece in Paris

For more information visit wwake.com

RAUL DE NIEVES

Among a menagerie of rainbow-hued, glittering, plastic beaded life-sized figures, standing like a proud father overlooking his artistic creations, the charmingly unique Raúl de Nieves shares his artistic rituals with us in his cathedral of creations.

Photography by Tiffany Nicholson | Interview by Mariana Valdes Debes

Blending the lines between the human and the artificial, Raúl de Nieves’ instantly recognizable shoes, masks, and humanoid figures are at once fantastical, desirous art pieces, yet remain relatable and human. Located in the heart of Bushwick, Brooklyn, NY, de Nieves has created a studio filled with beads, fringe, ephemera, and anthropomorphized beings who appear to dance and interact with each other.and it is within that studio where we met the artist and sat down to discuss his art and unique perspective.

Born in Michoacan, Mexico, immigrating to the United States at the age of nine to California, and following the winding path to New York City, Raúl has made a name for himself and cut a swatch of color through the country. In our current state of political turmoil, climate change, and war, it is a breath of fresh air to see the talent that emanates from each piece of art that de Nieves creates as well as from the artist himself.

Here, Mariana Valdes Debes, an international art promoter of Mexican artists, sits in conversation with Raúl for Iris Covet Book.

Hello Raúl!

Hi Mariana, it’s nice to talk to you.

Nice to talk to you as well, I think your work is amazing! I want to start from the beginning and ask how growing up in Michoacan, Mexico influenced your decision to enter into the world of art?

Growing up in Mexico, especially in Michoacan, was really enriching through the different cultures, craftsmen, and artisans. My family was always really pushing for us to see what Mexico had to offer. I remember seeing artisans working in their community, and I came to the United States with that knowledge and those memories. I’m not trying to emulate what I saw, but I am creating these narratives through performances and storytelling, painting, installation, and at the end it’s about creating experiences for yourself and for others to be part of.

Your exhibition last summer “El Rio” was an analysis of the western cultural view of death and the antithetical idea of death as an “ecstatic mystery of life” – how did that concept come to fruition?

I’ve experienced a lot of death in my family, with my friends, and it’s something that we all have to face at one point. My father passed away when I was very young, and it helped me understand that it’s a part of life. Obviously we mourn when someone passes away, but how do we continue to celebrate their lives and what does that mean? To understand that they are not physically here, but emotionally they are closer to me now than ever. Having a really close family member pass away is one of the scariest things, yet it’s also like becoming closer to that person. It’s something that I had to experience and move past.

The majority of your body of work is comprised of fantastical humanoid creatures made of glued beads and other miscellaneous non-traditional material— how did the decision of using these materials come about?

The bead has been utilized by many cultures, but somehow we forget that it’s this beautiful little piece of material that can transform in so many different ways. I went to New Orleans during Mardi Gras and came back with a suitcase full of beads. From then on it just made a lot of sense. All of a sudden they just started to appear more and more in my life.

Well the beaded shoes you created in your earlier work are really just to die for. Every time I see them I just wonder what it feels like to wear them.

They are actually really uncomfortable. I think that’s the best part about it—they are beautiful objects of desire, but when you actually put them on they hurt. When I wear these objects in my performances, it becomes part of this struggle to portray myself as this specific character. I don’t know, it’s kind of magical. Sometimes we want these beautiful objects, but they are obviously not the most practical things we should long for, but we still do.

In an interview with MoMA, you stated that one sculpture, Day(Ves) of Wonder, took you seven years to complete but you never gave up on it. How does the process of creating each labor-intensive sculpture strengthen or teach you as an artist, and do you think that the number of years changed the idea behind the piece over time?

The work is made completely of beads and was a very complicated piece to build. I started to make these huge sculptures and was fantasizing about what it would be like to create a full, life-size figure out of beads. It took me so long because there was a lot of trial and error. The piece spoke back to me and taught me that every time I felt like I was failing, there was a possibility that it could continue to work as long as I had the ability to go forward. Till this day, it’s one of my favorite works. Day(Ves) of Wonder derives from my mom’s daycare called “Days of Wonder”, and I was thinking how interesting it is for my mom to have these small periods of time with these kids as they grow up. I think this piece had this same idea of learning from each experience. I don’t know when I’ll have another moment to work on something for that long, or if I need to, but it really gave me so much understanding to know that every time I went back and started working on the piece, it was teaching me something in return. Maybe that’s why that piece is so celebrated, because people feel that energy within its expression and within its movement.

You never gave up and you went through stages creating the piece, becoming a master of the process.

Yeah, exactly! There’s beauty in creating this object that doesn’t have a moving life or a soul. Through our emotions and the experiences that we project into these objects, the energy that resonates with the viewer creates the idea of a life behind it. To me, the sculpture is of a seven year-old child because of the time that I spent with it and how I saw myself growing. It was an ambitious task to take on and I don’t want to reproduce another one because this piece lives on to be a celebration of an experience and a time. I still question what that piece actually continues to mean to me. That’s the beauty of art, you can work on something forever. As humans we’re constantly doing that; we’re always working on who we are and trying to figure out what it means to be human.

That brings me to my other question. Surrounded by these figures every day, do they develop personalities and life stories of their own as you become attached to them?

Yeah, of course! It’s amazing to build each piece with its own identity, and this identity can be processed through the relationship of the other works next to one another. I like to believe that we live in a fantasy world and we should give ourselves some freedom; life doesn’t necessarily always have to be so concrete. As children, we get this beautiful time of our life to dream and imagine, and then we get to a certain age and give up on that. I constantly imagine myself to be this fantastical person, even if it’s just for a moment.

