We recently met artist Noga Cohen, whose impact is clearly felt far beyond her participation in the group exhibit, “Sign of Frankenstein” at Amos Eno Gallery where we crossed paths. It became apparent through our dialogue that her role in the New York arts community is something to be explored further. Cohen’s ties to many incredible organizations and galleries throughout New York City intrigued us, and we sat down together to learn more about her accomplishments, interests, collaborators and future projects.
Lead image: Photo credit, Farah Mohammad.
ANTE Mag. You moved directly to New York City to attend Columbia upon acceptance to their MFA program in 2019. What has being resilient as an artist living in NYC during Covid looked like for you?
Noga Cohen. I moved to New York City in 2019, just a few months before Covid. To cope with the uncertainty and sense of urgency I felt at the time, I tried to use my skills and knowledge to help others and create meaningful interactions through art and art education. I was invited by a fellow artist and curator, Farah Mohammad, to teach and take part in designing the curriculum of an independent online art program called “The Drawing Exchange”. The program took place during the summer of 2020, and was supported by Alpha Art Alliance. It offered arts programming children living in East Brooklyn, who didn’t have access to formal art education during lockdown. I taught a series of online collage classes and formed relationships with other art educators and children who were dealing with different challenges.
At the time, while not having access to my studio, I had to restructure my art practice and find new ways to express myself. I work mainly in sculpture, installation, and photography, and had to shift the ways I make work. Through the relationships with my students, I discovered new ways to be creative and work within the limitations of our new post-Covid reality. In 2020, writing has been a cathartic ritual that helped me gain awareness of my dynamic art practice and a way to connect to other artists and writers in a time of isolation. I was invited to contribute work to an online show and art publication hosted by the Philadelphia-based organization Tiger Strikes Asteroid. The project, called “Lines Inside”, was a group exhibition of writings by New York-based artists. The editors were Lizzy De Vita and Roni Aviv. Most of the work was created and compiled into a publication during Covid, and this collection of work reflects the sudden changes that we were experiencing at the time – mirroring my own adjustments during the period.
ANTE.This past year you have stayed involved in organizing panels, exhibitions and volunteering in Arts Education. Can you share some of these accomplishments with us?
NC. Absolutely. Art education is a big part of my practice, and being involved in this field has been deeply rewarding and fulfilling for me. I was honored to be invited to Hofstra University as a visiting artist this year and spend a day leading a panel discussion, a lecture, and a Q&A about my practice, giving thorough end-of-the-year show reviews, and having studio visits with students. The discussion panel was led collaboratively with the head of the visual arts department, Jim Lee. We discussed how questions of identity and self-discovery come up in an art education setting and in the process of preparing for art school’s final exhibition. ays been interesting to me as an arts education professional.
Earlier this year, while participating in a show at Amos Eno Gallery in Brooklyn, I initiated and organized a closing reception that included a discussion panel. The panel was open to the public and led by fellow artist Adi Rejto and me, and involved other artists who participated in the show. It was interesting to discuss ideas of accumulations of time and moments in painting and sculpture presented in the show, and have an open Q&A with the gallery visitors.
Also, I am excited to join as a board member of UCAE (The University Council for Art Education) in the upcoming year. I’m thrilled to be a part of an amazing educational organization that brings together art educators, artists, and social practitioners through open-table discussions, lectures, and panels.
ANTE.Your artistic practice has also benefited from the NYFA Immigrant Artists mentorship program. Was this a competitive process for inclusion, and what are some benefits you received from this opportunity?
NC. I discovered an incredible and diverse community at the NYFA Immigrant Artist mentorship program. The program brings together ambitious artists, creatives, and filmmakers in different stages of their careers, who share the experience of immigration. The artists I’ve met through this program come from different places and backgrounds and were able to offer different perspectives on the question of what it means to be an international artist in New York. Through access to other international artists in New York who are dealing with unique challenges, we’ve built a strong and supportive community. During the 6-month long program, I got to participate in panels, group activities, lectures, and workshops, and connect with artists from all over the world. It was reassuring to realize that we have a lot in common and can use our knowledge and experience to contribute and help others.
At the culmination of our experience, we exhibited our work together at the New York Live Arts gallery and got to work with three amazing curators who made thoughtfully informed curatorial decisions to create the final exhibition. I am currently working with my NYFA international artists cohort on independent curatorial projects, in collaboration with alumni and mentors of the program.
ANTE.How do you maintain your dedication to the greater New York City artist community today?
NC. I stay connected to a community of artists I collaborate with regularly, who are located both in New York City and internationally. For example, in 2021 I was picked to exhibit my work in an international online show curated by Iksong Jin, a curator and artist based in South Korea. The show included artists from all over the world, and the group has been dedicated to exhibiting together in person. This summer, I’ll be exhibiting new work among my fellow international artists at RIVAA (Roosevelt Island Visual Arts Association) Gallery. It has become a tradition that we get together and publish a catalog of our most recent works.
Last year, I was included in another exhibition featuring incredible international artists at Project Gallery V. The show was entitled “Time Won’t TellI” and it was curated by Farah Mohammad – again. The gallery is a Brooklyn-based online space run by two women artists/entrepreneurs. I feel grateful to collaborate with artist-run spaces, especially ones founded by young artists and curators. I find online spaces to be a great resource for reaching audiences all over the world and connecting with people.
ANTE.This past year along with teaching as an adjunct professor at Columbia University you have exhibited regularly. What are some of the shows your work has been presented in?
NC. Last year I participated in an independent curatorial project organized by a group of New York based artists that took place in a space granted to us generously by ChaShama. The show, curated by Junni Chen and Owen Duffy, completely transformed an empty space on the Lower East side into a lively art space for one month. I showed two sculptures I made using plastic and trash, in a unique process I used to activate gravity, and the passage of time, in addition to using high heat.
Also, I feel grateful for having been included in two wonderful group shows at Amos Eno Gallery, an artist-run space located in Brooklyn in the past year. The most recent one, “Sign Of Frankenstein” curated by Robert McCann, consisted of work by New York-based artists reflecting on ideas of layering, memory, and practices of deconstruction. I showed one sculpture and a large wall installation, made out of recycled and repurposed materials, that speak to ideas of fragmentation and disconnection in relation to space and the human body.
I look forward to participating in another show at The Border Project Space this upcoming year, where I will be showing new artwork.
ANTE mag open call winner Elizabeth Riley explores a multitude of forms through her expansive artistic practice, with interlapping processes informing her video and multimedia artworks. She explores the ‘mixed reality’ that we inhabit and the duality we experience as citizens of both a physical reality and our ever-evolving digital environments. We sat down with Elizabeth for insights into her current practice, what has informed her recent work and her plans and aspirations for the future.
ANTE. In works such as “Factory Fresh” from your Video Media Art series, you translate digital video stills into large scale, 3-D installations. How do you hope these abstractions translate for the viewer at this large scale and removed from these stills’ original context?
