Posts by ecoleman:
There is a wide array of reactions to a Bad Unkl Sista Butoh-inspired performance, ranging from confusion and shock, to wonder and amazement. But no matter what the reaction, each member of the audience — and the dancers themselves — leave the performance feeling somehow changed by the experience. Anastazia Louise, the artistic director and choreographer of Bad Unkl Sista, the Butoh-inspired dance troupe, has developed her own individual anatomy of movement that is unlike any other.
Butoh is an avant-garde, psychodrama dance form that emerged as a reaction to World War II in Japan during the 1960s. Struggling with the continued cultural and political unrest as the Japanese were being forced to accept Western values, Butoh became a form of expression for young rebellious dancers to explore the human condition as well as their own personal history. The result was a dance form that was completely new and different from Noh, Kabuki or western dance styles.
Loosely translating into “stomp dance” or “earth dance,” early Butoh dancers explored everyday, organic movements, like an old, hunched woman carrying a basket of rice against the wind, or a child splashing in a puddle. The dance form has since transformed into a way of exploring the unconscious mind, suppressed urges and constrained impulses. By stripping away superficiality, egotism and societal expectations of how to move, the body can become a blank page to write its own story.
Louise learned about the meaning of Butoh from her teacher, Diego Piñón, who founded Butoh Ritual Mexicano.
“‘Butoh challenges us to empty our ordinary judgments, expectations, habitual actions and needs,’” said Piñón, “‘to allow the emergence of a deeper self, propelling us to awaken and explore all human qualities, both subtle and outrageous, beautiful and ugly; to touch, if only for a moment, our inexplicable matter — the human soul.’”
The main difference between Bad Unkl Sista and other Butoh groups is the fact they do not actually consider themselves a Butoh group. Rather, they use Butoh as a way for the dancers to discover and expose themselves. The group considers every performance to be a conversation between the audience and the dancers, and a way to study the vulnerable human experience.
Bad Unkl Sista performances remind us that life isn’t all polite pirouettes and controlled pliés. Butoh’s twitching, distorted faces and sudden jerks are considered to be more realistic representations of humanity and the unconscious mind.
Louise’s first training workshop with Piñón lasted 13 long hours every day for seven days. Piñón did not show the students any video material, or even dance for them, so Louise had no preconceived notions of how to dance during the hours of exercises. Instead, dancers had to tap into themselves.
“In the Butoh training, I discovered a profound sense of permission to release all preconceived notions of myself and the world around me,” Louise said. “This freedom transformed my personal dance and created an open, vulnerable quality to my performances.”
Louise’s choreography is tight and definite, though some of the pieces include what Louise calls “jump-off” points, or a movement of solo flight. Group pieces have movement phrases that cultivate the energy of each dancer and translate into a cohesive group energy.
“Once the container of the performance has been set,” Louise said, “the dancers are then free to move on their own. Each piece has a story line or, rather, a meaning to all of the movements, and the movements are not random.”
A Bad Unkl Sista performance might include dancers that are hunched over, twitching and shivering with their face twisted into a distorted mask. They might move in a slow procession before thunder claps and they disperse through the audience as light flickers unnervingly. It is this unique blend of theatricality and choreography that makes a Bad Unkl Sista performance truly memorable.
When choreographing each of the pieces, Louise and Music Director Goyo Aranaga are in constant dialogue with each other. Musical ideas are often inspired by motion, and movements are grown from the seeds of sound. Weaving together various styles of music, Aranaga creates a haunting blend of classical and contemporary music.
“My attraction to Anastazia’s work is partially due to her evolution and personalization of the form,” Aranaga said. “Traditional training has cultivated a deeper understanding of Butoh and its application to Bad Unkl Sista’s unique voice. Bad Unkl Sista provides me with the ideal platform for my creative expression – it’s really powerful work, and collaboration far beyond anything I have experienced before.”
Costuming is also an important part of each performance, and Louise’s one-of-a-kind theater-meets-couture costumes evoke an otherworldly presence, especially when combined with Butoh’s traditional white skin paint. To Louise, the paint represents the erasure of a personal story. The paint deconstructs the dancer into a blank canvas that allows them to transcend their own bodies.
“I am very conscious of my energy when making costumes,” Louise said. “While I am sewing, I am considering each dancer’s personal story, the music, the trajectory of the piece, world issues and my commitment to making a difference.”
During performances, many of the dancers feel as though they are leaving their body, letting the movements take over.
“[Dancing] feels like a vacuous un-feeling, non-feeling and pure portal of feeling overload gushing out with extreme uncontrollable force all at once,” dancer Amber Eckley said, “even when your movements are very small or slow and subtle. The self is gone. The self is everything. The self is everyone. Everything is sensitive, poetic, monstrous, pure, raw, unadultered, honest, and flows without end. It turns time into molasses – you experience a big, thick, languid, epochal daydream of time-breath.”
“You should try it sometime,” she added.
Daniel Yasmin, one of Bad Unkl Sista’s percussionists, feels a similar transcendence with each performance.
“When I’m playing and truly present in the performance, I allow myself to ‘leave’ my body and embrace what I describe as the ‘erotic attractor at the center of the universe,’” Yasmin said. “My fleshy mortal body becomes the vessel in which the creative signal is amplified, much like a radio.”
Dancers and musicians also use the performances as an emotional outlet. For dancer Alvin Gainer-Molina, performing is extremely liberating and evokes a myriad of emotions.
“I take my practice of Butoh in a very transcendent state of mind, where my body is aware of my movements but my mind is transfixed on a whole different level,” Gainer-Molina said. “Expressing these ‘silent emotions,’ as I like to call them, are my constant drive and why I decided to join Bad Unkl Sista.”
The work that Bad Unkl Sista does not just entertainment, but art – in its purest form. Performances tears down barriers between people — dancers, musicians, artists, audience — to reveal how delicate and permeable these boundaries really are.
“Rather than focusing on displays of virtuosity and theatrical ‘ta-da’ moments,” Aranaga said, “we strive to change minds and open hearts – starting with our own.”
For more information about Bad Unkl Sista and for a list of upcoming performances, visit their website at www.badunklsista.com.
Main article image by Eric Gillet, www.shootthatklown.com.
When I spoke to author Ali Liebegott on the phone, she was sitting in the back of the van of the legendary traveling spoken word performance group Sister Spit, hurtling down Interstate 5 toward Pasadena for a show. Liebegott, known for her work with Sister Spit and her novels, The Beautifully Worthless and The IHOP Papers, is something of a San Francisco literary kingpin in alternative circles.
Her latest book, Cha-Ching! is a raw, rollercoaster of a story about a queer girl’s attempt to redefine herself by moving from San Francisco to New York, struggling with her addictions to gambling, drugs, alcohol and love for a librarian named Marisol.