The performance aspect of my work allows me to tap into these roles that I can’t necessarily inhabit on an everyday  basis. It’s a great gift to be able to perform these silly experiences or cathartic moments through these characters, and there’s comfort in putting on a mask and allowing yourself to not really be seen as human, but to be something fantastical. Having this ability to tap out is really cool and I think that’s why a lot of cultures use costumes and perform these beautiful dances, plays, and fables to tap out.

I want to ask about your use of vibrant colors. How did your very maximal use of colors develop over time?

Colors can create very emotional experiences, and I guess that’s why I tend to use so many bright hues of colors. I’m trying to learn how to really control what the color can do, what it means, and what it can put out into the world. In a way, color is like language, it allows for people to feel a certain way. The simplicity of these tools that we already have and putting them into artwork is not necessarily about following rules but following common sense and what feels natural.

Like just going toward the aesthetic of it, the feeling and the emotion that comes through the first time.

Yeah, for awhile my least favorite color was red, so for a year I only wore red to understand why. I had so many different experiences with strangers asking me why I was wearing all red. People would come up to me and try to tell me what they felt red meant to them. It was really interesting to do this exercise for a year, but I’ll probably never do it again.

Well that must have felt like a performance. Yeah, exactly. I wasn’t really intentionally trying to make it a performance, but it was a very interesting exercise. As a Mexican-American artist, how do you feel about the political climate in both countries? Do the current political events inspire or influence your work?

The current President having these views towards Mexico is very archaic. But I realize it’s been happening since the beginning of time, as hard as it is to believe. I try not to be too political about it, because I know it’s not just the United States versus Mexico; it’s the world against one another. When will it end? Who knows? You would think by now we could unite and make this place even better than it is. We are made of the same matter; we need to understand that we will be stronger together. The idea of immigration is beautiful. It has allowed me to believe in acceptance for all. It is beautiful to know that you can somehow be who you are and be accepted and be part of a new nation. That idea has influenced a lot of my work. Everyone has a different experience with immigrating, and in the end I am thankful that I was accepted into a new culture, and that maybe I can influence more people to believe that this is a positive possibility.

A quick scroll through your Instagram reveals an interest in religion and historical references. Where does this interest come from?

Well, I’m a spiritual person. I have a lot of faith, and not just in history or the idea of religion. I like feeling that there is a higher power, or that perhaps believing is what creates a higher power. For me, spirituality is a way of life and it helps to ground myself and cope with all of these catastrophes happening around us.

What do you view as your biggest personal accomplishment to date and why?

Self-acceptance. I’ve been able to really accept myself, and not just myself, but also the people around me. In a way, that’s a huge accomplishment. I think it’s self-love and acceptance that’s made me as open as I am, and as a result I can be my true self.

What can we expect next from you?

I’d like to make art more accessible, to create more experiences that can be accessible not just inside the art world, but also outside. I don’t know whether that means creating public artworks, or if that even changes anything, but I just want to really feel like there is more openness to everything.

And in 10 years?

In 10 years? Maybe I’ll have a dog.

AI WEIWEI

Ai Weiwei’s fight for the human rights of others has meant that his own have been jeopardized. Creating work that is both dangerously loud and quietly considered, the artist-activist is a true revolutionary of his time. By using the internet as his soapbox, he has become a global figure for those without a voice.

Portrait Photography by Zachary Bako
Essay by Ashleigh Kane

“I consider myself more of a chess player. My opponent makes a move. I make a move. Now I’m waiting for my opponent to make the next move.”

This is how Ai Weiwei responded in Never Sorry, the 2012 documentary about his life, when asked how he would describe himself. Aside from a chess player, Weiwei has been called many things; artist, curator, filmmaker, activist, philosophist. Also dissident and criminal. While the Chinese government has gone to extreme measures to stop Weiwei raising his voice, his fellow Chinese people have heralded him as a figure of worship. As have many of us in the wider world. Technically into his third decade as an artist, Weiwei’s art became increasingly reactionary and prevalent ten years ago, after he launched a citizen’s investigation into the devastating 2008 Sichuan Earthquake.

The tragedy pushed his frustrations with China’s oppression, surveillance, and lack of transparency to a boiling point, and he began to create works that questioned the mechanics of the country he called home. Weiwei also found the tension between old and new China fascinating, and the ways in which it denied the advancements of the Western world, particularly the internet – a realm which he has wholeheartedly embraced, and, in turn, has embraced him. Since relocating to Germany in 2015, Weiwei has become most recognised for his work with the ongoing refugee crisis. Seeing no distinction between the artist and the activist, earlier this year he told CBS, “I think artist and activist is the same thing. As artist, you always have to be an activist.” When pressed by the interviewer whether one had to be political to be a good artist, he responded, “I think every art, if it’s relevant, is political.”

A self-described “natural outsider”, the seeds of Weiwei’s rebellion were planted by his father, the famous poet, denounced traitor and accused ‘rightest’, Ai Qing. Shortly after Weiwei was born in 1957, Qing, along with his family, was exiled to Heilongjiang, followed by Xinjiang. In 1976, at the end of the Cultural Revolution, the family was allowed to return to Beijing. But Weiwei’s growing fascination with art led him to leave his home in 1981 for New York where he attended Parsons School of Design. Inspired by Marcel Duchamp – who said anything can be art – and Joseph Beuys – who said anyone can be an artist – Weiwei’s only art show in New York, Old Shoes, Safe Sex, was held at Art Waves gallery in 1988 and featured a series of readymades, such as a trenchcoat with a hole and a condom attached (Safe Sex, 1986). In 1993, his father’s incurable illness brought him back to China, after 12 years abroad. Bringing with him the lessons of the artists he’d come to admire.