Elizabeth Riley. Earlier on in my use of digital media, I used video stills with a program in mind, using every video still – that is, literally thousands of inkjet-printed video stills from a short video – translating a moving image, immaterial video into a material expression. Gradually, I’ve used the video stills more freely, taking advantage of the power of computer processing to further manipulate the video stills, and to make diverse choices in regard to coloring and size. “Factory Fresh” had a unique origin, in that it was made for a show at Edison Price Lighting Gallery, where artists were invited to use metal remnants from the lighting fixture manufacturing process to make art. As video is light and motion, the use of the material video stills, printed on paper and fabric, in this setting, along with laser cut metal sheets with reflective surfaces, worked to integrate, and demonstrate different aspects of “light” and materiality. This was a fun piece to make. It had to be made quickly, as I came off another project, so I used the leftover inkjet-printed paper and fabric from a prior project. As an artist there was happiness in the patchwork effect of the combination, something a little out of my control, though the materials were earlier originated by me. Finding the structure to support the moment, the possibility of the exploration, the intentionality of the work, and the materials at hand, was the activity of making the piece.
ANTE. Can you tell us more about the genesis of the Video Media Art series and its evolution over time?
ER. Mind/body divide issues have been a significant area of exploration for artists over the generations. I see the immateriality of digital/virtual in relationship to material realities, somewhat mirroring a contemporary version of this, wherein digital/virtual is a stand-in for the “immaterial” reaches of the mind, in stasis, or in the direction of the future. As indicated above, I became involved with inkjet-printed digital media after taking up video as an extension of installation. After a few years of working with video, including long hours of editing on the computer, I began missing working with “real” materials, and this was the genesis of the wall works, installations and tabletop cityscapes made from video stills, which on occasion incorporated live video. I began to realize my choice of materials was reflective of, and addressed, our contemporary reality – that is, the “mixed reality,” of living between physical and digital/virtual contexts. While for me, making art is gravely serious and an act of devotion, the relationship between the immateriality of video, either as a projection or screen-based, and as a material embodiment, gave me much to play with, wherein play connotes a delight in the incongruous, and in ready paradox, and in new solutions. My first works were long wraps of consecutive video stills, inkjet-printed on paper, utilizing every video still from one of my short videos. As exhibition opportunities appeared I improvised on this initial format, making site-specific installations, using the videos stills in a variety of ways, sometimes variously configuring many extended printouts, 8 ft long and more, other times collaging works from a wealth of torn and shaped leftover materials. I’ve continued, also, to experiment with making discrete wall works. These at first were three dimensional, while during the pandemic, I began working in two dimensions, which I’ve found a surprising rich area to mine.
ANTE. You note one aim for these works – from your artist statement – is to move ‘toward forming an embodiment of the present and the future’?
ER. Early on in my art practice, I thought of art as a language, which being different from everyday language offered the chance to explore and speak from another space, less readily subject to cultural conditioning. While personally I feel I’m genetically wired to be optimistic about the future, culturally and experientially this embrace of the future also has to do with growing up in a time when societal constraints were placed on girls and women. This frustration made me look toward a future where this burden and limitation had been eased, and with time overthrown. In addition, I believe that our thoughts in most contexts contain an anticipation of the future, that that’s a component of the mental space of being a thinking human being. Along with our thoughts most of our actions have an anticipatory element that reaches into the future. Many people have had the experience when dwelling on a problem over time, one day an answer for the present and the future appears without explicitly putting 2 and 2 together in the moment. So to say that my aim for my art is to move ‘toward forming an embodiment of the present and the future,’ I mean this literally. I have spent a lifetime as a human, and as an artist, putting 2 and 2 together and my art is my personal answer.
ANTE. Can you tell us what you’re working on and what you have coming up in your practice?
ER. My dear partner of many years died in early January 2022, and I’m remembering and mourning him. I loved and respected his art, and it feels good to recollect that he was happy for me, and supportive, when I undertook a new project or completed a body of meaningful new work. A few days after his passing I was invited to be one of the participants in Norte Maar’s “CounterPointe: Women Choreographers and their Collaborations with Artists,” which was an uplifting experience. The physicality of dance seemingly comes from a completely different place than art, and in such an engaging way, yet there are many crossovers as to sources and one’s humanity. I contributed elements from an earlier participatory piece, “City Remix,” of 9 ft long inkjet prints of video stills on paper, fabric and clear film, hung over easily moveable racks on wheels. These, in combination with Eryn Renee Young’s terrific choreography and collaboration, became the dance, “Origin Forward.” The performance weekend in mid-March at the Mark O’Donnell Theater of eight collaborative pairings between choreographers and artists was a celebration, and during this time of personal grieving, I’m grateful for this reaffirmation of the power of art and community to stimulate and heal. Presently, I’m returning to my studio practice by locating where I left off at the end of 2021, in working on new small pieces for an upcoming spring benefit. I also have a three-dimensional wall work, “Nude Traversing the Future,” up in an April exhibition in a Harlem brownstone, curated by Art Lives Here.
We are proud to feature an interview with the thoughtful polymath artist Carter Hodgkin, who discussed her work with us in depth in order to outline the range of philosophies and aesthetic values impacting her practice. The artist walks us through specific artworks, detailing the global origins that have informed her perspective as a multi-disciplinary and digital creator.
ANTE. Thanks for chatting with us, Carter! So in works like “Irises on a Rock,” the viewer is presented with multiple elements moving spatially across the composition at a time – how do you hope this shift in composition impacts the viewer as the work progresses second by second?
Carter Hodgkin. The animation, “Irises on a Rock” was an opportunity to explore forms growing, dissipating and dissolving. It came about while taking walks in Upstate, NY examining the lines of bifurcating stems and blossoms on wildflowers and weeds. To create this animation, I generated atomic particle collisions using the Open Source program Processing. Playing around with the code becomes a drawing process where parameters are set to create a collision. Particles collide in an animated somewhat randomly fashion. I piece these animated collisions together to form a moving composition. In forming the composition, I was inspired by the use of space in Chinese Literati paintings.
To me, making the animation is like drawing in space and time, giving the viewer an experience of creation. My use of time slows down the act of viewing, allowing the viewer to notice small moments morph into something larger. I am excited when my animations are displayed in large-scale settings or on different LED configurations. The digital nature of my animation process scales well and the animations become large-scale paintings that move.
ANTE. “The Nine Bend Stream” is inspired by 16th century Korean landscape painting, yet the work appears primarily as abstraction. How is this work-in-five-parts in dialogue with this historic painting lineage from the perspective of digital art?
CH. I was inspired by the Korean painting “Nine-bend Stream at [Mount] Mui” By Lee Seonggil (1562–?) which portrays a famous landscape in China. I saw this painting at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and was intrigued by the quirky mountain forms. I wanted to work with the abstraction in these forms and began creating compositions that expressed the energy and movement. From there I wove a visual narrative of falling particles conjuring fireworks, waterfalls, and volcanic mountains.
ANTE. In your artist statement, you outline that you are inspired by the interdiscipinary links connecting science, tech and art through the common language of abstraction. Can you provide specific examples of how multiple disciplines connect in your artwork(s)?