Liebegott herself is refreshingly honest and funny. When I asked her if she had a thing for librarians (having noticed that librarians pop up quite often in her writing), she just laughed, denying that she did.
“I just really like libraries,” she said. “Libraries were the place you went before the internet to find yourself. They’ve always been a special place for me.”
Liebegott took the time to speak to Art Animal about the importance of unisex bathrooms, oxytocin, and people’s attempts to reinvent themselves by moving to a new city.
AA: In Cha Ching!, your portrayal of gambling addiction felt very real. Do you have personal experience with gambling?
Ali Liebegott: When I was young, my grandparents moved to Las Vegas, so I spent a lot of time around casinos, and my uncle was a blackjack dealer. I also lived in Providence, Rhode Island for three years, teaching at a community college that was directly across from a dog track and casino.
Gambling used to be the fastest growing addiction in America. And when all the Indian casinos popped up, it became even more prevalent because they were more accessible than places like Reno or Las Vegas. There are all these studies about how gambling affects the same part of your brain as heroin. When you hit the slot machine button, you get a release of dopamine.
AA: Gambling is often glorified leading people to believe that it is all glitz and glamour. In Cha-Ching!, you place heavier emphasis on the things you stand to lose through gambling.
AL: Exactly. You don’t want to think about the bad side: the grandmas in their adult diapers so they don’t have to get up to pee, gambling away their social security paychecks.
AA: It also seemed like love acted as a different type of addiction in the book.
AL: Totally. Theo kind of believes Marisol will solve everything. People think that if they just meet the right person, then their life will change and everything will be all right. But after six months, the oxytocin wears off, and you are back to feeling how you felt before.
AA: Why do you think there is a lack of female roadtrip stories?
AL: I actually don’t feel like there is a lack of them. I feel like there is a lack of people publishing them. Or if they do get published, they are never reviewed or talked about. I think it has to do with the fact that men, especially white men, have the freedom to travel anywhere while women do not. When a female character takes a roadtrip, there are all these things you have to think about. Take Thelma and Louise, for example. There is going to be some sort of sexual assault or sexual harassment on the road. When you write, you have to keep those things in the back of your head at all times. Your character has to navigate through the world in her body.
AA: I was so shocked by a particular scene in Cha-Ching! when Theo’s friend gives her a wig to wear into the bathroom while traveling through the Midwest so she would’t get harassed. I didn’t even realize that was something people had to deal with.
AL: We are in the van right now and were just discussing where to go to the bathroom. We often stop at Starbucks because navigating bathrooms can be tricky and theirs is unisex so it makes everything easier. I mean, some people won’t drink anything all day in the van because they don’t want to deal with going to the bathroom.
AA: That must be really difficult. I mean, going to the bathroom is kind of an important life function.
AL: I know, right? Like, I just want to take a fucking piss, like everyone else at Disneyland!
AA: Do you think people can reinvent themselves by moving? Or are they always going to be haunted and influenced by things in the past?
AL: In Cha-Ching! Theo is trying to start her life over by moving. But you kind of know when you read the book that it’s not going to be like roses when she gets to New York. That idea that you can just start your life over doesn’t really work like that. You are still the same person, just in a different space. There is that saying, “Wherever you go, there you are.” I think people can reinvent themselves, but I think some sort of other epiphany has to happen. Like in Cha-Ching!, with the ending, it was my intention to have this sort of questionable ending whether or not Theo and Marisol are going to be on a different road.
AA: It definitely has an ambiguous, bittersweet ending. All Theo and Marisol could do was keep moving forward, knowing that they have these demons inside them that might throw them off their path. I think a lot of people, myself included, have these sort of self-destructive demons inside them.
AL: There is always that moment where you have to choose whether you remain where you are or more forward. I wanted it to be a moment of them moving forward, even if it didn’t last. I mean, they’re a fucking trainwreck, so who knows.
AA: Do you have a different self that you manifest when you write?
AL: Well, you’re a writer, so you understand this. But sometimes you write things that you don’t even recognize when you read over it later. Like I will read something from Cha-Ching! and have no memory of having written it. It’s a bit disturbing. But I do think you get into this different zone accessing all these different philosophies and ideas. I knew I wanted to write about addiction, and wanted to capture some of the neighborhoods that are now gentrified in New York. Sometimes things don’t take the form you thought they would. I didn’t think the focus would end up on a love story.
Well-known for past works like The Beautifully Worthless and The IHOP Papers as well as her involvement with the traveling performance group, Sister Spit, Ali Liebegott tackles big themes in Cha-Ching! including depression, addiction, identity, self-sabotage and basically how sometimes it is f-ing hard just to get out of bed in the morning and stare at yourself in the mirror.
Readers follow the protagonist of the novel — the personable Theo — through a rip-riot adventure as she moves from San Francisco to New York in an attempt to redefine herself and escape old demons. Along the way she picks up an abused pitbull, with whom she fosters a steadfast friendship, and meets — and later obsesses over — Marisol, an intoxicating librarian-turned-stripper, who is also struggling to find meaning and stability in a chaotic world.
Being young, broke, yet hopelessly optimistic myself, Theo’s plight immediately resonated with me. At times reading the words on the page, I felt like Liebegott had plucked my own thoughts from my brain, as she so perfectly captured the way I would respond to a situation and the struggles I have faced. I laughed out loud at the images of Theo, dreaming of claw foot tubs and gleaming hardwood floors in a perfect apartment, and the reality of her and her roommate chasing down cockroaches and mice with horrible landlords, determined to stick it out and proclaim their independence.
Though she is often labeled as a writer focused on queer issues, Liebegott’s work explores questions that we all ask ourselves. Cha-Ching! tells the story of a queer protagonist; however, Theo’s struggles are universal. Like all of us, she holds unobtainable dreams, overcomes hardship and feels misunderstood. Liebegott creates characters who are young, confused, but optimistic; they wonder if there is more to life, but struggle to understand how to grasp it.
By the end of the novel, Liebegott, in her own unique fashion, reveals that the ultimate addiction is the desire for love: our need to be accepted, understood and truly seen by another human being. In her honest, raw and, at times, tenderly humorous narrative, Liebegott leaves the reader asking the question: how much is it all really worth?
Sometimes the simple act of stating a dream can spark a revolution. After a high school girl casually mentioned to filmmaker Jamie Li that she wanted to be a photographer, an idea began to form: how could Li give women access to resources and information to pursue their passions? Inspired herself by Amy Poehler’s webseries Smart Girls at the Party, fellow filmmaker Keiko Wright came up with the idea for a webseries that interviews women about the work they do and how they got there. LADYPOINTS was born.
