My Time In Wassaic
Please write a paragraph (or a few!) about your time here in Wassaic. You should say a bit about yourself, where you came from, how you got here, what media you like to work in typically, and what you chose to work on while you were here in Wassaic. Then talk about what Wassaic means to you, how it influenced your work, and what you might want others to know about Wassaic. Write from the heart and write in natural language. We want people to get to know you through this work. Be sure to embed hyperlinked words within these body paragraphs, so that we can link out to your portfolio site, exhibitions, movements, etc. Have fun with this!
By Joe Brommel, July 2018
I want to pick up on the idea of your work as a site-specific response. I like how you put it: that each new space is a “problem to solve.” What is the problem to solve in this space for you?
Usually I will start with an idea. This is my second project that deals with red tide: the algae that blooms in the sea, and then affects shellfish, fish, so that they become poisonous. It's something bad that goes in and conquers the space, but is actually part of nature.
So that is the whole idea. And then my problem is how to go into a space without making it more of a design. I have to respond to the space in a way that will be organic, so that I'm not actually decorating. I like to create forms that are not very still — like a tide and the way that it moves.
That’s particularly interesting for a space as organic as this one. It's one thing to respond to a gallery space, but another to respond to an open-air barn — especially given that you have the studio space nearest to the outdoors. Can you say a little bit about how that has influenced the piece?
So it took me day or two days to really start affixing my twine, because I want to do it without adding any screws, nails, or fixing element. Everything here already existed — the knob, the end points where I put my my twine, were done by another person before. So my entry to the space is actually done already, and it's like my body is responding to a given situation or a site rather than destroying or making a mark on the space. Holding and tying the space together is me leaving a mark. And then when I leave it’s still invisible in a way. Like water: when it goes to an area it just passes.
Let's go more into the idea of your body — how do you conceive of this not just as a space to be responded to by your practice in general but by you and your body in particular?
I was telling everyone this: the width of the strips in the piece are the width of my tongue. And the length of each strip is the length of my arm — when you learn how to sew, everyone knows it has to be the length of your arm so that you don’t make a mistake. So in a way, my body is part of the installation of the sculpture.
There also seems to be this idea of deliberate impermanence in your work. I think sometimes art is conceived of as something that, in its ideal form, is lasting. But it seems like you revel in the fact that this is a momentary installation. Can you talk a little bit about how this is not just a response to a space, but also to a time? And to a time in the future when this won’t be here?
Yeah. I define art as part of life. Art is life. I was a painter before, but I was always trapped in the canvas, in the rectangular square. Getting out of that structure, I was more more free to explore. I don't think what will happen, I don't think how it would sell — I'm just exploring. It was tough when I realized that I wouldn't be able to keep the work, but not having it permanent is equally satisfying for me now. Art is life. You have to grow. It has to be destroyed. There’s life, there’s death; there’s birth, rebirth. My background is design and architecture so if I just draw it, it will be destroyed and I will not experience it. My work is more about labor — about toiling and doing manual labor and then experiencing that satisfaction and joy.
Can you say a little bit more about how your background as an interior designer and architect has influenced your practice today? In the past it seems like you were expected to have a much more planned-out response to spaces, whereas now that process is the art itself.
I think it helps. I was ignoring it before because of the idea that design and art are enemies. But I know how to deal with space — I smell the space, I hear it. But in interior design there’s a client, there's a need, there’s always a function. In art, it’s more emotional, more spiritual. There might be a need, but it's not usually function.
That's interesting: the idea of art as a rejection of a space necessarily needing to serve a function. How do you want your work — or even this piece in particular — to come across to a viewer who's used to experiencing more expressly functional spaces?
I want people to experience not only the installation itself but the whole space, because it's an intervention of the space. I felt that while people were viewing it in open studios they were actually looking at the space more. I want people to go and to touch it, but I don't dictate that you enter immediately or touch it. There's no requirements or instruction.
Personally, when I was making it I was looking at the ceiling, the doors, the height of the space, how the tables and chairs are reacting. But I didn’t measure everything. I knew what shape I would love to do: my previous project was a rectangle, and then I just wanted to split it into two triangles — and then there should be a tension, an interaction. So I start with the materials and the shape, but the exact form depends on the space that I’ll intervene into. And that not knowing is exciting. Like, this piece wouldn’t work if it were in a wide cube. It would come out as decoration. There's no history — it would be weak.
Interesting. It’s often an unspoken — or, really, spoken — rule when experiencing pieces of art that you don't touch them. But you enjoy when people walk up and touch the work?
Yeah, I enjoyed it. It was very organic. And in the space the twine keeps winding up by itself and creating these vines — I think because of the heat and humidity.
And how do you feel that this piece will serve as a touchpoint for a future piece? You mentioned that your previous work was based off a rectangle, which led to wanting to work with a triangle. But the progression from there seems less obvious, because if you divide a triangle you just get another two triangles.
Yeah, I was evaluating how I thought about these two projects. I was mostly responding to and solving issues about forms and structures. Now I want to go more into the materiality of the objects. I love to use twines, and the paper in this piece is a combination of art paper and recycled shopping bags. But I think I want to go more specific with the materials or the papers that I’m actually weaving — maybe based on personal history, or my newfound home in the US, or Singapore and the Philippines. Not moving away from forms, but evolving.
Photos by Walker Esner