CH. I have been connecting these links for a long time in various ways. Two pieces that might serve as examples of these connections are Blue Remote and Remote 6; both paintings made in 2021. My exploration with atomic particle collisions is a scientific aspect while tech is in the tools I use to translate the collisions into a format I can work with and the art is in making a painting, mosaic or animation out of it all. For Blue Remote and Remote 6, I generated particle collisions in a landscape format. I played with the code so that particles hit the bottom of the canvas and moved back upwards towards the top of the canvas. When I got something I liked, I captured a collision and digitized it through the lens of mosaic. Conflating mosaic with the digital collapses high tech with the lowest tech imaging as well as evoking ancient and future.
Form is created by gluing hand-painted paper squares onto grounds of canvas printed with ‘digital noise patterns. Using acrylic and watercolor, I play with color and visual textures to create layers of depth and movement. The construction of form becomes labor-intensive, meditative and contemplative. What takes seconds to create in a collision, takes weeks to interpret into a painting.
ANTE. Can you share with us what you’re working on currently, and what you have upcoming in your practice?
CH. In response to new media ‘updates’, i.e. NFT and Instagram, I have been creating very short animations in those formats. I also want to create longer animations that can reside in stand-alone playback format, i.e. frames.
However, painting occupies my attention – as always – and I’ve been working on medium scale paintings in square and landscape format. Some of these pieces will be in a show at Saratoga Arts, NY in June. Two paintings from 2010 will be in a show called “Techpression- the digital & beyond” at the Southampton Art Center, NY in April.
Interview by Madeline Walker of Show and Telephone & Audra Lambert, Editor in Chief – ANTE
Artist Jess (Jessica) Duby is one of our honored winners of the open call ‘Earthly Delights,’ and her responses on how her work exalts and honors the natural world capture the Zeitgeist encapsulated in the open call’s theme. Below, Duby on how plants and nature hold the power to heal, but inside and outside the urban environment.
ANTE. Thanks Jess for chatting with us! For starters we wanted to know – can you share with us – what about the theme of the open call caught your attention in relation to your practice as an artist?
Jess Duby. It spoke to me on several levels! I use my art practice as a way of exploring and deepening my connection to the earth and the larger systems I’m entangled with. The day I saw the “Earthly Delights” call, the theme of emergence was so present in my practice and psyche that I had just spent an hour talking about it on the phone with a friend.
Broadly, I’m always wondering how I can harmonize my own cycles with the natural cycles and movements around me, which is why I’m so interested in ritual, and particularly, ritual’s intersection with bathing culture.
My series “The Bathers” started as a kind of introspective experimentation and unfolded to an intentional, more social engaged and collaborative practice. I think this shift itself tracks what has been happening inside and outside of me vis-a-vis the pandemic. The series began in quarantine with just myself and my roommate Heloise’s plants as the subjects. At the time, I had been reflecting on how important cleansing rituals were for my mental health, and how objectifying, exclusionary, and Eurocentric the theme of bathing has been throughout western art history. Through making this image I attempted to find communion, both spiritually and aesthetically, with the fresh green outside my windows, and to reclaim the genre “The Bathers” as a woman, using my own body in the style of many femme artists I admire. I think this image also mirrors how surreal and weird things got in quarantine. I remember turning the shower on these plants and myself in the tub, which made my body paint go everywhere. My roommate and I really needed that laugh.
The question I’m asking in the work now is how can we consciously appreciate and take advantage of the return of this freedom to be out in nature, the moving around and the gathering, while also maintain the deep community care, the mutuality, and moments for the nourishing stillness that we cultivated over the last year?
ANTE. And how has Ecofeminism(s) played a role in your works, such as The Forest Bathers (Shinrin-Yoku) specifically?
JD. The ecofeminist work of Vandana Shiva and Ana Mendieta always inspires my actions. It definitely influenced the composition and smaller details of “The Forest Bathers (Shinrin-Yoku).” Ecofeminism draws a social and political connection between women and the earth, including the types of suppression both have historically endured. I’d love to note that I tend to dislike the word feminism because of its violent history of being exclusive regarding race and gender, and I think that ecofeminist theory applies as much to all that is considered “feminine” as it does women. So while I still use the word Ecofeminism because it efficiently describes what I mean to say in other ways, I always like take the opportunity to name the problem I have with it.
At the same time “The Bathers” revives the old bathing in genre in art history, it also critiques the genre in a way that aligns with ecofeminist values. The “Forest Bathers (Shinrin-Yoku)” features two of my fully vaccinated friends finally out in the world indulging in the Japanese practice of forest bathing. Unlike the images of bathers painted by the likes of Renoir, Cezanne, and so many others, these are fully covered un-edited Korean and Asian-American women—not frolicking, nude, unblemished white women caressing each other in a pond. They are bathing conceptually, fully covered by bath towels and in a state of meditation with the earth. Each is holding a conch shell, a symbol of rebirth and regeneration. What we wanted to present was an embodiment of the themes of purification and renewal that the genre has always claimed to offer, but without the voyeurism and fetishization you see in nine out of ten images of bathing throughout what has been institutionalized in the west as Art History.
ANTE. Do you have a connection to the particular landscape where this image was taken?
JD. Yes! This was actually in the more heavily wooded area of Prospect Park, which carries great meaning for me. This was the first place I took myself when the heavy quarantine was lifted last summer. I don’t know if I’ve ever experienced such a state of bliss as I felt that day outside. It’s one of my favorite places in New York. The shoot was especially magical because it was the first time the two friends in the picture had ever been to Prospect Park. We actually all had an incredibly stressful day for different reasons, but when we arrived, we dropped into a meditative flow state. The ethereal, soft tone that took over the whole scene while the sun was setting as compared to the pressed states we arrived in stunned us.
ANTE. How does your relationship to place become part of your artistic process?
JD. The place I’m creating work in very naturally becomes a part of the process and aesthetics. I wound up in Florida right after my graduation in May 2020 due to a housing issue, so that became the landscape for another image. Roberto, who shot “The Ocean Bather” on his drone, had at some point introduced me to Virginia Key, which is, even in normal times outside of Covid-19, almost always empty. The ability to visit this quiet part of the sea was an unimaginable blessing. I always feel invited to let my guard down there in the same way I feel invited to drop into a state of peace and pleasure in Prospect Park. The short time I spent in both these places filled me up with community and strength to sustain the long stretches of solitude and the waves of grief and worry that we all were going through. I kind of let the land, air, and water take care of me when I didn’t quite know how to take care of myself, and so my art practice was a way of honoring and documenting these restorative gifts from mother earth. In the process I have become increasingly more conscious of the impact of my habits and consumption. How am I reciprocating these gifts?
ANTE. Can you tell us more about what you’ve been working on recently? Anything you have coming up that you can share?
I’m excited to continue “The Bathers” project and see how it progresses now that it’s flowing in a collaborative direction.
July (2021) brought “the Sun (Flower) Bathers,” which captured two of my friends who are healers, activists, and artists, sunbathing—sun worshipping, really–in a field of sunflowers. I absolutely loved seeing them exalted in the company of these flowers, radiating. Like the sun card in the Tarot, joy, self-love, and vitality are the emphasis of this image.
In the immediate future, I’m working with two performance artist friends on “the Sponge Bathers,” in which they’ll ceremonially bathe themselves and each other with natural sea sponges on Riis beach. The sponges nod to nonduality/nonbinary gender. And I’m waiting for the right time for “the Pink Bathers” which will take place in a flamingo sanctuary a few hours from my Florida hometown, hopefully at sunset. Pink on pink.