LADYPOINTS is a webseries that showcases and celebrates successful women. By presenting the stories, they hope to encourage women to overcome any self-doubt, fears or intimidation to pursue what they want to do in life. Simply put, these filmmakers want to present how women are doing things differently, without apology, and rocking it.
The team, comprised of four highly creative and passionate New York-based filmmakers, Keiko Wright, Jamie Li, Samantha Knowles and Rekha Shankar, have launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for the webseries. In just five days, the team met their first goal, raising $5,000. Due to the immense support and interest for the show, they have increased their goal to $7,500, which will enable them to shoot a second season of the series and travel outside New York for some of the episodes.
“We know there are women across the entire country who are ‘defining success of their own terms,’” Li said, “and we want to make sure our audience knows that you can live anywhere and make exciting things happen for yourself and your community.”
“While there is no science to getting your dream career, we might as well de-mystify it as much as possible along the way by showing how other people started out,” Shankar added.
So far, the team has shot the pilot episode, featuring actress and writer Nicole Drespel, who is also an improv teacher at New York’s Upright Citizen Brigade.
“We already chose our line up for season one, which we are very excited to be revealing soon,” Li said. “The women we picked really represent what we are going for with LADYPOINTS.”
Each of the team member’s identities as women and women of color has had a huge impact on their filmmaking and storytelling. Their friendship and collaboration through LADYPOINTS is partially fueled by their desire to work out the complicated experiences that come from their social identities.
“LADYPOINTS is a cathartic way for our team to deal with a lot of daily sexism, racism, and oppression we’ve faced on jobs working in the film industry and channel it in a constructive and positive way,” Wright said.
Knowles was drawn to the project because of her experience as an African American woman working in media and her desire to tell marginalized stories.
“When I began making my last film, Why Do You Have Black Dolls?, I wanted to tell a story that had never been told in a documentary and make the statement that black dolls are important for black children,” Knowles said. “In fact, when I was writing proposals to get funding, I often compared it to seeing the Cosby Show on TV as a young African American woman. To this day, I think about how incredibly powerful that show is. Not only does it feel good to be represented, but it also does a lot to empower you to pursue your passions. As I began screening the film at festivals, I had a lot of fantastic conversations with women, especially those of color, about how important this kind of representation is.”
One of the main missions of the webseries is to accurately portray women’s successes. Mainstream media often adheres to one definition of success, often analogous to money, power or fame, skewing society’s perception. A more diverse group of people making the decisions of who and what to portray in the media will produce a more accurate, multifaceted depiction of success. Shankar explains that there is an inaccurate portrayal of women in the media because men have become the “everyperson.”
“We come up with the terms ‘female superhero’ or ‘female detective’ because there is an implied norm of ‘male,’” Shankar said. “Men are also writing for women about women. Some might argue this is fine, as long as these men do their research. But even with all the research in the world, sexism still slips through the cracks because of a lack of knowledge about the female experience.”
“Women need to be the decision-makers and when someone says that something in the media is offensive, it shouldn’t be dismissed as hypersensitivity,” Li added.
The team has a more accurate and holistic view of success that they hope to show the audience in the webseries.
“My definition of success is the ability to pursue your passion, using your own barometer to determine what it means to be successful,” Knowles said.
“Defining success in your own terms means recognizing when the traditional paths to success and the definitions of success don’t fit for you and you choose to do work differently,” Li added. “Success for me has very little to do with money.”
Through storytelling and highlighting various women on LADYPOINTS, the team hopes to create lasting change because a good story has the power to demystify and connect.
“Storytelling has an amazing amount of power and I believe film is a medium that lets you amplify that power,” Wright said. “I see and use film as a tool for social change. I believe through telling marginalized stories on the silver screen you are able to humanize oppression and bring to light stories that people might otherwise dismiss if presented in other mediums like print.”
Indeed, the LADYPOINTS team is guaranteed to cause a butterfly effect by inspiring women to pursue their passions.
“I love the concept of changing the world by being yourself,” Wright said. “That’s one thing we highlight in LADYPOINTS; you don’t need to be the best, you just need to love what you’re doing and be passionate.”
For more information or to donate to the Kickstarter project, visit www.kickstarter.com/projects/kwright/ladypoints-the-webseries and ladypoints.tumblr.com.
Since the beginning, humankind has had an unquenchable thirst for exploring the unknown, orienting their discoveries by drawing maps. One Bay Area artist, Val Britton, uses both tangible and imaginary landscapes to explore our desire for imposing order in the chaos of space.
Now showing at the San Jose Institue of Contemporary Art, Britton’s Intimate Immensity is a mixed-media installation that uses the language of maps to depict physical landscapes and psychological spaces.
For Britton, art is a method for navigating the terrain of memory and imagination. Heavily influenced by her personal longing to connect with her deceased father, a cross-country truck driver, she combines her own abstraction of maps with routes he used to drive across the United States. The result is a meticulously crafted collection of works with a complex array of geometric spider webs.
Many of Britton’s pieces have a moody element, as though dark thoughts were lurking in the recesses of Britton’s consciousness while she created them. The colors used are rich and earthy, using metallic gray, rose and azure to highlight backgrounds and blank space. Trajectories wobble like roots or intertwined vines.
Britton’s most vivid piece, Celestial Wanderings, features brightly colored nebulas and star clusters. I was reminded of humankind’s insignificance in the vast, empty space of the cosmos and our attempt to carve out a small sliver of meaning by naming stars and galaxies.
The exhibit’s site-specific installation, The Continental Interior, consists of layered landmasses and exploding cutouts of atlases that hang from the ceiling like a giant mobile. Playing with depth and layering, Britton effectively takes maps out of their normal, two-dimensional plane.The installation is a dizzying array of tangled shapes, causing such a distorted sense of perception that I had to take a step back to reevaluate my sense of space.
After viewing the exhibit, I felt like I had a rare glimpse into a map of Britton’s mind, imagination and memory. Hauntingly beautiful, the exhibit left me with the impression that Britton has not gained solid closure to the past, reaffirming humankind’s perpetual search for meaning.
See Val Britton’s exhibit at the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art until May 18. For more information, visit www.sjica.org.
Armed with walking staffs and adorned with dildos, Viking helmets and wigs, Johanna “Silver” Poethig and Barbara “Bambi” Golden took to the stage of Berkeley Arts last week and promptly began to chant, “You’re not a woman! You’re a gaping cunt! Neanderthal, Neanderthal!” to the obvious pleasure of the crowd, who erupted in hooting and cheer. It was at this moment that I understood the longstanding popularity of the notorious duo known as WIGband. With a live show mixed with footage from past shows and video skits, WIGband celebrated the launch of their latest CD/Songbook release, WIGBAND: 4 DECADES 5 PRESIDENTS.