Above: Sunflower Seeds (5 tons) Installation: Mary Boone Gallery, 541 West 24 Street, New York, January 2012

 Tree with The Animal That Looks Like a Llama but is Really an Alpaca wallpaper Installation: Mary Boone Gallery, 541 West 24 Street, New York, November 2016.

At home, Weiwei submerged himself in the underground art scene by creating a series of publications which profiled American artists such as Andy Warhol, Barbara Kruger and Jenny Holzer, as well as contemporary Chinese artists. Described as “a free space” where “you could write anything”, “Black Cover” (1994), “White Cover” (1995) and “Gray Cover” (1997), were only available through word-of-mouth. In 2000, Weiwei was included in Feng Boyi’s exhibition, FUCK OFF – an alternative to the Shanghai Biennale. The show debuted his series, “Study of Perspective” (1995-2010), alongside “Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn” (1995). The latter an early documentation of Weiwei’s growing penchant for smashing or modifying Chinese antiques, and one he would continue throughout his career. Such as “Neolithic Vase and Coca-Cola Logo” (2010), which crosses capitalism with a classic cultural relic.

In 2003, Weiwei began work on the Bird’s Nest, the stadium for Beijing’s 2008 Olympics. But after seeing the impact of the event’s looming arrival on local homes and businesses, he became critical of it. In 2008, he was the first prominent Chinese person to oppose the games when he published an article on The Guardian, titled, “Why I’ll stay away from the opening ceremony of the Olympics”. Three months later, the Sichuan Earthquake struck, killing 70,000 people – 5,000 of them children. Devastated by the government’s refusal to release the death toll, Weiwei and his volunteers collected the names and birthdays of all the children who perished and published them on his blog on the tragedy’s one-year anniversary. Authorities shut down the platform, but Weiwei found a way to subvert the Great Firewall (of China) – he joined Twitter.

It would be a disservice to Weiwei to think all of his work is overt middle-finger-up, in-your-face art-activism. His 2010 installation, “Sunflower Seeds” (2008), at London’s Tate Modern, which included 100 million porcelain sunflower seeds and covered 1000 square meters with a depth of 10cm, shows a more considered side to the artist. The piece, which took two-and-a-half years to create, is a nod to China’s conformity and censorship. At a distance, the seeds all look the same, but on closer inspection, viewers will find signs of individuality. “Tree” (2010) is another work that peacefully pushes Weiwei’s message. The sculpture is made up of different species of trees. It pays homage market vendors who sell branches, roots and tree trunks as decorative items to be displayed in homes, but a more complex political reading symbolizes the rapid urbanization and economic growth of China.

Below: Neolithic Vase with CocaCola Logo, 2010

Surveillance Camera and Plinth, 2015

Despite this, no matter the volume of Weiwei’s messaging, his refusal to cease making work about his home country led to the Chinese authorities detaining him on 3 April 2011 for 81 days. Initially reported as missing – news which sparked a worldwide #FreeWeiwei campaign – authorities claimed they had arrested the artist on suspicion of tax evasion. While he was never charged or convicted of a crime, Weiwei’s passport was confiscated for four years and he was banned from leaving the Beijing for one year. After his release, Chinese authorities installed at least 15 cameras outside of Weiwei’s Beijing studio. He retaliated by launching “WeiweiCam”, a self-surveillance project which live streamed from within his own house. Later, he would create “Surveillance Camera and Plinth” (2015), a marble reincarnation of the CCTV cameras.

With the return of his passport in 2015, Weiwei relocated to Germany. Initially unsure what his purpose would be in a foreign country, he quickly found his cause; the refugee crisis. Weiwei set to work creating 70 meter sculptures from inflatable life boats (“Law of the Journey”, 2017) and building 100 fences and to be displayed in New York (“Good Fences Make Good Neighbors”, 2017). He even set up a studio on the Greek island of Lesbos to facilitate his increased artistic output. More recently, Weiwei premiered Human Flow, a documentary which put a face to a crisis which has seen more than 65 million people flee their homes after famine, war and climate change claimed their safety.

Even as one of the most recognisable artists in the world, Weiwei continues to place other people’s fight for freedom above his own safety. Like all true revolutionaries of their eras, many have tried to quell his voice and his spirit, only for him to show that no matter how many people, or governments, want to silence him, Weiwei’s voice will only get louder.

All artwork courtesy of Mary Boone Gallery New York
For more information visit aiweiwei.com | maryboonegallery.com

 

STUDIO VISITS – CHLOE WISE

Chloe Wise is the New York artist capturing a 21st century zeitgeist through dark humor and fake food, dripping alfredo sauce over gluten-free ideas, the artist’s work offers an at-times scathing critique on capitalism that challenges our obsession with health, beauty, and luxury in modern America.