With collage techniques, many moving parts can become one. Nowhere is this more clear than in the work of Swiss-born artist Kelly Dabbah. She has a lot going on and it is clear that this why collage has become her preferred method of art-making. “I am quite precise, which is why I like the possibilities of editing and flexibility that collage has to offer,” she remarked in our phone conversation.
Digital collage can be employed on many different materials. Most recently, she released a limited edition series of skate decks and bucket hats on NTWRK, both printed with her signature digital collage works. During Miami Art Week she is showing work from her “mirror” series of collage printed on mirrors, and a vintage chair upholstered in a collaged textile that celebrates the bling aesthetics of LA, aptly titled: “You Can Sit On It.”
During this past year, Dabbah spent a sojourn in LA where she was embraced by a group of musicians and producers – including ThunderCat, Anderson Paak, and Derek ‘Mixed by Ali’ who have all commissioned work from the artist. Elements from that LA lifestyle populate her mirrors and especially the textile of the vintage chair. Borrowed from cannabis culture, “pass with care” is a phrase that reoccurs in the artist’s work. Decriminalization and legalization add cause for celebration de-stigmatizing the subculture that has welcomed her since her teens in Geneva and throughout her time in New York and LA.
On view in Miami, “My Best Friend, My Worst Enemy” depicts snakes, flowers, palm trees, and the third eye – crying. “Like youth, flowers wilt,” says Dabbah about her incorporation of flowers which are included in much of her work. In “Cara Said ‘Bacon!’” a hand steadily holds a needle filled with Botox. The mirror series speaks to impossible beauty standards and the contradictions that make up femininity. The mirror series speaks to impossible beauty standards and the contradictions that make up femininity. Miami is a fitting place to showcase Dabbah’s work, because unlike Basel week in Switzerland, emerging artists can make a mark during Miami Art Week. The diverse audience of artists, athletes, musicians, celebrities, the it-crowd, and people looking for a good party are a collecting group attracted to artists who work across disciplines and whose work embodies a millennial and painterly cut and paste aesthetic that is steeped in lifestyle symbology.
The ease in which Dabbah works with brands and drops limited editions is a result of her training in Fashion Design at Parsons School of Design at the New School. She has painted on leather jackets for American designer Anna Sui for her Fall Season Fashion Week show, worked on a neon collaboration with Yellow Pop, a neon company, and last Halloween, she worked with the Italian notebook manufacturer Moleskine to customize notebooks for in-store shoppers, among others. “Working with an artist allows brands to connect more authentically with their consumers,” says Dabbah. Although she speaks a language that corporate clients understand the artist is not all business; she has the mind of an artist – boundless, experimental, slightly erratic, but deeply visionary. As art, fashion, design, and branding continue to merge we look forward to following Dabbah’s contribution to this growing space.
Don’t miss Kelly Dabbah’s showcase “Cara Said ‘Bacon!’” at Booth C07 at SCOPE Art Show during Miami Art Week 2021.
On view at York College Fine Arts Gallery through November 19, 2021
Content warning: This interview discusses femicide, violence against womxn/gender-based violence and rape.
The powerful exhibition “Flores de Femicidio: Femicide Florals” – a solo show and installation by artist Natali Bravo-Barbee curated by Dr. Margaret Rose Vendryes – will remain on view at York College Art Gallery through Nov 19. The exhibit honors the devastating toll that femicides have taken on Argentinian society, the loss of womxn murdered and the devastating impact that this violence has had. Bravo-Barbee’s powerful installation provides an avenue of contemplation to consider global movements against gender-based violence and the #niunamas movement.
According to statistics from the Observation Committee on Equality and Gender from the United Nations, in 2018 Argentina had the third-highest femicide rate reported in the Americas region. Bravo-Barbee took time to speak with ANTE editor-in-chief Audra Lambert on this exhibit, outlining how this project developed and the conversations that have emerged as a result of this meaningful installation.
(Interview edited for length and content; all images courtesy the artist and York College Fine Arts Gallery)
Audra Lambert, ANTE mag+platform: Thanks Natali for taking time to speak with us on your powerful project, Flores de Femicidio at York College Art Gallery. Can you tell us more on the genesis of this project?
Natali Bravo-Barbee: I have a friend who is a psychologist from Argentina, and I always read her posts as I appreciate her perspectives. She posted an article in early 2019 about the murder of a woman in Argentina, and the accompanying research showed how this one case fit into overall statistics (of women’s murders in Argentina.) I began to dig into this learning more about the scope of femicides in Argentina, and came to realize through my own research that Argentina doesn’t even have the highest rate (of femicides) in Latin America, so this is how I began my approach when I started this project in January of 2019.
ANTE: And how did this project emerge in partnership with York College Art Gallery?
NB-B: The show with York came about because I had been working on this ongoing project for so long. I continued working on it throughout the pandemic and it became closer to being done. I’d shown one month of flowers (January) in four locations, but no one had ever seen entire collection. Dr Vendryes reached out to me after I’d been posting about them and she mentioned that York has a summer residency program, working in the space and culminating in a show, but that due to Covid this residency was on hold and this show timeslot was open. She asked if I would be interested in showing the flowers there.
When I talked about the flowers before I finished them, I always said I want them to show together in Queens first – to bring all the pieces together in Queens, and from there I’m happy to show them anywhere, so this worked out great for Flores de Femicidio.
ANTE: And does the diversity of Queens’ residents contribute to this sentiment as well?
NB-B: Yes, and the number of Argentinian residents we have in Queens in particular, and the ability to open this conversation with students, some of whom deal with these topics at home such as domestic violence. Often universities and educational institutions don’t discuss these topics in depth. So showing at this university made this exhibition that much more special.
ANTE: So you mentioned to me previously that every flower takes up to 10 hours to complete – can you tell us more about this process?
NB-B: Every flower is different – there is no cookie cutter size. Every flower had to be cut out and hand drawn on the petals, and each had to have a number system since no two are identical. Each was numbered since they had to have individually labeled petals. I then had to sort these out, coat them and expose them, develop them, shape them, assemble them, create a tag for each woman who the flower is for – some of these flowers are embellished with crystals and glitter as well, requiring extra work.
Each flower has anywhere from 6-30 petals and there are varying designs of flowers, so in order to keep track of them, I had to come up with a numbering system to be able to sort them and build them. The building process for each individual flower required more cutting, shaping and gluing of the petals. Once the petals were done, the flower could be assembled. Each flower has a backing where the petals were glued onto, and they also have a wire hanger in the back so each flower could be hung. I built all the flowers first, and then assigned a name to each flower at the end. Each flower has a cyanotype name tag on it to represent each femicide victim.
There’s also a calendar aspect to this exhibition. The show also acts as a giant calendar, and there are cyanotype plaques in Spanish and English along the wall toward the floor outlining the months. These signs are not immediately visible, so as you walk around and begin encountering the flowers you start to realize gradual details: each individual month relates to these flowers, the women they are named for, and the use of Spanish reminds visitors that this is in relationship with Argentina, in dialogue with the scope of this project.
