Etty and I got to know each other first when she curated my work into a group show in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Being someone that both curates and creates work myself, I felt an immediately connection to her. Her work draws me in where you feel like you can get lost in it, absorbed by the details, swim around in them and leave with this new perspective. Her work makes me think and I find after a viewing, it pops back in my head frequently, my brain unable to let it go. Her process is unique and work is stunning, I hope you enjoying getting to know her as much as I have!
To begin, let's let people know your unique materials and process. You are an artist that works in that lovely blurry space in between 3D and 2D work. Can you tell us a little about your approach, how you begin from sourcing materials to the decision making process between more sculptural or installation work to wall hung work?
You nailed it. This blurry space in between 3D and 2D is key in my vocabulary. I usually start a new work with a general idea – theme and rough visual direction. Within that context my work is largely process-based and evolves out of moment to moment explorations, searching for new formal possibilities and internal associative logic in each work.
The starting point can come from a wide range of sources - seeing an artifact or artwork, reading fiction or non-fiction, listening to a radio segment, watching a movie, and so on - I am kind of porous in that respect. Here is a genesis of one project for instance: I have been thinking a lot about the global refugee crisis in the last years and the notion of displacement in a historical context has pre-occupied me since early. Back in 2014 I happened to stumble upon an ancient Assyrian prism, a small archeological artifact at the Chicago Oriental institute, which related to political propaganda, war, exile, manipulation of natural resources – like today’s news. For the next few years I was haunted by this object -- started reading about it extensively and traveled to see 2 other such prisms in Israel museum and the British Museum. It all resulted in a large scale installation which included a floating prism and several wall reliefs.
My process in a nutshell consists of constructing and deconstructing fragments of repetitive documentation: I use a wide range of materials from my studio and from every-day life – such as found objects, drawings, paintings, and photographs which frequently depict autobiographical fragments from my environment, juxtaposed with imagery from media and scientific data. The material is determined by the content and can be quite diverse - it may include assorted paper, plastic and fabric.
In the process I am questioning how these disjointed pieces create tension but also how they all come together as a whole. The work is widely varied in scale – from small scale collages to monumental immersive installations. In either format I am trying to capture a sort of hybrid mindscape, a sense of place that is both internal and external, somewhere between the real and the imagined, the organic and the artificial, landscape and topography.
If the work is made with a particular exhibition space in mind, which is often the case, I am deciding on wall / inner space / work orientation based on site features. If it’s an independent project I start at my studio with no particular space in mind, then I determine the form based on what works best with the content. Overall, for practical reasons I am trying to keep modularity and flexibility in mind as a general rule.
You didn't always work this way, what inspired the change? Can you tell us how the work you were doing previously inspired and informed the work now?
I think it’s an evolutionary process. I have always thought as a collagist, in layers of meaning and texture, no matter what media I used, even in my line drawings. Overall, I am coming from drawing and painting. I incorporated assemblages in my work early on. Looking back at my earlier reliefs, I see a locked tension in there, it’s as if the work always wanted to get away from the wall into the inner space and assume a new sculptural presence. I am playing off this tension more consciously now.
In more general terms, like many other artists, most life experiences enter my work. For instance, I worked as an editorial illustrator for publications such as the New York Times and the Nation after art school. The fast pace and need for visual clarity in response to texts, made me start each drawing with brainstorming multiple associative ideas, and I still work that way today.
Back to the 2D and 3D processes - for me they are part of an elaborate layering process which creates tension between the flat and the dimensional, but at the same time also creates a complimentary symbiosis. Largely, I think that the importance of 2 and 3D play in my work increased as a response to our digital information age. In a way I am trying to capture the essence of a drastically fragmented reality and re-invent it as an uncategorized space - where simultaneous bits of knowledge form un-hierarchical and fluid hybrid surfaces, hopefully with potential for some meaning.
Your work has such an emotional quality to it, and often a flow, as if caught in motion. Be that from wave like installations, to swirling almost areal landscapes to floating sculptures that give this element of time captured, caught in this moment that is the art. Which makes me think back to photography, a literal capture of a moment in time and your use of those materials. Can you discuss a little that relationship?