Portrait Photography by Tiffany Nicholson Interview by Ashleigh Kane
Dress (worn as a blouse) by Marc Jacobs, trousers, hat, and shoes artist’s own

“I can’t remember a time where art wasn’t the focus of my life. Even as I’m speaking to you now, I’m drawing. It’s just what my hand is always doing.” Chloe Wise is speaking over the phone from her studio in Alphabet City, New York, reminiscing about growing up in an energetically creative household. The 26-year-old artist recalls being a child and sitting in restaurants with her mom and drawing portraits of one-another on the paper table cloths. Born in Montreal, Canada, Wise says that she’s been making art since she was six or seven-years-old. She laughs when she realizes her style is essentially the same, two decades on. Always encouraged to pursue what she “obviously showed an interest in”, Wise moved to New York in the midst of graduating high school in 2013 and completed the remainder of her classes online. Once there, she began to work as an assistant to Brad Troemel, one of the artists behind the Jogging, a tumblr blog which tapped into the viral possibilities of art on the internet.

In late 2014, friend and fellow artist India Salvör Menuez wore one of Wise’s sculptures to an event – a life-like cream cheese bagel bag adorned with a Chanel logo. The internet went into meltdown. It didn’t take fashion sleuths long to realize that the bag wasn’t from the French fashion house but was instead created by a then-little-known artist named, Chloe Wise. It was her moment, but it’s also a milestone in her career that she doesn’t want to talk about, explaining, “If you want to copy and paste everything I have said before, you have my permission to do that.” But it’s for no reason other than she’d rather tell you about her latest work. Her most recent exhibition was hosted by Paris’s Almine Rech Gallery. Titled Of false beaches and butter money, it was a witty takedown of wellness culture that included oil paintings and sculpture, and contained the elements that have thus far been key to Wise’s success: great aesthetics and even better humour, the latter which she says she uses as an “access point” to draw people in. Come a little closer and you’ll quickly realize that Wise’s work is about more than a punchline, and below she let’s us in on the joke.

Lactose Tolerance, 2017

Inceste de Citron, 2017

Can you talk about your first experiences making art?

I was making video art when I was six or seven-years-old. One time I made a fake brand which was a combination of Sprite and some other found liquid in the fridge and I made a commercial for it.

When I was 13, 14, I had a webcam and I would take it off of the computer and bring it with me to school or to Florida. I made this film about lettuce being the essence of beauty which was a parody of Zoolander where water was the essence of wetness. Everyone is just holding pieces of lettuce and it has a Sigur Rós song in the background, but it’s pretty funny. It makes me think I have the same sense of humour now that I had when I was 14.

At the time did you realize that what you were making was art?

It wasn’t so thought out but growing up all my notebooks were always covered in drawings. I was always creating something. I guess I was making work with the tools that were available to me. There was no awareness of what that meant or what it would come to signify. I think it was mostly just a reflex to the muscles that were growing as the internet started to gain popularity.

When do you think you really began to embark on your career as an artist?

I don’t think I knew I was doing that, I was just making stuff. After I started assisting Brad, I began to be in group shows with friends, and that felt like a very natural thing. We were all supporting each other, putting on shows, and working together in whatever capacity. I got offered a solo show, and that’s when I stopped working for other artists and started taking my art seriously as a full-time job. The show was in Montreal and it was called Pissing, shmoozing and looking away (2015). I was also offered another solo show which would exhibit later that year called, That’s something else, my sweet (2015). During the process of making those, the bread bag thing happened. It was like this whirlwind, and from then on it was very clear to me that there would be nothing else except for the continual creation of the things that I felt like I had to make.

Was that sudden glare of a spotlight scary?

No. I’ve never been someone who has been shy, self-conscious, or freaked out about an overwhelming amount of involvement. I am best under pressure, and I’m always under pressure. It was funny, exciting, overwhelming – but in a nice way.

Food has always been present in your work. Why are you drawn to food?

It’s not that I’m drawn to food. Food has always been apart of this conversation with art history, or with us just communicating our Zeitgeist, or our moment in time. Aside from the landscape, it’s one of the most obvious subjects in traditional painting, and I think my work is traditional in that way. Regarding food now, we have such abundance and availability in terms of variation. Walking into a store decades ago would’ve looked a lot different than it does now. There’s this idea around the way that things are marketed to individuals, and how the more that we seek to be individuals, the less we assimilate.

My use of food also talks about other parts of humanity and human experience, such as desire and mortality. The human body comes into this beautiful full form and then it decays and dies, and that’s reality – and that’s the same conversation we can have about food.

Your titles are always brilliant. Tell us about the meaning behind the title of your last show, Of false beaches and butter money?

The ‘false beaches’ part is from Picasso, who, in three different poems he wrote ‘false as a beach’. It kept running through my head, and I realized that this false beach is like a Corona ad; an idyllic paradise image with a blue sky and a yellow umbrella. I was thinking about that falseness and the contrived nature of some utopian ideas and to me, that was a really interesting segue into how my work is about real versus fake. I

t’s a real sculpture, but it also looks like the real thing it’s based on so there is this line between how you even define what real is and what fake is. At what point would the real thing become less valuable? Because the real thing would be a piece of lettuce or something.

The other half, ‘butter money’, is a french idiom that goes, ‘Vouloir le beurre, l’argent du beurre et le cul de la crémière’, which means, ‘you want the butter, the butter money and the milk maid’s ass’. It has the same meaning as ‘you want to have your cake and eat it too.’ It’s about this human desire to be doing the right thing, even though we are just truly ruining the entire planet.

