A lot of your recent work takes serious situations like floods and hurricanes and reframes them as sites for play. Can you talk about the role of play in your work more broadly?
I feel like everything started from my interest in adventure playgrounds. They’re a phenomenon from the time after World War Two — in England and Denmark, architects noticed that the kids were playing not at the playgrounds but in bomb holes. So they created adventure playgrounds, which were basically these variable, evolving spaces where the kids could go and get dirty and get lost. At one point, they called them “junk playgrounds.” Conceptually, to me, that conversion of something negative into a positive is charged with some kind of wishful thinking and hope, and is a way to deal with traumas, too. On another hand, play is a creative mode. There’s a theory of loose parts associated with free play — in a conventional playground everything is tied down or fixed because there are a lot of regulations and safety concerns, but if you have a place where things are loose, are not connected, you have numerous creative solutions, right?
A lot of my work is borrowing from these concepts and philosophies, but also I create my own situations. Authentic experience is very important: that's why I start from scratch. I can make a playground in my house. Or I create a set which looks like a living space outside the house, and set things in certain places so the participants can interact with them and navigate the space. That’s also borrowed from adventure playgrounds: there are people who are called “play workers,” and they are there to observe the kids playing from a distance and not intervene, but just place certain things — like props, almost — for them to find and play with, and get lost. I’m just looking at it as a model — borrowing from that, I am creating my own situations.
Is that unsupervised space for interaction something you try and bring to your exhibitions? I'm thinking about how a lot of times when you go into a gallery or museum space, there's a tacit direction that you're supposed to take through the exhibition, if not an explicit one.
Yeah, I almost always work with the architecture of the space. My work is mostly site-specific. I also like to obliterate the space, in a way — the work is a lot larger than life. It can be a transformative experience, immersive, if you want. Interaction is sometimes part of it, sometimes not, but I like to create this kind of overwhelming space where people have to change the way they navigate a regular gallery situation.
And because I’m a mother, I often think about how to involve kids in my work, including the exhibition setting. In one of my shows at A.I.R. in Brooklyn, I created an area for kids where images from the show were printed into coloring books. So this was an entry point for them. It was also a way for the parents to be there with their kids. Because many times people get excluded from prime opening time: which is 6 to 8, when kids are going to bed. We’ve hired babysitters at the openings, too.
In Wassaic, I find this inclusion very well done. I was here with my child and my husband, and the way the residency is designed is very appropriate for people with kids.
What did you end up working on in Wassaic?
I had only a week, which is very little time. I was mostly looking at the family residency as a model. I haven't been to a residency that is framed that way before. I've been to one similar place in Berlin, called ZK/U. It's a place where people bring families, and there's a huge playground, shared kitchen, and ways for people to live together very communally. Many times, I just look at these places as systems, like, Okay, let me figure out how this works, and how can I learn from them?
So I took some photographs of the kids at play here, and followed them a little bit with a camera, and brought some props. I have been trying to experiment with different techniques, because I work a lot with photography. Most of them are digital photographs that are manipulated after they're taken, and then blown up and cut up and manipulated again. But I wanted to create editions of my work, too. They have a print shop in Wassaic, so I decided to work on a silkscreen series. I had an image, and started from scratch because I’d never done silkscreening before. There was another resident who is also a print fellow, Jack Wood, who helped me. We were battling with the weather because it was super hot to super wet. [Laughs.]
Yeah, that's a difficult introduction to silkscreening.
Exactly. I think that's the other thing: going to places like this, you’ve gotta be resourceful because nothing is perfect, but everything is very creative and imaginative. You know, [in Wassaic] the barn is a studio, the mill is an exhibition space. I really love that things are repurposed and you can see the layers of history of all the old buildings and equipment. But it has its challenges as well, especially when the temperature fluctuates like this.
If I come back here, I'm probably going to work on a site-specific project, because I think it’s a very strong site with very specific components. The farmland has completely new life now: What does it add? And what does it take? How do people function? And how do they negotiate the space with the locals? With animals? With kids? All these relationships to me are very interesting, and in my head there is a much bigger project that I would like to do, but I was really happy for the small time that I've been here. I got to experiment with silkscreen, and I printed a series — it’s not the best one I’ve ever done, but it was a learning experience.
And also the people I met: they were all very interesting, and I think that — this is something that probably everybody says — the communal aspect of this place is very present. The kids would walk everywhere by themselves. They went to the Art Nest and the Art Scouts camp, they were flattening coins on the rail tracks [Laughs], and just being kids the way we were probably back then. It is like a village. I needed to drive my husband somewhere to be seen by a doctor because he got sick, and I just left the kids, my daughter and her friend. I didn't leave them without asking, of course, but I asked people and they were like, “Oh, yeah, of course, don’t worry.” There is this kind of a self-help community, which is very rare. So I really feel like coming back. We are all very inspired.