WIGband, created by Poethig and Golden in 1985, is an irreverent, feminist cabaret duo that has become a cornerstone of San Francisco’s performance art over the last four decades. Known for political satire and unabashed commentary on women’s issues, WIGband uses several different mediums during their performances, including film, song, slides and props to get their “trashy feminist” points across to the crowd.
WIGBAND: 4 DECADES 5 PRESIDENTS comes with 22 songs, vintage photos and other memorabilia, divided between political administrations from Reagan to Obama. Popular favorites include “Let’s Start a Disease”, “Clit Envy”, “Lick Me to Heaven” and “I Wanna Drive a Car in the U.A.R”.
The show had a number of crowd favorites, like “Trashy Girls”, a video featuring topless women in fishnets and lingerie drinking and smoking in the bathtub; “WIGband Incarcerated,” another video in which Bambi and Silver are locked up in shackles after the Homeland Purity Council accuses them of depravity, heresy, lack of patriotism and bad language.
The crowd was a rambunctious mixture of all ages, but most seemed to have a personal connection to the women, shouting, “Take it off!”, “Put it back on!” and “Sluts!” during WIGband’s on-stage costume changes to leopard-print bustiers and giraffe-print jackets.
This wild energy began to wane toward the middle of the show when WIGband turned to their more somber songs about politics and 9/11, demonstrating that perhaps vulgarity and crude humor — rather than political messages — is the real draw to the show. But the ladies strike a careful balance: for every song full of serious political criticism, there is another on the opposite end of the spectrum (where the ladies take every opportunity to yell raucous lyrics like, “Danielle Steel, show your tits!”).
Both women certainly appear to enjoy shocking people with a sort of “women behaving badly” kitsch; I felt that I had stumbled upon some sort of secret club group devoted to progressive performance arts and a boisterous time. But despite the crowd’s cliquey attitude (I was asked by several people “who I knew there”), WIGband has a way of immediately capturing your attention and intimately drawing you into their inner circle.
I left the show feeling uncertain whether there was genuine political sentiment behind WIGband, or if the act was merely an excuse for two women to do crazy things in the name of free expression.
Nevertheless, I found WIGband to be fearlessly over-the-top yet simultaneously intimate; neither Poethig nor Golden are afraid to delve into personal stories or touchy subjects. With this latest show, WIGband acted as a larger example that perhaps the best way to shed light on delicate political issues is to use humor: maintaining a careful balance between the serious and silly.
For more on WIGband, visit johannapoethig.com.
Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge is obsessed with words. Author of poemcrazy: freeing your life with words, which is currently in its 24th printing, Wooldridge works with adults, teachers and at-risk youth both privately and through the California Poets in Schools program. Her workshop are designed to cultivate artistic expression, and have changed the lives of countless students, who can now creatively express themselves through words.
Wooldridge uses many different techniques, but her teaching is almost always grounded in the notion of play. She begins by asking students to gather words, as many as they can, and make wordpools that they then share with each other. A favorite exercise is her “word ticket” exercise, where Wooldridge guides her students to find and cut out words from magazines and glue them to the back of tickets, which they can rearrange into poems.
“There is something beautiful about seeing the words in all different sizes, colors and font that is just beautiful,” Wooldridge said.
Although she has written her own poetry, Wooldridge doesn’t see herself as a poet.
“I don’t like being called a poet,” she said. “I don’t consider myself one.”
Rather, her work is bigger than just herself, since it helps others find their own voice and tap into unexpected sources of brilliance.
“I want to teach love and connection,” Wooldridge said. “I would love if art moved in that direction.”
I had the chance to talk to Wooldrige about her work. Warm and caring, Wooldridge expressed a genuine interest in Art Animal and my own personal writing. I immediately felt connected to her, as though she understood the driving passion that I have to write and express myself. (She pegged me immediately as a Pisces: a person connected intimately to the archetypal realms.) My favorite piece of her advice: “Your demons will start to evaporate, because they are imagined.”
Art Animal: I was so inspired by your ticket project. Can you talk a bit about that?
Susan Goldmsith Wooldbridge: There is something about the cut out words – writing them in your handwriting doesn’t have quite the same impact or authority. I think it’s our love of the printed word. When it’s our own handwriting, we are more critical, whereas when it’s printed, it’s coming from outside. It feels more separate, in a good way, like it’s a little message.
AA: You also teach people to make up words.
SGW: It’s wonderful to work with people and see them and break free from what they’ve been taught. I’ve found that when I bring in people like James Joyce with his famous and impeneratrable book, Finnegan’s Wake, people start to see how he is playing with language too. He calls “Romeo and Juliette” “Julio and Romiette!” It’s liberating to see Classical writers breaking rules like that.
AA: What do you do when you encounter someone who is resistant in your workshops?
SGW: It’s my favorite thing to work with people who are resistant. I’ve worked in juvenile halls and with emotionally unstable people — people who are literally petrified of expressing themselves because it’s always been used against them. Even reading a poem is scary to them. They think they are going to be asked questions and they won’t know the answers and they will feel inadequate. It’s weird what we’ve done to each other. So I tell them, “Steal words! As many as you can!” Without fail, people become mesmerized by gathering words. They don’t want to stop. They jump up and down, and spin, and shake the words out of their heads.
AA: Do you have any surprising moments that come out of your workshops?
SGW: I have so many surprising moments that I just am not surprised anymore. I just discover the brilliance of people. There was this one kid in juvenile hall: “I’m a brown gangster/ colliding with death/ I’m a rose/ Slamming love with hate.” That wouldn’t have come forth without the tickets. He wouldn’t have had that word slam, or collide. And they became his. The words become ours as we use them.
They jump up and down, and spin, and shake the words out of their heads.
AA: What made you start writing?
SGW: Well I was a very, very shy little girl. Reports from my teachers always would say that I didn’t participate. Forgive me, Papa, but I had an angry father and he would yell. He was very impatient. I became afraid to express myself. In classes, I would know the answers, but the idea of saying it out loud was terrifying and I would lose the thought. I was literally unable to speak, and it was a very big handicap. I had this freshman English teacher, Mr. Mabie, who assigned us a journal and encouraged us to write. He didn’t read it, so I felt free to write down the truth. The journal became my life, the only way I survived high school.
AA: Where do you get your inspiration?
SGW: Poems come from many different places for me. Sometimes it’s images. I often write when I’m driving because of the rush of images flying past. Sometimes I write out of my sleep, as if the words were being delivered when I was sleeping. That probably happens to you as well. There are many different levels of poetry. We aren’t always going deep enough. Sometimes we need to visit the dragons in the depths of our souls.
AA: What are the differences between the books you have written?
SGW: I have a small chapbook called Bathing with Ants, which is a collection of my poetry. Poemcrazy is focused on what I’ve learned about teaching writing in the workshops. I actually just did an Audible audiobook recording of that, which is exciting. My other book, Foolsgold, is more about the creative process.