For example, you think that choosing quinoa is the healthy choice, but quinoa completely deforests South America, and is making it completely unsustainable for anybody living there to even come close to meeting their needs. They can’t even eat their own quinoa because they can’t even afford their own quinoa because you’ve priced them out. There’s no real right thing to do, so we’re constantly settling for what we think is an okay decision in a vast array of bad decisions.

There’s no real moral thing and if we spiral too deep into that then we realize everything sucks. It’s hard to not partake in a Capitalist society because we all have a part in it. As humans, we are flawed and we are critical of our decision making processes, and that’s what my show is really about. The ‘want to have your cake and eat it too’ idea is a very distilled version of this desire that we have to be congratulated, or at least to be excused from the conversation because we did our part and now we can stop trying.

 
Dress (worn as a blouse) by Marc Jacobs, trousers and shoes artist’s own

You would have been a castle for a moment, 2016

 

You’ll Go Blind Looking For It, 2017

Your works over the years have explored different issues and politics, have the issues you explore over the years changed?

I think everyone has become a lot more politicized in the sense that it’s become urgent, and it’s not a luxury anymore. Politics is something that we have to speak about. The difference between my politics then and now is my sense of responsibility, because I have a bigger platform. I’m not perfect; I don’t understand exactly what needs to be done or how I will go forward. I’m inconsistent like every human is, but I think that’s what all my art is about; human inconsistency. But I’m figuring it out and learning to share. It’s very natural for me to share what I’m thinking about.

The content of my work is the same, I’m just thinking of other ways of being critical of consumerism and capitalism. As well as trying to exist within it, and benefit from it. Then realising at the same time, that benefiting from it is a problem. So it’s this weird place that we’re in as consumers. As Americans, every single thing that we do is utilised for the benefit of the big brands. Every single thing we do is “Big-Brothered”, in a sense.

There’s something cynical about thinking about this and there is also something very important in acknowledging it. I was acknowledging that on a smaller scale at different times in my life; when I was vegetarian, or when I was making the tampons (Irregular Tampons, 2014). It’s always been the same voice, it’s just a matter of how and what is coming to the table.

You’ve worked widely across various mediums, do you find yourself gravitating towards one in particular now?

It’s just based on what I have to do at a certain time. I like to construct because I’m so all over the place and multifaceted that I need something to give me direction. The mediums are all interconnected and they all inform each other, but painting seems to have a lot of commercial demand, so that’s something I’m focusing on.

Can you talk about the way you use humor? On first glance, people might think of your works as ‘funny’ but looking deeper and hearing you speak about them, it’s clear that they are not just ‘funny’.

I think you can say that they’re funny because when it comes down to the obviously dark and depressing aspects of the works, I don’t think that is what you read when you first see them. It would be cool if it was but then maybe the work wouldn’t have the same impact. I think that satire and comedy have long been the way that we can negotiate, unpack, and work through life’s most unfunny cruelties. That’s how we handle getting through this conversation without dying of a broken heart. That’s part of the human need to create art in general – or create anything – by re-negotiating it, or re-representing it in a way that could be funny, beautiful, moving or sad. Being ‘too real’ doesn’t necessarily get the job done, so I think calling it funny is not a disservice. Humour is my cheap trick and I use it as an access point, but it would not be the final destination.

What advice would you give to someone who needed it?

Don’t question yourself.

 

Hair by Austin Burns using Oribe, Makeup by Tonya Riner using NARS cosmetics, Art Direction by Louis Liu, Editor Marc Sifuentes, Production by Benjamin Price.

All Artwork © Chloe Wise / Photo Rebecca Fanuele / Courtesy Chloe Wise and Almine Rech Gallery

For more information visit chloewise.com

STUDIO VISITS – ERIC N. MACK

Eric N. Mack is the rule-breaking artist creating large-scale paintings from unexpected materials and forms into soft-sculpture, expansive figures in space.

Portrait photography by Tiffany Nicholson | Interview by Ashleigh Kane
Coat by Versace, Hat, Shirt, Trousers and Shoes Artist’s Own

Eric N. Mack’s future as an artist was decided at birth, when his mom Lisa Scott and his dad Miller Mack honoured him with the middle name National, after Washington D.C.’s National Gallery of Art. It was there, in the 80’s, that his parents met while his dad worked at the gallery as a plexiglass specialist, building and maintaining the vitrines. A young Eric often went along for the ride, getting to know works by artists such as Vincent Van Gogh in the process. Admittedly, he wanted to “study everything” in order to allow himself to naturally grow inclined to whatever felt right. Eventually he chose to major in sculpture and painting at Yale University School of Art – an institution that artists such as Brice Marden, Chuck Close, and Richard Serra attended, and all of whom Mack admires greatly. He is also a huge fan of Robert Rauschenberg and had the pleasure of working in the late artist’s studio in Florida earlier this year.

Like Rauschenberg, Mack’s own works toy with context and ideas of re-use in order to create new forms – large-scale works that he calls paintings. Constructed from a patchwork of materials and surfaces that push silk, frill, or even an old t-shirt, into new frontiers, Mack forgoes painting’s rectilinear relationship with canvas for infinite new possibilities of presentation. Inspiration comes from his adopted city of New York, which he’s lived in for over a decade, as well as fashion – his dad once owned a clothing store – and art history – a recent fascination is the 1970s French art group Supports/Surfaces. He also places great emphasis on building knowledge.

Beneath the draping, swooping and layering of the surfaces that shape Mack’s canvases, is a melting pot of art academia and consideration for the important contributions of artists who came before him. Even in his spare time, he’s never not looking to build upon his own awareness of New York’s art legacy. Below, he let’s us pick his brain.