I wanted to take a bit of a turn and talk about something else on your site. You talk about curating this art and science project, this BioArt Initiative, at a school. Can you say more about that, and how art and science cross over in your own work?
Yeah, it was right after grad school. I went to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where the Electronic Arts program was integrated in a school which has engineering, architecture, and one of the biggest biotech facilities in the United States.
So at one point, the Art Department and the Biotech Center decided to work together on something called the BioArt Initiative. And because people in my program did a lot of interdisciplinary work, that was a really great opportunity. The Biotech Center not only wanted to participate in cooperation, but invited artists to go and work there as residents, so they can use the space and even the labs if they want to. Researchers at the biotech center really loved the artists being there and constantly creating performances and activating the space — literally, because it has this kind of Panoptical architecture, so there was a lot of empty space in the middle where we’d build exhibitions on-site with visiting artists. And that was a big part of my work as a curator: I worked with resident artists to activate the space and create events, including BioArt mixers and all kinds of other community events. I did, myself, a residency there with another artist, Olivia Robinson. We created a project called Waste to Work, where we made batteries out of human sweat and lit up a map of the world based on cities’ industrial development — the workforce was the source of electricity. Later on, we did an exhibition at Pratt Manhattan of a labor map of the city of New York. It was focused on psychogeography, so we studied the different parts of the city and created a map of the labor production [of] each neighborhood by lighting up different parts of the city differently and, again, collecting sweat from people on the street. So it was kind of a performative, maybe pseudoscientific approach.
But now in New York I'm part of a different space, Radiator Arts. I'm actually one of the directors, and we just had a show on bioethics called The Cured. I’ve noticed that there is another spark of art and science projects coming back. I would say there was, at one time, a strong focus on art and technology, and then for a while it was kind of off the table. But I feel like, now, more projects are being created and more spaces have been engaged with this subject.
Can you tell me a little bit more about your work with Radiator Arts?
Radiator Arts started around seven years ago, and I joined in the second year. I curated a show at the gallery and, after some work on the show, I was invited by the founder, Tamas Veszi, to direct the program of the gallery. We think about it as a curatorial platform for emerging and mid-career artists and creators. And the way we designed the program is very horizontal, meaning that when someone proposes a show, we work with them on developing it together. It’s a gallery and studio space, too — that’s one of the few sustainable models in a city, I feel, because the studios feed the gallery.
Many times we combine artists that are part of the local community with artists from different parts of the world. Both Tamas and I are from Eastern Europe, so we're trying to really bridge the different continents. We would bring, let’s say, a project from Vienna, Austria, and then we would do a project there. So we create these exchanges. And every time we do that, we invite a foreign curator. They come in here, they bring their ideas, but we bring in artists from the local context that we know. Being foreigners ourselves, that’s been a technique that worked for ourselves but also for other people like us. Because, you know, there are people who come from abroad and try to do something right away, and it's really hard because they don't know the context, they don't know people, and there is not always time. We see ourselves as kind of a facilitator to connect and create a context for that type of presence. It’s not a non-profit gallery, it’s for-profit, but we don't focus on sales. We focus on the artists.
Daniela Kostova is an interdisciplinary artist who works with photography, installation, video, and performance. Her work addresses issues of geography and cultural representation, the production and crossing of socio-cultural borders, and the uneasy process of translation and communication.
Her work is exhibited at venues such as Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts (NY), Queens Museum of Art (NY), Kunsthalle Wien (Austria), Institute for Contemporary Art (Sofia), Centre d’art Contemporain (Geneva), Antakya Biennale (Turkey), Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, (Torino), Kunsthalle Fridericianum (Kassel) and many others.
In the summer of 2019, Daniela was commissioned by VIG to wrap the well-known Ringturm building in Vienna, Austria. Her piece “Future Dreaming”spread on 4000 sq. meters represents one of the biggest public art displays in Europe. In 2016 she had her first solo show in NYC as A.I.R. Gallery Fellow, and was a resident at the Center for Art and Urbanism (ZK/U), Berlin. In 2011, Daniela won the Unlimited Award for Contemporary Bulgarian Art. In 2009, 2007 and 2006 she received travel grants from NYFA, the American Foundation for Bulgaria and the European Cultural Foundation.
In 2000 Kostova won the International Art Award Onufri in Tirana, Albania. In 2002 she was an ArtsLink Residency fellow at the CIA, Cleveland, Ohio. In 2003 she was granted a Graduate Fellowship from RPI in Troy, NY where she later taught Intermediate Digital Imaging. In addition, Daniela curated the BioArt Initiative – art & science project of the Arts Department and the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies at RPI.
2019 Summer Residency