People had this idea that I was this sort of free-spirit nymph, bouncing happily through the world, eternally joyful.
People had this idea that I was this sort of free-spirit nymph, bouncing happily through the world, eternally joyful. In Foolsgold, I wanted people to know what I’ve been through. I had a knock-down, drag-out mental breakdown when I was 20. I mean, I was classified a paranoid schizophrenic. I was locked up for months. This happened during the Vietnam era, when I was in New York trying to write a thesis. The man I thought I was going to marry was sent to Vietnam. The Vietnam War messed with my generation in a big way. It was the best thing that could have ever happened to me, though. I would have a very different life if it hadn’t happened. My creative process helped me express myself and get through it all.
AA: What was it like to have a mental breakdown?
SGW: It was pretty unreal. I was completely conscious, and I remember everything. I became extraordinarily paranoid. I thought everything was centered on me. I was locked up in this asylum and shot full of drugs against my will, and I would hear these dogs barking. And it turned out they were doing animal experiments below me, which is horrible to think about. But I was convinced the dogs were search parties looking for me. It was classic, neurotic behavior. I thought there were cameras in drinking fountains. I was a crazy person, but I also wasn’t, if that makes any sense.
AA How did you get out of that state?
SGW: I wonder how much is destiny. My soul and spirit are very strong. I realized that all that really mattered to me was healing and love. It really taught me that none of us can really help our thinking. I faked it to get out of the hospital, and then I focused on nature, freedom, moving to California and healing. Healing became number one. I still am a depressed person. I have anxiety and dread. I’m helped by spiritual healing, things like A Course in Miracles. But having gone through all that helps me connect with the kids in juvenile hall, and with other people. I can tell them that I know what it’s like to be locked up too.
AA: Do you have certain images or themes that come up in your poetry now?
I was this nonstop faucet of poetry until poemcrazy came out.
SGW: I was this nonstop faucet of poetry until poemcrazy came out. And it was almost like since I was expected to be a poet, I couldn’t write. And then the man that inspired me to be a poet, Mr. Mabie, resurfaced in my life and became this crazy love. He fell in love with this woman who wrote poemcrazy and dedicated the book to him. It was quite the love story. He is this fabulous, wild and difficult man, and we are still in touch even now. Something about our relationship at the time stopped me from writing poetry. I’m just getting back to it, partly because I have this grandson now, little Liam, who inspires me. His favorite thing to do is throw his hands in the air and exclaim, “I dunno!” every time you ask him a question. It’s like Socrates once said, “All I know is that I know nothing.” I call Liam my Blessing Boy.
AA: Do you feel it is important to share poetry with others, or is it a private process?
SGW: There are certainly different opinions on this. Someone once said that he didn’t believe a poem existed until it was shared. And yet often we are just getting messages for ourselves that we don’t always have to share. A poem is a gift to another person, yet we don’t always understand what we are giving. A poem allows you to express secrets. They are a form of communication between souls and spirits. Though maybe I should just say what little Liam says, “I dunno!”
AA: Any last words to Art Animal readers?
SGW: I want people to know how profoundly creative each one of us is. As the poet Robert Bly said, “You came into this world as a radiant package of cosmic wonders, as an unspeakably sublime bolt of primordial resonance, as a barely coalesced jumbled of blinding beauty – and all your parents wanted was a good little girl or a good little boy.” People don’t believe their own innocence and beauty unless it’s demonstrated to them by themselves.
For more about Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge, visit her website at www.susanwooldridge.com.
Dottie Attie is a postmodern appropriation artist, borrowing from iconic figure paintings from Old Masters such as Caravaggio, Eakins and Ingres. Suggestive or ironic text is incorporated into the compositions, which now seem provocative and sexually charged, forcing the viewer to think critically about gender politics in the art. The ambiguous juxtapositions critique class, privilege, colonialism and nineteenth century Europeans’ fascination with Orientalism and the exotic.
Attie’s picture book, Sometimes a Traveler/There Lived in Egypt is one such work which examines nineteenth century Europeans’ obsession with the Orient, and is currently on display at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University through June 16, 2013.
Sometimes a Traveler/There Lived in Egypt is a small, square book of 16 black-and-white lithographs cased in two pieces of vellum with overlaid text, reminiscent of a children’s picture book. One overlay is printed with the artist’s commentary; the second overlay has excerpts from “The Husband and the Parrot” from The Arabian Nights. Each page in the book is displayed separately in a row along two walls of a small corner room on the second floor of the Cantor Arts Center, and could easily be overlooked in the museum’s halls.
Attie appropriated two iconic Orientalist paintings from French artist Jean-Auguste Dominque Ingres (1780-1867): Odalisque with Slave (1842) and The Turkish Bath (1862). In Odalisque with Slave, the odalisque, or female member of a harem, reclines nude while a slave girl plays on a lute and a black eunuch stands guard, presenting ambiguous erotic relationships. The Turkish Bath depicts dozens of nude women and eunuchs in an exotic bath scene. The figures’ closeness and touching of one another increases the eroticism of the scene. The painting is bordered by a circular frame, creating a voyeuristic peephole effect into their private world.
Both of Ingres’ paintings were inspired by the writings of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689 – 1762), an aristocrat and writer, who in 1717 accompanied her husband on a two-year trip to Turkey. At the time, many eighteenth century European men, denied access to private female quarters in the Orient, imagined highly sexualized lesbian fantasies, and Lady Montagu’s detailed descriptions of nude Oriental beauties caused her letters to be widely read and published. Lady Montagu attempted to correct these fantasies in her writing by desexualizing the scenes, but Ingres resexualized that world through his voyeuristic paintings.
Attie critiques Ingres’ sexualization of the Orient in Sometimes a Traveler/There Lived in Egypt by invoking the sense of voyeurism in her work. Instead of peering through a peephole, though, the viewer must piece together fragmented images. Each square is viewed gradually, slowing the process, making the viewer complicit in the voyeurism.
Attie couples these fragmented images with two seemingly unrelated narratives which require close analysis to understand the connection to the work. The first narrative is made up of excerpts from “The Husband and the Parrot” from The Arabian Nights, a story about how a wife tricks her husband into believing his parrot is lying about the wife’s infidelity.
The second narrative is Attie’s own, spaced out over the 16 lithographs: “Sometimes a traveler in a foreign land (where customs and mores are unfamiliar) will, while hurrying through the market or riding past the high windowed wall of palace gardens, glimpse at the periphery of vision something so unexpected, so unimagined, or hear a sound so low, so poignant, the impression never fades.”