ANTE: I feel that sometimes specificity – in this case, showing the amount of femicides in Argentina over the course of a specific year (2019) – is able to reach a wider group of people because of the level of detail. It’s specific as opposed to being vague, demonstrating focus and intention.
NB-B: While documenting the show at York, I met a woman who worked with the Haitian embassy here in New York. She started a conversation with me about violence against women in Haiti. This is such an important topic, she noted, and she said she wanted to reflect on Haiti, the residents there and how women there experience violence often overlooked by the government.
ANTE: How did you research this project given the many barriers around finding out information on femicides in the Americas (lack of government diligence on this topic, etc.)?
NB-B: In the beginning of 2019 the number of femicides had started increasing so there was widespread coverage then, but throughout the year this coverage started to dwindle. There was less and less information over time. I saved everything I would read; I had a folder and would save everything and go back to the info I had found. There’s also feminist publication,Clarín, in Argentina that in the middle of 2020 published an enormous obituary of all femicide cases from 2019 to mid-2020 with victims’ names, ages and a brief sentence of how they were killed. The publication was digital and every rectangle published in this report represented a femicide victim. They stepped in to document when mass media had stopped widely reporting. In many cases, I was able to get to know each woman through their online presence, through their name and the online research I did to get to know them. Early on in my research, in newspapers, you would get first and last name, but over time it became first name and last initial, or even no name: just a documentation of the violence. there eventually would be no resources: no further info on who did this, etc. throughout this project over time there were many flowers that unfortunately have no names.
ANTE: Can you talk more about the process of cyantopying and the iconography of the flower as the focus of this project?
NB-B: Sure. One of the most popular things associated with cyanotyping is botanicals: flowers are popular, but I didn’t make them early on because it just didn’t call out to me as a subject matter unless it was in dialogue with something else. When I started with the concept of the project, I knew it had to do it with flowers because flowers for me have always symbolized death. From a young age, since my grandfather passed, I would always bring flowers to his grave with my family. It’s also a sign of honor: honoring someone’s life after their passing. I started off making regular flowers without cyanotype, in dialogue with a long tradition fo women making paper flowers. I wanted to play with the fine line between craft and Fine Art and explore how to bring craft into Fine Art, and throughout this process I realized no one has ever made a cyanotype flower sculpture. So then I thought: I’ll be the first one to make it.
I immediately went and made a prototype, not included in this show – it’s my artist proof. No name is attached to it. I realized: this is possible, I can make this. But I knew from the very beginning it was going to be labor intensive. So many other factors were things I didn’t know were coming in my life: new pregnancy, the pandemic. This project was hard but it is manageable, I thought and I’d spend my nights planning out petals, cutting them out. This process was so labor intensive, but I began to create a method around making these sculptures, and over time began to follow a rhythm and figure out how each flower would live as its own unique sculpture. Weekends, nights: all my free time was absorbed by this project, month after month.
So the process started with drawing out the petals from templates, and in these I numbered each petal with a code so I could keep track of the number of flowers I had drawn out. I had assistants help me cut out the petals. So I would drop off a batch that had been drawn out for cutting, and while those were getting cut out I would continue drawing out more until all were drawn and cut. Then I had to sort them out and put them in bags so I could separate them and prepare them for coating. My attic was set up as a darkroom where no sunlight came in and was safe for the petals to be coated in the cyanotype chemicals. Cyanotypes are exposed using UV light, so it was crucial that not outside light would enter the room. With a tarp on the floor, about 30 cyanotypes flowers could be coated at a time. Then once the emulsion was dry, I would bag them all up all again and bring them downstairs to prepare for exposures.
The exposure time depended on what I was using for a negative to make the photogram print. Dried flowers required a 15-30 minute exposure (depending on the flower) and lace required 30-40 minutes depending on the thickness of the flower or lace. The larger the flower size, the more exposures it took to expose all the petals for one flower. I should mention that I could expose between 10-15 petals on average, more if the flower was smaller, but some flowers were so large that it took 5 sessions to expose all the petals in just one flower. After exposing the petals had to be developed in a tray with water and then placed on blotter paper to dry, then sorted back into bags so they can be built. It truly was labor intensive, what you see when you enter Flores de Femicidio, and I’m happy to discuss the conceptual and formal aspects of this work with visitors.
ANTE: Throughout the course of this project, did you see anything in this process as transfomative given the research and time involved, and the stories of these women you were then transforming into beautiful objects?
NB-B: I would often just need to take time away after researching, I would have to take a break after reading about a murder of a child and that child’s mother – I would read this and just take a moment to go into the other room. I would think of my son asleep in the next room and just reflect on how unimaginable was this violence, this story. And then the story of the mother, of this woman and her life – I wanted to make these flowers to bring something beautiful to her name. I was resolved the last thing associated to this woman wouldn’t just be this violence, this tragedy. Here is going to be this beautiful object that I’ve made in this person’s honor. I think in terms of transformation also from 2D to 3D, thinking about this story that’s just a story that then becomes an object – something I just read that turns into something tangible: something that exists in real life – even beyond life.
I’ve heard people say, “Oh I thought this project was so beautiful until I realized what this show is about and now it’s just so sad.” But I think about beauty, and how women are expected to be beautiful. Our lives can be sad too; not everything about our lives is beautiful. There are more dimensions to who we are. There are people who don’t speak on domestic violence because it’s not pretty – they don’t know how people around them will react to this news.
ANTE: Also, horrifically, the only person who feels the effects of this violence are the women: the men aren’t shunned for this violence. Women hold the shame of these violent acts.
NB-B: As part of the show for the York College Art Gallery, I created a binder containing dried flower petals, negatives with name tag information, stories from these women – the murder information – translated from Spanish to English – and even have photos of the women included. With this binder you can go find the individual’s flower on the wall, read these notes and sketches and further engage with this project. I’ve also added a trigger warning to give people the choice to engage with these stories as that’s critical as well. It’s a heavy thing having to translate these stories, seeing these truths live in two languages, making these stories more tangible to a wider audience.
ANTE: When you’re talking about beauty I think of the beauty pageant system and of pageants as an institution in Louisiana where I’m from; is this something that is relevant to Argentinian society as well? That beauty is the expected dimension for women to inhabit socially?
NB-B: I definitely see this as being relevant to majority of women living in Argentina, who are meant to look pretty, who should have children but not look like they’ve had them- keep their beauty and make everything look easy. Then there are so many other underlying topics with colorism, socio-economic background, even religious faith. Something interesting to note about this topic is that the government uses the term femicide – the WHO has ‘violence against women’ with related numbers to the Argentinian count of ‘femicidios.’ Over time I noticed the numbers didn’t add up and it’s because in Argentina the governement didn’t count Trans women’s murders. Also if two women, such as a mother and daughter, were murdered in the same act, it was only counted as a single femicide.
ANTE: That certainly needs to change. Thinking about changes in society recently, I’m ruminating about the evolution of the #metoo movement. How do you see this topic being treated now, is there a resurgence of attention now? Was it just in that one moment from your research?