A Lesson in Perspective, 2017

Can you talk to us about your studies. What were you interested in?

I wanted to study everything and I had a real interest in the different principles of art; photography, sculpture and painting. I went to an arts high school in Maryland so in college I wanted to continue without having to choose one or the other, and I wanted to be able to develop a natural relationship to art. Immediately when I got to (The Cooper Union) I took all three of those courses. It was really liberating. That school was super important because it was about thought and innovation, and not so much about restriction. By the time I had graduated, painting had become a lot more serious to me in terms of the history and its conceptual concerns. It became a space that was meaningful for me to continue to question, and the results that I came up with made me want to think more in depth about it.

When did you realize that you could make a career out of being an artist?

When I came to New York, I had so many questions. I was so excited to be here because it was my dream place. I interned at a gallery called Rivington Arms in the Lower East Side which was representing Dash Snow at that time and a number of other artists. I wanted to better understand the workings of a gallery, the relationship between an artist and a gallerist, and how an artist could be supported in that way. I was looking at it, not from an artist’s vantage point, but from an administrative aspect. From there, I ended up getting a job in Garth Weiser artist’s studio, and I learned a lot from him. By seeing his process, I learned that people could earn a living from making work, and that if I worked hard enough, it could be a possibility for me as well.

You took a lot of time to develop your foundations as an artist – through art school, research, interning, working for artists, even on the admin side. Why was that important for you to gain that experience?

I think there are times when it’s important that an artwork has academic context, and that the artist is informed and generous about the place that the work comes from, in relationship to art or the history of painting, or a relationship to a previous zeitgeist. People such as Brice Marden, Chuck Close, Richard Serra all came from Yale, and are monumental figures that I look up to.

They went through that training and education and I feel like it was really important for me to do that and make sure that I was here for the long haul and not just being frivolous or superficial.

Previously you’ve referenced Robert Rauschenberg and Sam Gilliam as influences – do they still inspire you or does that lessen as you come into your own as an artist?

I really appreciate art and that’s how I’ve come to be an artist. Rauschenberg is somebody I’ve thought about for a long time and even more so this year because I did a residency at the Rauschenberg Foundation in Captiva, Florida. I got to work in his studio and that was monumental for me. That kind of closeness, to be able to examine the space… it was compelling to be able to see what his brand of innovation afforded him. I gave myself permission to actively think about his legacy after that. But there are others; Basquiat, of course. I would say he is somebody I’ve thought about. He died the year after I was born. I’ve also been thinking of Richard Tuttle – people that have been around for a long time that have served their practices in really strong ways.

Why do you identify specifically as a painter?

It has to do with the lineage that I feel like the work has come from. I see painting as a lot of things, but mostly there’s a relationship to surface and material. I’ve been thinking about the canvas and how painting that revolves around framing contexts that mostly have to do with a rectilinear relationship. I’ve also been thinking about the tools with which we identity as existing with the history of painting. I feel like there hasn’t been much advancement in terms of the apparatus involved with painting, or that any advancement ends up being forgotten in history.

I’ve also been thinking about this movement in Paris called Supports/ Surfaces where painters dealt with space and structure, including surface. Many of these painters are being shown a lot more now, and I see that the work they did as having a part in advancing the technology of painting – in breaking it out of its reductive frame for it to become more tangible and to speak more directly to histories of materiality.

Did you immediately begin working in large scale or was that something you worked up to over time? Was it intimidating to make paintings that large?

I think what I regard as large has changed over time. One of the things I started thinking about after grad school was how to push the identity of the work. One of the biggest moves I made was doing away with the wooden stretcher bar convention that painting has had for a long time. I began moving towards the space in the center of the room.

I’ve long been thinking about monumentality, or about a relationship to a monument, and the challenge for me would be to be able to maintain the kind of detail, care and attitude that the work possesses. So it’s been a constant, very careful, thought process for the work to physically expand. But it feels very natural to the concerns of the work.

You impact the meaning of everyday materials – where do you source or find what you use in your work?

It’s definitely a combination of things because I don’t want there to be one space that could dictate the work’s meaning due to where it comes from. There are times when I buy things from a store, a home goods interior store, or I’ll go to a clothing shop, but mostly it’s thinking about daily tasks and finding something that would be challenging to use as a material. Or something that continues the process of questioning surface and materiality.

So it’s not planned, as in, you don’t go out with an object in mind to bring back?

I go out looking for certain forms. Right now, I’m kind of obsessed with frill – like gathering, ruching – so I’ve been going out looking for it because it ends up having a nice finish. And there’s this relationship with elegance, a kind of frivolity, excess, like Rococo or Baroque. There’s also a supposed coldness to the rigid white wall that often comes with the gallery context, so I’ve been thinking about what would be a really active contradiction of the space.

Palms on Cotton, 2017
 Implied Reebok or Desire for the Northeast Groover, 2016

Are you aware of what the painting’s meaning is before you begin or do you add meaning as you go?

It’s nice to have epiphanies while the piece is developing, but I like to be aware. I think the titles end up dictating a starting point that brings people closer to the work or maybe the titles make it more complex. For me, they end up being a finalizing gesture.

How does New York inspire you and your work?

I live in Harlem and I work in the Bronx, so my daily commute to the studio ends up being really influential. I take note of things or I take little snapshots on my phone. It’s nice to think about the city as a space of inspiration.