The seemingly unrelated images and excerpts on each of the lithographs requires the viewer to fill in her own meaning and connect the dots as to why Attie placed that particular bit of text with that image. As the exhibit notes, “This process ultimately reveals more about viewers’ inner worlds and beliefs than does the exterior world observed.” The addition, the vellum creates opacity to the pieces, nicely adding to the sense of ambiguity and necessity for interpretation.
Attie also seems to be commenting on the nature of perception and memory. Her work suggests that we attach certain meaning to the unexpected and misunderstood, just as nineteenth century Europeans did with the Orient. We take for granted the ordinary things we encounter daily, but a slight variation from routine causes us to attach special and deeper meaning in our memories. However, like the parrot, our perception of what happened has the potential to be false. Thus arises a paradox of perception with this piece: Attie invites the viewer to fill in her own meaning, but warns against the potential fallacy of the meaning provided.
Sometimes a Traveler/There Lived in Egypt runs through June 16, 2013 at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University. To learn more, visit museum.stanford.edu
Amy Casey paints complex cities on the verge of collapse or destruction. Little box houses on stilts are stacked precariously up on top of each other, or hang by nets and rope above an empty void. Thin roads wind around the unstable worlds like ribbon. The paintings are devoid of inhabitants, as if some apocalyptic disaster had ravaged the land. In some works, tentacle-like pink and blue vines weave themselves through the towns, hinting at nature’s unstoppable forces.
Casey describes her work as “landscapes without the land.” The industrial landscape of steel mills and urban city life in Cleveland is reflected in her paintings, though what really makes her work stand apart is that she has poignantly captured one of the domineering mindframes of modern times: uncertainty and unease about the future. Influenced by the barrage of natural disasters and economic crises in recent years, Casey’s work delicately addresses the growing sense of fragility, instability and destitution throughout the nation.
By painting these instable worlds, though, Casey manages to exert some control over precarious situations. She tries to adhere to the physical laws of nature to give some semblance of order to her constructs. The need for community support is highlighted in her paintings, as the cities hang together with tenuous threads. Unravel one, and the whole scene would fall into disaster.
Art critic Douglas Max Utter has called her one of the “most accomplished painters of her generation currently showing anywhere in the US.”
Casey earned her BFA in painting from the Cleveland Institute of Art, and has shown work nationally with solo shows in Cleveland, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco. She has an upcoming solo show this spring with Zg Gallery in Chicago and Foley Gallery in New York City in the fall. Her work has been published in the New York Times, Juxtapoz, Hi Fructose, and Harper’s Magazine.
Art Animal was thrilled that Casey took time from her busy schedule to discuss her work.
AA: Tell me a little bit about how your art has progressed over time.
AC: When I started studying painting at 18, I was obsessed with painting old ladies. I can follow a line of logical progression from those old lady paintings to my work today. I sort of chew on ideas until they change into something else. Some painting subjects have more bites than others. Over the past few years my work has been getting tighter and tighter; I am waiting for a moment when a whole painting just implodes, and it looks like a speck of paint in the middle of the paper.
AA: What is your personal philosophy? How does this play into your art?
AC: I tend to follow the path of least resistance. Not necessarily the least difficult path, but there seems to be a natural flow in my life and I go with it. I try not to busy myself thinking about what other people are doing or things I can’t do or didn’t receive. I just take what I do have and do the best that I can with it. I think my work follows a similar flow; I sort of stand back and watch how the narrative unfolds. Also, I feel that my work blossomed when I accepted that certain things I had at different points perceived as flaws in my work (such as the flatness of my work, the fact I am not very painterly, my strong draw towards narratives, my tendency towards local color) are just part of me as a painter, and that is fine.
AA: There definitely is a sense of local color in your work. I read about how you describe yourself as a “Rust Belt Romantic.” How has your background influenced your work? Do you feel you romanticize urban landscapes?
AC: I will never live that one down! I said that during a conversation with a filmmaker about how I am inspired by the sort of post-industrial landscape we have going on in the Midwest. I live close to a steel mill, and I used to include those and other things of an industrial nature in my work, although I have gotten away from that a bit.
The rust belt romantic description was more of a personal reflection and not necessarily something I try hard to achieve in my work. Because I draw on the landscape around me, of course, local landscape will shape my work. However, I do pick and choose what I include and leave out. I don’t feel my landscapes are a true representation of local architecture, which is way more varied than my paintings. Whether they are romantic or dark in the end, I will let the viewer feel what they will. I don’t want to lead people. I find it revealing when people tell me which way the paintings make them feel.
AA: Perhaps it’s revealing about me, then, that I find some of your paintings dark, other works have more surreal or Dr. Seuss-like tones.
AC: I think like with Dr. Seuss, you have to be grounded in something. His books always had a kind of lesson in them, didn’t they? I try to not go completely off the rails and to keep to at least a few physical laws and things that will help my communities. I try to factor in gravity, and cause and effect. It doesn’t always work, though, and it always annoys me when I realize something in one of my paintings truly doesn’t make any sense at all. For instance, I won’t paint cities that are truly floating because I think, what the heck, are they filled with helium? Are the people in the houses talking in squeaky helium voices? Things have to be held up by something. Of course, I take a lot of liberties with the idea of “making sense.” By the by, I still read Oh the Places You Go sometimes. It can be a great comfort when the Hakken-Kraks howl.
AA: In your work, the cities you imagine almost become animate creatures. Can you talk more about this?
AC: This is totally right on. I see the buildings as sort of characters. Sometimes people ask me why they are so empty, and while I understand where they are coming from, I don’t find them empty at all. I used to include little creatures in the paintings, but at some point, I felt more empathy with the buildings and it felt like the characters were just there out of habit. The scale was getting larger so the characters got smaller and smaller and I didn’t want to make my own version of Where’s Waldo — finding teeny characters in a city — and eventually I left them behind. I love the idea of a living city.
AA: Your work seems to focus on the hidden or tenuous connections between things. Do you feel people take this for granted?
AC: I think it’s natural to ignore these things until connections snap and you see what you’ve been missing. Like neighbors. We are aware of our neighbors, especially when they are noisy or annoying. We see them every day. But I think it’s easy to take them for granted until you go to a place where people have moved out or been foreclosed in droves, and the community and civilization of the place seems to be broken.
AA: Do you feel more unease in today’s world, or is it all relative?
AC: I think it is all relative, and times have always been turbulent (even when there weren’t any humans!) You can sample world history and find nearly endless terrible scenarios that existed that must have been worse than what we deal with today. But I think we are obviously way more aware of things now, and it’s very human to try to see trends or patterns in events.
AA: Some of your work features vines coming up through the rubble. Do you think Mother Nature will always win in the end?
AC: Well, yes, the planet will long outlive humans. It existed billions of years before us. I hate that it has to be a war. My feelings constantly change about it. I’d say in work from 2005-2008 I was much more thinking about crisis and conflict, and lately I want to embrace nature as part of the city again.