NB-B: That movement definitely impacted it – the hashtag in Spanish is #niunamenos meaning we don’t want one less woman. There was also #niunamas – I think in 2018/19 when you looked at the jump in femicide numbers that occurred, there were numbers that had risen and feminists in Argentina were fighting for femicides to be recognized and for the government to do something about it. The numbers continued to go up but in spite of that there was less media coverage over time. I don’t see that this is a topic that’s been fixed or that we can stop talking about it, it still continues. In conversation with femicides, honor killings come up often. In different parts of the world this phenomenon is called different things – but there’s no honor in killing a woman, this is not the right term. My days are filled of reading stories of femicides from all over the world, not just Argentina.
ANTE: I think of a recent encounter I had the memorial to the #niunamas monument in Mexico City, and cases abroad such as Noor Mukadam in Pakistan and Sarah Everard in the UK. There seems to be a hesitancy built in socially against upending the establishment. Are societies built on violence? I hope not, but we need to be willing to change, pursue and implement laws against femicides.
NB-B: Speaking to this, in Argentina there are laws against femicides but most of the time those who are responsible either aren’t caught or the police don’t pursue leads related to the femicides. If this continues then how are the aggressors being found? They’re not. They aren’t finding them and then nothing can be done. What’s the point to having a law then, if nothing is being done to enforce it? They’ll argue there’s not enough funding for these investigations. It’s ridiculous when you read the justifications for these investigations not happening. Looking to Gabby Petito’s case, it didn’t take too long to find her remains. Imagine if every femicide had that level of attention: everyone sharing leads, video captures, information and coming together to solve the case, imagine if that happened for every femicide. We’d see results. People would be more afraid. The perpetrator would start to think whoa, people are paying attention, I might get caught and maybe just wouldn’t do it.
ANTE: Yes, it’s very clear that not every case is treated the same. Trans women, Indigenous women – not every case of femicide is treated with the same amount of scrutiny. You can feel that there should be more to prevent violence against all of these women, there’s so much more than can be done. I think of this poem from the Second wave Feminist publication Heresies’ Issue #6: On Women and Violence by Elaine McCarthy that reflects on a woman reporting her rape, and the police essentially make fun of her, telling her that they need all of the details and insinuating that the case won’t be solved.
NB-B: Dr. Diana Russell was active in the 1970s as well – she passed on in 2020, but she popularized the term femicide although it has existed since the 1800s. If we labeled every single femicide that occured with that term then we’d notice it happening all around us all the time. They happen so often, they often go unpunished, and people don’t want to see it. It’s a truth that people don’t want to admit, as a society, we’ve decided no – it’s too ugly.
Interview with Show + Telephone’s Madeline Walker, Edited by Audra Lambert
Madeline Walker. Can you share with us – what about the theme of the open call caught your attention in relation to your practice as an artist?
Bianca Abdi-Boragi. Since I’ve been producing ephemeral works with earth, the title (“Earthly Delights”) caught my attention. My practice has been influenced by Land Art and Arte Povera, both. I’ve been making pieces with high grass, petals, feathers, lost bread in works like Traveling Plant, Epiphany, Drift, The Heel of the Loaf to formally engage with ideas of trajectory, subsistence and fulfillment. My art is also inspired a lot from my family’s history of migration from Algeria to France to flee the war and personal experiences, conveyed in a form that addresses a collective experience, addressing timeless questions such as war, displacement, freedom, gender roles. Being uprooted from a country or a culture is a major theme in my work. I want to grasp life with the beauty, fragility and nostalgia of ephemera.
MW. Conflict and disparity between classes is something you mention in your statement about The Heel of the Loaf which feels especially poignant during the pandemic. When you mentioned fragile structures I can’t help but think about your experience working with bread and bread crumbs, walking in the space and generally the sensory experience. But also the proportions of the center point to the rest. Can you talk more about what it represents to you?
BAB. For my solo show last Fall, The Heel of the Loaf, I collected discarded bread from shops and bakeries here in Bushwick and Ridgewood. I collect materials outside the studio and then re-imagine and revisit places and residual materials from my surroundings, responding to the moment I find myself in–personal, local, or national. In this piece, the six sided dice had only one “6” side, face down, and five sides of “1”; this large scale sculptural installation was a meditation on fragile structures, sacred subsistence, and capitalism, where the odds of winning are against a majority of people.
Most of my works reflect on class, labor, subsistence, and the consequences of post colonial economic structures. My pieces obey the logic dictated by their concept, material, and process. In the making of a piece, I use all the forms that the material evolves. By the end, there is no waste, because the protocol is endless. I want to turn chaos into a glimpse of the infinite.
The Heel of the Loaf was all about how you felt walking into it, sticking your head inside it and being surprised by it. I’d hoped to make the viewer question their own body and presence in front of the work. It was a multi-sensory experience, a manifestation that connected directly to the viewer’s senses. The audience performed simply by walking into the gallery stepping on old loaves covering the floor into crumbs so thin it looked like sand. Through sculptural installation I hope to appeal to the viewer’s senses to trigger a thoughtful and meditative dialogue.
MW. Can you tell us more about the genesis of The Heel of the Loaf?
BAB. For this piece, I was focused on the revelation of the fragile economic structures in the US which were crumbling at the start of the pandemic. I wanted visitors to be taken off guard: to be directly impacted by the piece. I want my work to be physical at some level, or a disruption of reality – to disrupt some type of normalcy, conventions, boundaries or challenge the rules, questioning structures or addressing existential questions, to be thought-provoking, a little bit strange, just on the other side.
MW. What do you have ongoing and/or upcoming that you can share with us?
BAB. I’m excited to show a new painting in August 2021 for the group exhibition Staying Inn at Heaven Gallery in Chicago. Currently I’m in the midst of making two chairs to complete my new sculpture Hybrid Buffet, which was showcased last June at the Flux Factory for Din Din, an art food outdoor series of events. Hybrid Buffet is a table mosaic made of discarded bread fully coated with matte varnish inspired from the front of Ketchaoua mosque in Algiers, which was destroyed turned into a church under the French then turned into a mosque, addressing labor but also the hybridization of culture, architectonic narratives, mechanism of assimilation, colonization, war but most importantly pacifism, and the act of breaking bread together.
I’m also preparing an experimental film for an upcoming art fair, and working on the pre-production of my second solo show which will be based in sculpture and video art. I am also working on the production of a new piece involving two fabric sculptures and a documentary video about the French flea market. I have a long list of artworks I need to produce, which will keep me busy for many years if not a lifetime. I’m overwhelmed but it’s only good stress so I’m happy!
Finally, I’m also an independent art writer/curator and founder of Gallery Perchée, an online art gallery specializing in leading emerging artists. I have a few upcoming curatorial projects for 2021-2022 in NY and Chicago that I’m very excited about with wonderful artists. Architecture of Elsewhere now on view virtually at Gallery Perchée during the Summer of 2021. My other upcoming show Vector will open in Sept 2022 at Heaven Gallery Chicago, amidst other NY projects cooking for 2021 and 2022.
Earthly Delights winning artist Chantel Ness in conversation with Show & Telephone’s Madeline Walker & Audra Lambert
Thanks Chantel for chatting with us! What about the theme of the open call “Earthly Delights” caught your attention in relation to your artistic practice?