What do you do when you’re not creating art?

Even the hobbies that I have can end up relating to the work or end up being really nice points in which I can mine certain aspects from.

Can you talk about the importance of abstraction in your work?

I see abstraction as a strategy. I feel like it has social relationships and also aesthetic relationships. Abstraction ends up being a stand in or a symbol for a more complex idea, or to make something more tangible. An abstraction can be present, but it can also obscure and hide – hide information or hide physicality – and there’s definitely that in my work.

I think a lot about abstraction in relationship to a kind of fragmentation, where I think about pieces and parts that have really explicit origins. This is in relationship to what we were talking about before. Like, where does the work come from? Where does fabric, or whatever it is, come from? It’s mostly about how the fragment reads, how the fragments communicate, and how that can be unified to mean something collectively different, or to communicate some kind of emotional complexity.

Do you think your work comments on the value of art, in that you reuse materials and fabrics and give them new meaning through context?

I think if something can be salvaged and reused and seen in a context that is beautiful or expresses some kind of meaning, then that can be very transformative for the viewer or the maker.

  

Hair by Austin Burns using Oribe, Makeup by Agata Helena @agatahelena using NARS cosmetics, Art Direction by Louis Liu, Editor Marc Sifuentes, Production by Benjamin Price

BALTIC Artists’ Award 2017, installation view, BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead. Courtesy: © 2017 BALTIC; Art Work Photography by John McKenzie

For more information visit eric-mack.com

STUDIO VISITS – IVANA BASIC

Equipped with a deftly analytical mind full of dark poetry and a taste for flesh, steel, wax, and bone, Serbian sculptor Ivana Bašić explores the fragility of the human condition and invites you to contemplate life’s end — if only you’re willing.


Portrait Photography by Tiffany Nicholson | Interview by Haley Weiss
Unisex Jacket and Pants by Vivienne Westwood, Shoes Artist’s Own

Our bodies will fail us. We carry that knowledge as they carry us through life. This corporeal contradiction looms in artist Ivana Bašić’s disquieting, stunning work. The 31-year-old suggests the specter of death, whether through figurative sculptures like Stay inside or perish (2016) — which seems to have a force within it that tried to break free, bruising her fragile yet solid physical form — or a performative project like SOMA (ongoing), in which her body is meticulously documented for the creation of a virtual avatar and purchasable 3D model. She ascribes the science fiction bent viewers see in pieces like these to their own fear and avoidance of life’s end, because to her, they’re simply reality. “People have different thresholds of how much they are capable of bearing, at which point they need to go into self-preservation,” explains Bašić. “I think that’s okay. The easiest way for people to digest something is to put it into a narrative, to make a fable out of it. They make up a character, and by making one up they’re announcing that they’re not that character.”

For Bašić, who moved from Belgrade, Serbia to New York in 2010, these works are also deeply personal. She funnels her energy and trauma — much of which can be attributed to her youth spent in a country at war — into her art, pushing herself and her materials to their limits. “I have to fully become them in order to make them, otherwise they wouldn’t feel the way they do,” she explains of the wounded, partial bodies she so often constructs. “It is a lot to become.” Since her June 2017 solo show at New York’s Marlborough Contemporary, titled Through the hum of black velvet sleep, Basic has been in “hibernation mode,” resting her mind after enduring a physically and psychologically punishing production schedule. She worked on the show for six months while maintaining her day job as a designer, and among the material feats she accomplished was suspending her painted wax figures in stainless steel, incubator-like structures, with glass orbs drooping from their necks, for I will lull and rock the ailing light in my marble arms (2017). Now, after recovery and months away from her practice — which by its nature begs draining questions — she is working again, on a new piece for the show titled CRASH TEST, curated by Nicolas Bourriaud and opening in Montpellier, France in February. “I’ve gathered my strength to dive back in slowly and carefully,” she tells us at her Brooklyn studio. In 2018 she will be showing her work back home in Belgrade for the first time. “I want that more than anything, really, because the work is fully saturated by my reality there, and I know the audience will feel it and relate to it,” she says. “It would be meaningful to see that something beautiful can come out of it.”

I will lull and rock my ailing light in my marble arms #1, 2017

Population of phantoms resembling me #1, 2016

The difficulty of your material process seems in line conceptually with some of what’s in the work, like this physical bruising or injury on the bodies. Does the production process deepen your conceptual understanding of what you’re doing?

It doesn’t in a way deepen it, it’s just that’s exactly what it is: the pain that I go through is there in the work, it’s a direct translation. The process is extremely difficult since I work with very fragile materials and with time you realize that matter always resists. It resists becoming. It’s like fractals, where my quest for somehow stretching the limits of the body, or pushing back the end of it, needs to become the truth of each of the elements I work with in order for work to come to life. It’s this really complex breakage that happens in your mind, because in order to see the flesh in stone, and in order to see the world in dust — for those things to actually become that — it’s not just pure verbal translation, it is an actual transformation of the matter, which is a really complex process. Inevitably, I think the pieces become everything I am.

How do they become everything you are?

Once, many years ago, I was still really caught up into theory and trying to argue my reasons for why I’m doing things, because I felt like I had to justify them. It’s the initial insecurities that I think any artist goes through; you feel like you have to support everything with pre-existing theories that are all self-referential and don’t really bring much.