AA: What do you think is humanity’s greatest challenge?
AC: We are our own worst enemies. If anything is going to take us down, it will be us.
Singaporean artist Sookoon Ang has a gift for shedding new light on the same old stories of the human condition. Her work addresses the physical and metaphysical aspects of common objects and occurrences, finding poetic and sublime qualities in our ordinary existence. Highly talented in several different mediums, she creates sculptural installations, paintings, drawings and animated video shorts, often flirting with darker emotions and themes to craft works of art that transcend their origin.
In Say Hi to Forever, Ang used familiar images of My Little Pony, a symbol of childhood idealism and optimism, and dropped them into sharp and angular landscapes. The landscapes are reminiscent of M.C. Escher’s drawings of infinitely trapped spaces, echoing the landscapes of depressed minds and evoking sentiments of adult disillusionment.
In her installation, Waves/Waifs, Ang created brooms made from blonde wigs. The result was surreal. Luxurious golden locks of hair lay on the dirty floor, raising questions about metaphysical duality and the intersection of beauty, indulgence and utility.
One of her most well-known series, Your Love is Like A Chunk of Gold, features decaying bread growing crystals from ammonium phosphate, like crystal mold. The bread is a familiar item: a comfort food. The crystal growth, however, makes it seem strange and treacherous. Ang gleaned inspiration from author Jeanette Winterson who wrote, “Nothing could be more familiar than love. Nothing else eludes us so completely.” Similar to the experience of love, Ang’s bread becomes an oxymoronic object of familiarity and strangeness, comfort and pain.
As Ang describes, “Making art is like telling a love story or composing a love song. There are endless love stories told and love songs sung. When I make art, I ask myself how I can tell the same old story of the human experience in a new way.”
Art Animal: Where do you get inspiration for your work?
Sookoon Ang: I used to get my inspiration mostly from literature because it conjures a lot of mental imagery. Now, I spend TONS of time looking at blogs & Tumblr.
I enjoy looking at images clipped from all sorts of sources. I enjoy them better than pictorial books where tastemakers carefully select what’s good and what’s not in their opinions.
AA: Describe your process when creating. Is it an emotional experience for you?
SA: I spend a lot of time thinking, pondering, looking and sleeping on ideas. So much so that sometimes I appear to be lazy and idling even to myself. It is an emotional process, though. I am paranoid about running out of ideas. I don’t have a nice filing cabinet full of ideas A-Z to use at my fancy. When I have one, I play out the idea in my mind. I tend to it gently and dislike discussing the work before it is realized because any sort of negative remark may cause me to lose love or enthusiasm for it. It’s that sensitive.
AA: It seems like you tend to juxtapose opposites in your work.
SA: There is no one way of seeing things. It’s important to try to see as much facets as possible to get a better picture.
AA: Your work seems disarmingly honest in many ways, especially your portrayals of human emotions and reactions. Are you trying to shock people with your work?
SA: Honesty is probably more explicit than violence or pornography these days.
AA: What is your personal philosophy?
SA: No guts, no glory. You need guts — courage to face critiques, rejections and failures — to make art.
AA: How has your art progressed over time? Have you had any major realizations or breakthroughs?
SA: I think it used to be more self-indulgent. I’m not saying that self-indulgent works are bad, though. Henry Darger’s In the Realms of the Unreal is superbly self-indulgent, yet fascinating at the same time. Now, I’m interested in all sorts of subject matters, and when I find one that catches my interest, I’ll think about how to incorporate it into my work. Major breakthroughs like Pollack taking on action painting? I think even that was a slow and painful process of unearthing rather than breaking through. Breakthroughs probably happen when people rub their eyes and suddenly see value in your work that was previously disregarded. You can’t just jump from nothing to something unless it is divine intervention.
AA: I read somewhere you had delusions of grandeur growing up. What has art taught you about that?
SA: Never trade magic for fact. There are no trade-backs.
AA: What do you think is the biggest challenge for humanity in the coming future?
SA: Being conscious. We can’t be trapped mindlessly as workers and consumers, yet our education is rigged that way.
For more information about Sookoon Ang and her work, visit her website at www.sookoonang.com.
When was the last time you meditated? The last time you took a moment for yourself to clear your mind of all the idle chatter and useless dialogue? The last time you focused on something other than your job, your to-do list or the current drama in your life? Dharma Strasser MacColl’s latest exhibit, Interlace, currently on display at Traywick Contemporary in Berkeley, California, helps you do just that, inviting you to pause and take a moment for yourself.
Strasser MacColl’s works on paper incorporate porcelain, silk thread, felt and gouache to create sculptural patterns and delicate lace-like cutouts. She starts with handmade and hand-dyed Nepalese Lokta paper, tearing down and piecing together blocks of color with careful stitching. She then plays with negative and positive space, cutting out geometric patterns and stitching small porcelain discs and beads together to create intricate arrangements.
Interlace is Strasser MacColl’s second solo show at Traywick Contemporary. The gallery makes its home in a converted Masonic temple, and chose to work with the existing architecture during renovations so that the space resembles a modern, sophisticated living room, dining room and kitchen area with a showroom floor. The home décor of Traywick Contemporary allows viewers to have a more comfortable, intimate, and relaxed encounter with the work than a more minimalistic gallery.
Aside from Strasser MacColl, the gallery is currently displaying David Sleeth’s installation, Drift, a collection of large sculptures made from fixed-together cardboard and carved to resemble wood — a nice balance to Strasser MacColl’s organic designs.
Strasser MacColl’s work examines the combination of seemingly contradictory elements: materials that appear simultaneously hard and soft, negative and positive space, the constructed and the organic. Visual resting places and moments of quiet reflection and meditation are interspersed into her work as well. In her piece, Clearing, hundreds of tiny white porcelain beads are sewn into Lokta paper, resulting in a hybrid drawing-sculpture piece that resembles white grainy sand or pebbles, and blurs two-dimensional and three-dimensional boundaries. An untouched section of brown paper rests amidst the porcelain beads; this cleared space acts as a mental pause, inviting the viewer to fill in their own possibilities about the piece.
Indeed, Strasser MacColl’s work is an exploration of Ma, the Japanese word for “the space between.” It is only through pause that form has, well, form. A popular example lies with music. It is only the pause between notes, however slight, that gives a piece any sort of composition. With material objects, it is the negative space that gives form to the positive space: one cannot exist without the other. In meditation, the goal is to be aware of the space between the thoughts, and to cultivate pauses in the constant mental noise.