While contemplating the theme of “Earthly Delights”, I was drawn to the notions of clearing and culling to make room for growth and new creation. My artistic practice materialized as a direct result of pandemic isolation. I had been caught in a cycle of overexertion and perpetual burn-out: chasing career achievements for fulfillment. Only once I removed the superficial distractions of my work life was I able to peer inward to discover a well-spring of latent creativity and find my place as an artist. This has been a season to release those patterns and behaviors that once felt so important, but now appear redundant, trivial or even inflammatory.
One of my larger works – “Spring Training: The World Without Us” – was inspired by reading Alan Wesiman’s article “Earth Without People” and his follow-up non-fiction book. His thought-experiment on depopulation prompted me to contemplate the possibility we may never return to the outside world as it was pre-pandemic. This piece imagines an Earth devoid of any future human interference or destruction. Left only with remnants of our infrastructure, the flora and fauna are given space to thrive and evolve into newer, more resilient forms. What could be possible if we surrendered control and let life happen organically?
In “Conservation of Greatness”, I celebrate “Earthly Delights” through the simple freedom of play outdoors. The purest pleasure can be found in fresh cut grass, a warm breeze and connection to the body in coordinated motion. The fusion of indoor/outdoor spaces suggests a disintegration of confinement. The wistful longing for a return to open-air interactions is a base human compulsion: a prescription for fear and isolation.
Can you give us insight into how your upbringing and experience living in rural areas in Canada influenced your work, for example with Controlled Burn?
I hail from a remote town in Northern Saskatchewan called Meadow Lake. It is known for being a vast and empty space populated only by those tough enough to stand the unforgiving winters by playing hockey. In my upbringing, there was such an emphasis on athletics at the detriment of artistic or cultural pursuits. For a time I grappled with self-pity at my interests being swept aside before ultimately embracing my unique positioning. I had been a spectator for long enough to know the world of sports intimately, but maintain the outsider’s vantage point necessary to expand the discourse of athletics through contemporary art. As a way of entering into dialogue with those around me, I use sport as an accessible medium to approach deeper themes of importance to me. I revel at the chance to take subject matter traditionally perceived as “low-brow” and elevate it to a topic worthy of artistic contemplation.
My piece “Controlled Burn” was motivated by the boreal backdrop of my “wildhood”. Taking the life cycle of the tree as a metaphor for ideation: from germination to maturation, with stages of revision and deconstruction before emerging as a finished article. In wildland management, a controlled burn is essential to maintaining the health of a forest or grassland ecosystem. Whether with the intention to re-wild an area that was once urbanized or as a preventative measure, a prescribed burn can mitigate future hazards. While seemingly a violent and destructive act, the burn reveals the soil’s mineral layer and stimulates seed germination. To me, this serves as a poignant symbol as we set about emerging from our pandemic state. Perhaps without the proverbial heat, we might not have undergone this integral process of examination. The Timbersport depicted in this piece is called a “Spring Chop” – apt for my ruminations on the theme.
You have mentioned forest fires and your relationship to individuals working in that industry, can you elaborate on how this impacts your work?
In my community, which is predominantly First Nations, there is a tragic lack of economic growth and development. A trend emerged where persons in dire circumstances were inclined to light forest fires simply to be hired on a team paid to extinguish the fires. In the most extreme cases, these infernos would become uncontrolled causing unintended destruction of homes and infrastructure. My father, a Conservation Officer, became an Arson Fire Investigator tasked with discovering the sources of ignition. His involvement with these blazes educated me not only on fire prevention and management but of systemic inequality for Indigenous Peoples. Recently in Kamloops British Columbia, the bodies of 215 First Nations children were found buried on the site of a Catholic Residential School. Weighing heavy on my heart, the stone border painted on “Controlled Burn” contains 215 markers representing each of those victims. Canada has been broken for a very long time and only now are steps being taken toward reconciliation.
I find some topics are too painful to approach directly. I prefer instead to deploy unusual and humorous contexts to make work that toes the line between lighthearted and sincere. Disguised in a visually optimistic language, my work draws on the various tensions in my sphere of consciousness. Finding a way to constructively parse thoughts of racial inequality, gender disparity, extremism, climate crisis and mental health has been vital to my practice.
What do you have ongoing and/or upcoming that you can share with us?
Prior to taking up painting, I made a career in Interior Design. I think you can see traces of my former métier bleeding into my compositions. A friend of mine has taken over an iconic Sports Bar in Montreal, I have been joyfully commissioned to provide artwork and imprint my design sensibilities. Sneak preview: hand-painted wallpaper depicting former Montreal Expos baseball players in PlayGirl poses. I have been delighted how my practice has built a bridge to other humans: both artists and sports fans in equal measure. To have my voice as a female artist represented in a traditionally male-dominated space is supremely satisfying.
Once COVID restrictions ease, I dream of staging my first solo exhibition “Sports: Illustrated”. Being confined to my loft for the last 16 months has yielded a robust body of work and a yearning to share my work with others in a physical space. Until then, I continue with my self-taught practice, untangling ideas on canvas including some larger-scale pieces currently in progress.
The artist can be found at her website – Chantel Ness, www.minorleagues.xyz and on Instagram: @minor_leagues. -Ed.s
ANTE mag. We are excited to interview you, Emily, and wanted to start by learning more about your ethos. Can you tell us more about how interconnectedness forms a foundation of your approach in your practice?
Emily Weiskopf. I’m excited to be here with ANTE mag! There is a mystical or spiritual process involved in making my work that seeks to fuse or reunite the divine past, present and future together simultaneously because in many ways that is how everything is occurring. With the growing disconnect between humanity and the natural world there is a sense, more and more that I am being guided to create what hopes to evoke a collective, nurturing consciousness to the cause and effect of life. 2020 illustrated this to us in many ways, as has other times in history.
In October of 2019, I was at the White Sands creating a sand work/ritual and I had a premonition that something catastrophic was coming for humanity, as unbelievable, crazy as it may sound. I have always had a 3rd eye sense and after a near fatal car crash it seemed to increase. As my physical body became limited other senses became amplified. For that reason I think a lot about what is not physical to the eye, that all sentient life, is speaking to us, teaching us and each other about how it works together. This doesn’t mean the grass is talking… but it is alive, has energy and the reason we love to stand barefoot in it. You automatically feel more connected, more aware, it’s essential life. Historically we have always read the stars and Cosmic strings, a scientific term with no complete proof, yet, speaks to this on universal level, a bit like alchemy in a way. Part of my practice also involves Buddhism and it is said that our thoughts are carried in the air, nothing is ever lost in the universe. I truly believe that. My work may stem from my personal narrative and lens of perspective, but it is not meant for me.
ANTE mag. You work at a range of scales and with a diverse set of materials. Can you tell us more about your recent body of work, ‘The Fragility of Tranquility’?
EW. “The Fragility of Tranquility” was named by artist and gallery director Michael David. He organized a 2-person show between myself and artist Tim Casey which came right at the end of 2020. This consisted of Translations and Responses, a series of small paintings on vellum, which reflect an intimate, yet transparently tender and disconnected dialog of hypersensitivity between self and place, allowing only the essential. Most of these drawings are created on both sides as dual dialog with eyes open and closed as were a few works in porcelain in response to the destruction, deterioration, ongoing forest fires, and riots in 2020. Seeing, feeling, listening to transcend light as a way to balance and clear the energy. I was also recovering from 4 months of spine treatments and working to regain my strength to create a new public sculpture. These were a bridge to slowly reconnect and integrate my energy, self and ideas in alignment with the current world.
