My Time In Wassaic
Wassaic is my home away from home. I always feel a special sense of ease and belonging when I step off the train at the Wassaic station. I lived in the hamlet for four summers working as the Wassaic Project’s Exhibition and Festival Director, and since then have been an artist-in-residence, exhibition artist, and editions artist. I feel lucky to have found a community of people who are thoughtful and rigorous in their approach to art but also kind, open, and fun-loving. I’m especially excited about my most recent project: a site-specific installation in Maxon Mills called Anti-Stairs Club Lounge, a space exclusively for visitors who cannot or choose not to go upstairs. This project is part of my recent body of work that aims to foster playful, creative, and generous accessibility strategies.
By Lucy Commoner, May 2018
You have been involved with the Wassaic Project for a number of years, including your position as the Exhibitions and Festival Director for the organization. How has your engagement with the Wassaic Project impacted your practice?
The Wassaic Project has impacted my work in so many ways! As someone who was just starting out (I began working at the Wassaic Project after college in 2011 and continued working there through 2014), it was invaluable to meet so many artists. At that point, I had a general sense that I wanted to be an artist, but I had no idea what that meant in a day-to-day practical way. Through the Wassaic Project, I was exposed to the wide range of ways people are making it work.
Your work often involves the manipulation of text (such as the stepped font you invented for the Anti-Stairs Club Lounge) and the pairing of sentences expressing opposite thoughts. A quiet humor also seems to be part of this work. How did the text focus in your practice develop?
For a long time, all of my work was abstract. The work came from a very personal place, but I felt like viewers had a hard time accessing that. The transition to text was about being more direct, open, and vulnerable. It also allowed me to put more humor into the work. I’m still very interested in shapes and patterns, so when I use text I’m also thinking about how the letters come together formally.
Many of your drawings have a meditative quality in the use of repeated patterns. How do you experience the creation of these pieces?
I find that part of my process extremely relaxing. Once I’ve decided on a plan for a piece, I pause my own self-criticism until the piece is finished. The time I spend drawing feels very carefree — I use it to listen to music or catch up on my favorite TV shows.
Your artwork includes a large body of drawings and also installation work. How do you view Anti-Stairs Club Lounge fitting into your practice in general?
Anti-Stairs Club Lounge is definitely a new direction for me. Disability has always been part of how I conceptualize my work, but I’ve gradually become more comfortable being vocal about my experience as a disabled person. I started working on a series of text drawings that are about my thoughts/feelings/memories about my disability. Together, the drawings form a self-portrait or autobiography. As I was making those drawings, I thought of the primary audience as other disabled people. Similarly, Anti-Stairs Club Lounge is a project made with a disabled viewer in mind. In this case, it is someone with a mobility-related disability.
What is the genesis of your current installation and what insights/feelings would you like an observer to take away from this installation?
For visitors who can’t go upstairs, this piece will help mitigate a practical problem about the inaccessibility of Maxon Mills: those who cannot or choose not to go upstairs sometimes have to wait on the ground floor while their friends or family tour the upstairs. I want to make their experience of the exhibition richer and more fun, adding to their stay on the ground floor. My intent is that the experience also operates on a metaphorical level saying to those visitors, “You are welcome and valued here.”
Visitors who go to the upper floors of the Mill are not allowed in the lounge. My intent is that the experience of missing out on part of the exhibition prompts them to think about access more generally.
Photos by Verónica González Mayoral