Since early on I have been preoccupied by how people metabolize stories out of patterns that recur daily - how each of us processes diurnal time in context of personal memories and sense of place, and at the same time, search for the common underlying essence of our humanity. Like you say, photography is a great tool for this, it’s an important tool in my kit. I regularly document my surroundings daily – my way from the subway to the studio, from depicting graffiti on a Bushwick street to people walking with long shadows in corporate environments. I print the images on diverse materials (film, cloth, etc) and utilize them in my mind like paint. They assume new life in my story – both as forms and as clues for potential narratives. I love the dichotomy of specificity and abstraction that is inherent in a photo. It is simultaneously of the moment and a memory of that moment. This question always brings me back to Susan Sontag’s uncanny vision, when she referred to the image as an object, saying that collecting photographs is like collecting the world.
One of the many ways in which I personally connect with your work is the similar way in which you ask the viewer to get into the work and notice the details where they can discover the content. Do you have a good story of a time that you got to watch that discovery? A great comment or insight that someone brought to the work?
I am very glad you connect with my work that way - it is rewarding when a viewer spends time with the work and goes through the process of discovery. I am mostly coming out of my personal narrative into a wider web of connectivity.
The first story that comes to mind in this context---at an artist talk in a recent show at a university gallery, a student approached me after the talk and told me that my series of hanging mobiles reminded her vividly of the coastal landscape of her homeland, an island in Japan. The way she described in poetic and emotional way how it made her think of layers of fish, rocks and sea – stirred me.
Another anecdote relates to a different body of work and took place at another artist talk - one of the viewers who looked very attentively at a large wall relief, scrutinizing it from many angles, close-up and farther away, then he finally told me with visible excitement – “I am an aeronautics engineering graduate and I recognize in there patterns of turbulent air currents but this is also a landscape and it reminds me of a satellite map.” He said the artwork made him see and think about familiar things in new ways. That was a substantial takeaway for me.
Other memorable communications with viewers involve especially dancers’ comments - many of whom bring their sensibility for movement and tactility into the experience of viewing the work - I sense how they get a truly visceral experience. Children are also favorite viewers – a couple of years ago at an open studio an angelic 3 year old girl was peeking into each cranny of my wall relief for a long time. “What do you see?” I finally asked her; “the world” she said with the utmost certainty.
You recently did a residency in Georgia, I'd love to hear more about that, how it has changed your work if it has at all, and how it's inspired work that you're creating now, back at home?
So the residency in Tbilisi Georgia was a remarkable experience on all levels. I was there for over a month (first time in the country) as resident at the State Silk Museum, which is a 19th century architectural jewel, a bit run down and victim to historical upheavals. The spectacular diverse landscape, urban textures, complex history and the hybrid nature of the museum (between natural history– history- art) stirred me deeply.
I was working daily on a site specific exhibition at the museum, which could take place in any space of my choice at the museum. I was drawn to the library, an overwhelming space filled with elaborate 19th century Russian architectural features and a huge collection of rare books on butterflies, mulberry trees and silk production.
For my installation I chose to use existing museum objects, such as discarded museum cases, pieces of dysfunctional lab equipment, trashed silk remnants and the library architectural features—such as 2 elongated tables, a majestic work-table that was designed for the founder of the institute (it was established in1887 as the Caucasian Sericulture Station, http://www.silkmuseum.ge/index.php?a=main&pid=1&lang=eng ), shelves and vitrines. In short, I made a full room installation that utilized the unique architectural features.
Integrating found objects and prominent architecture on site in a full room installation stimulated the documentarian - story teller in me and brought my work to another place. It’s true not only in obvious terms of material usage – I have never used mostly fabric in my former installations, but also in terms of approaching a more complex site-specific project. The opportunity to stay for a prolonged time period in this unique site, research its past and present challenges, while absorbing a totally foreign culture and landscape, altogether added another layer of experience which I am still processing.
Currently I am further developing a project that started from the museum installation - it includes larger scale modular books.
Do you have any favorite female artists?
Many---several that come to mind:
Do you have any upcoming events or shows that you'd like to share?