Strasser MacColl has a unique ability to create pieces that simultaneously resemble multiple and paradoxical objects, adding different layers of dimensionality to the constructs. In Orange Interlace, Strasser MacColl highlights this negative space through lace-like patterns that resemble flower bursts and bubbles. The orange color throughout the piece is reminiscent of Buddhist monk robes and evokes a striking yet calming tone. Another piece, Stone Lace, is entirely focused on the negatie space of the cutouts, resembling mosaic patterns or even scattered seeds on the earth.
Strasser MacColl’s work also examines fluidity and subtle movement. Some of her pieces resemble strings of freshwater pearls, or perhaps dew upon spider webs. In Suspend III, the eye naturally follows the arc of the dangling strings, set against a blue backdrop, sweeping through the piece and creating a sense of calm through the eye’s motion. In Small Transmit, a starburst pattern set against a moss-green background, the eye naturally jumps to each of the grey and white porcelain disks radiating out from the center of the circular form, like skips of stone on water, fading as they get further away from the initial impact before being drawn once again to the center.
Ultimately, though, Strasser MacColl’s pieces are visual mediations, jumping between form and non-form to create a profound awareness of “the gap:” the fleeting moment “in between.” The result is a peaceful repose and an escape for the mind from the stresses of everyday life, adding a rich sense of meaning to the ability to pause.
Interlace runs through March 9 at Traywick Contemporary. Visit www.traywick.com for more information about Dharma Strasser MacColl and her work.
To most people, a spatula is just a spatula. But to sculptural artist Sayaka Ganz, kitchen utensils are discarded orphans who deserve a second life. Drawing upon the Shinto belief that all objects have spirits, Ganz creates impressive animal sculptures using salvaged plastic housewares, breathing life into the objects by discovering how they all fit together.
Her work is quietly powerful, depicting various animals in motion, and beautifully evoking sentiments of longing and harmony. Up close, the individual objects stand apart from one another in a chaotic jumble. But from afar, the plastic objects blend together giving the sculptures immutable intensity.
Ganz collects her material from thrift stores, donations and even dumpsters. She organizes the objects by color into several different bins, and once she has enough of a certain color, she begins the planning process to depict the movement of a specific animal. She studies pictures of the animals from different angles to design the structure and joints, and then welds an armature out of metal for structural support. Only then does she start securing the plastic objects into the armature with wire, placing them together like puzzle pieces to bring her animals to life.
Although she creates sculptures of many different types of animals, her most impressive pieces are her black and white horses, which seem to leap through the wall like equine phantoms. It is hard to believe that these sculptures are created from everyday, ordinary objects such as coat hangers and serving spoons since each of her pieces have such spirit and unassuming ferocity.
By creating beautiful pieces from the discarded material, Ganz helps the objects transcend their origin. She does not condone the use of plastics; instead, she hopes to reduce waste by reanimating these objects into beautiful works of art.
Ganz took a break from preparing for her latest show, “Danze Della Natura”, in Cecina, Italy, to speak to Art Animal about her work.
AA: How has your background influenced your work?
SG: I spent my early childhood in Japan, and was influenced by the Shinto beliefs that all objects have spirits. Nowadays there are more and more disposable items that we forget about. It makes me so sad to see them thrown away. I feel like they are orphans. My work gives these objects new life.
AA: Why do you focus on animals, instead of other natural objects like trees?
SG: I want people to sympathize with the objects, and I feel it’s easier for people to relate to animals. We project our emotions on to them. You look at a dog being mistreated and your heart breaks. Some people feel that way about trees, but it’s definitely stronger with animals. I think people even sympathize more with animals than people sometimes.
AA: You also sculpt mythical creatures, like the Asian dragon. Is there a special significance to the dragon?
SG: Dragons have always been very special to me. I was born in the year of the dragon. It is a very intriguing mystical creature, and very powerful. It is similar to the phoenix, rising from the ashes and defeating gravity. I’ve always been intrigued with flight.
AA: Switching gears here, congrats on your upcoming show in Italy. It seems like most of your work now is either invited shows or private commissions. Was it hard to get work shown when you first started?
SG: Well, it depends on when you think my starting point was. I was making other forms of sculpture before I started working with plastic. By the time I got to plastics, I was used to the rejection. It didn’t seem like a big challenge. I would get in about half the time to shows I applied for. Now, though, I haven’t had to apply to anything in a long time. Opportunities come to me. For many years, that wasn’t the case.
AA: Do you have any advice to young artists just starting out?
SG: Don’t let setbacks keep you from working. The first time you apply to a show is probably the hardest. You have to work through the rejection to desensitize yourself. The rejections get smaller the more you apply just by the sheer volume, and they mean less and less.
AA: How has your work progressed over the years?
SG: My early work was done mostly in metal. It was heavy, mostly sculptural installation pieces, and I couldn’t do any that hung from ceilings because of the weight. I sculpted animals like I do now, but they were motionless animals, or animals just about to walk. They weren’t like my pieces now that feature fast motion. When I first started using plastic, I started experimenting with the objects. Many of the plastic objects I use are linear and streamlined, which is great for motion lines. They almost look like brush strokes on my pieces. The motion lines make my sculptures come alive.
AA: Is it difficult to depict motion?
SG: Well, it is easier to depict speedy motion than slow motion. For example, if a fish is swimming in the water and not swimming very fast, that is very difficult because of the line of motion and the way the water looks around the fish. The fish just looks still. It’s difficult to picture and express. But if there is a clear direction, then it’s clear to me where to put the motion lines.
AA: Most the objects you work with seem to be kitchen utensils. Why is that?
SG: Well, I started with kitchen utensils in graduate school. I was already working with scrap metal, and I randomly picked up a bag of kitchen utensils that I found. They looked like the type of shapes that I used already with the scrap metal, like gardening tools such as trowels. Spatulas and spoons have a similar shape, and work well for streamlining the pieces.
AA: Do you have a favorite object to work with?
SG: I love serving forks and coat hangers!
AA: Up close, you can see the individual plastic objects, but from afar, the pieces really do look like animals. How do you achieve this cohesiveness with the different objects you use?
SG: A lot of what goes into creating that cohesiveness has to do with the direction I place the objects. I work until I find the right fit. I do bend some of the plastic with a heat gun, but I think over all I only alter like 10% of the objects I use. I don’t feel like I need to control each individual object to the point where I am molding everything specifically. When you look at my sculptures, you see the way things fit isn’t really perfect. Some other artists make sculptures with such precision that the connection points are completely seamless. My sculptures don’t do that on purpose. When I align the objects, I see these gaps, and the negative space becomes an interesting visual element. It starts to seem like people working together. Sometimes when we are working together in a group, there are many disagreements, but we can still work towards the same goal. Looking from a distance, sometimes the disagreements don’t matter. I like to think of the way the objects fit together in my sculptures as a metaphor for human connectedness and for life.
For more information about Sayaka Ganz, visit www.sayakaganz.com.