I feel like I have come to a point where it all somehow translates into one sentence I was told, which is basically, there is no need to be asserting anything, since the work, like everything that comes out of your hands, will already carry everything that is in you, and it can’t not. It will become what you are, so there is no need to fear. It’s very direct. For my last show I literally didn’t see my sculptures until I installed them into the gallery, and then it was a shock; even though I was making them and lived with them for months I didn’t see them, because I couldn’t step out of myself and look because I was in. And also there was no need to, since they became everything that was in me so much more than I could have ever tried to insert myself, and more than I was even aware of.

If the work is ultimately a reflection of you — you and the work are one and the same on a certain level — tell me how you see your life in your work. How has being in New York affected your work? How did growing up in Serbia affect your work?

None of those things translate directly for me. I don’t make work that is reactive to the outside in any way. I think that for a lot of artists, ‘this body of work is inspired by this, and that body is inspired by that.’ With me, it’s not like that. I have always been on a singular quest.

If I was to articulate one or another [environment], obviously my whole life and my most formative years were back home in Belgrade, which is also where my whole family is. Living there I have always felt a reality of existential fear, the reality of death, which is really something you never experience here [in New York], ever. I feel like the most realistic experience that people have of death here is through TV. It’s a simulation at best, and so there is no gravity to life and to everything else consequently, because that builds a whole system of values around it. Really, really early on I understood that the fragility of [life] is something that you can’t un-know once you know it.


Unisex Suit and Sweater by Vivienne Westwood

In what ways did you come to understand that fragility?

I feel like while I was growing up in Serbia life had been reduced to its barest existence, of people just trying to survive. It was about survival more than anything; happiness felt like a privilege. And there was a lot of bare time. That’s on top of the entire political instability — enemies from the outside, and from the inside of our own government. The [1999 NATO] bombing while I was in Belgrade, sitting in shelters for three months and being bombed several times a day… yet still, it’s not the specific events of it; it’s that you understand what life really is when everything else is taken away.

I think that that has established who I am, and moving away from that and coming here has really propelled some of my fears [about being] able to normalize, as the reality of Belgrade and New York are so extremely different. Here I started to feel the most intense version of all of my fears because on top of the city being as it is, filled with anxiety, there’s the underlying solitude of it, which is undeniable.

The relationship that my mind makes is that death is the ultimate solitude, and so the city only exaggerates all the fears, because even though economically, socially in New York it feels like there is all of this cushioned reality around you, I feel like I’m always in this state of pending the apocalypse of that reality. (laughs)

Would you consider yourself an optimist or a pessimist?

I think both. I often encounter in my life strange situations because of my own naiveté, or some kind of idealism if you will, but then I have enormous capacity to construct the absolute worst scenario that can come out of every situation if my fears kick in. It depends — it’s a balance.

 Stay inside or perish, 2016

(foreground) I will lull and rock my ailing light in my marble arms #2, 2017
(background) A thousand years ago 10 seconds of breath were 40 grams of dust #1, 2017

I want to talk about text as well, because you have these really evocative, poetic titles for most of the works. But often when you’re showing work, the title isn’t going to be directly next to it. So in your mind, what role does that text play?

There are two things: there is the voice of the pieces, and then there is my voice over them. At both my show in London, [Throat wanders down the blade at Annka Kultys Gallery,] and the one at Marlborough [Contemporary, Through the hum of black velvet sleep], I worked on a written piece, which was presented as the voice of the sculptures. In my mind, they are not art. They are fully real for me, and giving them voices is just another way to materialize that.

As far as the titles go, that is sort of my farewell poem to them. It always somehow ends up being something that I had felt when I had dreamt them in my mind, and then I went on this entire quest throughout the universe to find them, and when I found them they were exactly how I imagined them. That name is almost that first moment when I thought of them. I think all the names fit perfectly with the pieces, and naming comes as a last thing in my process because I can’t know the name until I have gone to find them.

What does making art do you for you? Why do you make art, if you were to put it simply?

It was not my conscious choice, as until a couple of years ago I didn’t really even understand what being an artist means and what it entails. Also coming to New York I had realized that for many people it’s a lifestyle. People are just doing it because they can, because they want to make something, because it’s cool, because they don’t know what else to do.

Growing up in Belgrade I had practically no exposure to arts whatsoever, as there was no art scene or market there. Our museums have been closed for 20 years. People were really only trying to put food on their table and didn’t care much about art, so for me art felt like a privilege of rich societies. The fact that this, what I’m doing, belongs in “art,” is because it was the only context in which this thing that I can’t stop doing finally makes sense. I don’t like to call it that. When you call it art, you’ve killed it, as you have announced that it is not reality. And for me it is reality. I do it because I don’t know what to do with myself otherwise. I think fear and pain are the two things that are contained in your body, and they’re pretty much incommunicable; this is my way to try to let others witness them. It makes it a bit easier for me to cope. I think that my fears are not anything special. I think they’re the reality of all of us, so I am just expelling them out and allowing them to be visible. It brings a lot of awareness and brief moments of relief for me. You have to dive so deep in and pull out these things into the light, and then once you do, you have found all these truths, and that changes you. If you make something and it doesn’t change you, it means you haven’t really done anything. It’s my way to understand and be at peace with my own mortality.


Unisex Suit and Sweater by Vivienne Westwood, Shoes Artist’s Own

Hair and Makeup by Agata Helena @ agatahelena using NARS cosmetics, Art Direction by Louis Liu, Editor Marc Sifuentes, Production by Benjamin Price

Artwork images from installation in June 2017 at Marlborough Contemporary
For more information visit ivanabasic.com