ANTE mag. Many artists working during this time have responded in some way to the immeasurable impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Can you tell us more about the genesis and realization of your project, “The Clearing” (12/2020)?
EW.The Clearing, as a ritual, was created to emanate a collective, vibrational universal healing through clearing, releasing, and grounding the emotional wounds and trauma of 2020. I felt this to be one of the closest ways I could give to others and to the Earth as gently as possible with no impact or waste, my compassion and care, while demonstrating in action a process of reflection and connection before letting the wind take it away.
In releasing, there is a process of accepting, understanding and allowing the importance of emptiness, space. Following the creation, I walked into the center of a mandala to begin and conclude the ritual with a Clearing Prayer. My ongoing studies and practice with Lama Losang, of the Chenrezig Tibetan Buddhist Center (Philadelphia, PA) also took part in the symbology of this mandala. When I had my premonition in October at the White Sands I also realized the vitalness of the lesson of the sand, again, the interconnection came. My spinal cord was injured during a procedure the previous summer and I didn’t know how/if I could continue my practice but that day it began again. I wanted to learn the sacred Buddhist tradition of sand painting with its dismantling to participate in greater actions to uplift and bring caring not only to every person who sees it, but also to bless the environment and all sentient life in the release of suffering. I flew to Philadelphia in Feb 2020 ask the Venerable Lama Losang to train me, and I am humbled he said yes. He is one of the Mandala Masters who created the first public sand mandala in the US in 1988.
ANTE mag. Incredible! So let’s also address your project “Unparallel Way” manifested in 2013 in partnership with Old Stone House in Brooklyn and the NYC Dept of Transportation. What was it like working in large-scale installation, and how did this impact your practice?
EW. It was the best- it was. First off, I loved working with the Old Stone House- Kim Maier, Katherine Gressel who found me and curated me, and Emily Colassaco of the NYC Dept of Transportation. They are fantastic and I hope I get to work with them all again. I really enjoyed making a site-specific work, remark on present times, getting to know the Park Slope Civic Board – the community and being able to positively impact the public space, the city I called home for 16 -17 years. It’s a big undertaking to be handling all the details that go into doing public work especially when it’s just you, low-budget, with a steep learning curve but it’s a tremendous learning opportunity which shifts your entire perspective. I became aware of the impact Public Art can make. It was put in front of park and a parent came up to me and said you brighten and made this entire area safer, especially for the kids. As a teacher, this meant a lot and I have also became a volunteer with Civic & Community Boards.
ANTE mag. You create artwork in a range of disciplines – installation, works on paper, sculpture and even video. How do you approach working across multiple mediums? How does the concept for an artwork impact the medium in which you work?
EW. Yes I do, and for that reason it can get a bit crazy in the studio. In thinking about interconnectedness, I feel the diversity of my materials match the metaphor, the experience, and the message I hope to transcend. The world is covered in sand, an ocean, rocks, an ozone, the sky, the man-made industry and yet it all eventually connects and affects one another. I apply this concept to my practice. I’m naturally enticed by materiality, the chemistry, the physicality and use transparency often to show the inner workings. I have been using raw oxides in my work for years, have a 30 year rock collection and grew up watching a lot of mechanics and engineers. Additionally, because I have ongoing medical procedures due to a progressive degenerative disease I’ve managed since I was an adolescent, my practice demands shifts to my process which match my temporal and restricted physicality. Yet, the pencil is at my core and I’d lose track without my sketchbook! as I tend to do a lot of research and studies.Over the past year I have begun working with salvaged glass (“Liberty Bell”) which I am quite intrigued by even in these early stages and timed “drawings” (“Emerging”). These drawings document the regenerative, internal struggle and growth of a tree hit by lighting with the physicality of my own hands to speak on resilience and touch/engagement. I’m currently losing mobility, and grip in my right hand – my drawing hand and I’m working to keep it agile, implementing my left hand more to investigate interconnections between mind and body experiences and to stay in touch in every sense of the word. My physical limitations and unexpected rest bits can be very frustrating-challenging at times but they continuously guide me to new potentials in creation and ways of seeing that I may have never discovered otherwise. I am thankful for that. It keeps things stirring in and out of the studio for me and in many ways helps me to feel limitless.
ANTE mag. What is coming up for you on the horizon that we should be on the lookout for?
EW. Beginning this month (May 2021) I will begin my first Permanent Public Art work commissioned by the City of Austin Art in Public Places (AIPP) program of the Cultural Arts Division, Economic Development Department in collaboration with the Emergency Medical Services and Fire Departments. I will embed with the community, crews and their stations to research, interview and observe before beginning the work. The aim is to create a work which is emblematic in reflecting their experiences and in generating safer communities through prevention, preparedness, and effective emergency response. I’ve been invited to do a public artwork with the Jersey City waterfront Exchange Alliance hopefully to come to fruition this summer, as timing has been a bit hijacked since Covid-19. Lastly, I will be joining Lama Losang, at last in the creation of a large public sand mandala in Philadelphia which has been postponed since last April due to Covid-19. All good things!
A visitor can be forgiven for entering Yi Gallery’s current exhibition, “Mitosis“, and wondering whether they’ve been shrunken down into an aesthetically pleasing science lab.
All that’s missing is the petri dish.
This solo show of works by Leah Harper indicates the scope and breadth of the artist’s multi-disciplinary practice in dialogue with the lived environment, particularly with regards to marine life.
The abstracted “creatures” that the artist presents assume migratory patterns, frozen in a form of arrested motion. By foregrounding the objects themselves, one is compelled to think to a larger scale – that of the ocean itself. With light-filled sculptures installed in clusters on the floor of the gallery, minute azure-hued clusters of works arranged in meticulous sculptural groupings on one consolidated wall, and one-dimensional representations of these same minuscule “creatures” framed throughout the gallery space, guests are reminded to consider the scale of environments they encounter.
Another consideration is the fragility embodied by the range of “creatures” the artist has created for the exhibition. Whether embracing glazed porcelain, mixed media with resin or working on paper, the works Harper presents in “Mitosis” exude an element of precarity and preciousness. The flattened lines and graceful curves of Harper’s forms give visitors a tabula rasa from which to frame personal reflections on their own encounters with the ocean and its fragile ecosystems, such as coral reefs. These careful and clean linear stylings present in “Mitosis” are no accident, and their careful precision offer an homage to the delicate and overwhelming beauty found in nature’s presence.
Originally from the Gulf Coast of Florida and currently based in close proximity to the Atlantic in New York City, Harper’s work provides a delicately beautiful elegy to the oceanic environments we are ever compelled to preserve, or risk losing forever. Drawing from a rich background spanning fine art, architecture and graphic design, Harper’s perceptive work echoes Heidegger’s concept of the essence of artwork as a means of access to better explore truth and culture. “Mitosis” serves as a springboard to better frame the truth of our lived environments, our responsibilities to them and our ability to perceive the beauty of the living creatures around us in their purest form.