Meet the Residents is a seasonal series of interviews with Amant’s New York Studio & Research residents.
They mostly take place in the residency studios at 306 Maujer Street, on the couch and surrounded by working references. With these casual conversations, we introduce the residents’ practices to our wider audiences and also discuss broader questions, such as: what is artistic research and how is it done, what is the impact of the New York/Amant context, in what ways has the proposed project changed since arriving and why? And finally, what voices might our residents hear?
Abigail Lucien, Spring 2023
Sarah Demeuse: This is Meet the Residents, a series of interviews with Amant’s artists in residence in which we speak and digress about research, the impact of context on artistic process, serendipity and making community. Amant is a non-profit arts organization and residency in North Brooklyn. Our studios are at 306 Maujer, where we host four artists for three months, one cohort in fall and another one in spring. My name is Sarah Demeuse. I’m your host and Amant’s head of publications. This is our spring 2023 season. Today I’m in Abigail Lucien studio.
So Abigail, thanks for inviting me into your studio.
Abigail Lucien: Yeah, thanks for being here.
Sarah Demeuse: Yeah, there’s lots to see and talk about, but maybe we can first start a little bit by placing you. It would be great if you could just share where you were before coming as a resident here, and then maybe kind of explaining if you have a base from where you normally work, how does that work out for you?
Abigail Lucien: Yeah. I am currently based in Baltimore, Maryland. It’s about two and a half, three hour train ride from New York. Been there for three years now. I got there through teaching sculpture, and so it still feels sort of a new space, but I’ve kind of been slowly crawling up the East Coast, if you will, to then kind of land here for this residency in New York.
Sarah Demeuse: So now I’m curious, where did the crawl begin?
Abigail Lucien: The crawl never ends, I think. I guess the crawl, crawl begins when I was crawling. I was born in Dallas, Texas, and then sort of immediately moved. I think I was a month old, three months old or something to Cap-Haitien, Haiti, and then I moved with my mother to Florida. My father stayed in Haiti and we, me and my siblings stayed between Cap-Haitien and Florida for most of our childhood, moving between both. And then I moved to Tallahassee, Florida, and then I moved to Knoxville, Tennessee, and then I moved to Richmond, Virginia, and now I am living in Baltimore.
Sarah Demeuse: Great. Good. Yeah, it is a lineup to the north. That’s funny. But I’m sure we’ll unpack how the vectors keep going back and looping and making all kinds of formations. Abigail, tell us a little bit what your project was when you applied for the residency. What’s going on now? What has happened to the original thoughts? Perhaps the context has brought you in different places. I’d be curious to learn more about that.
Abigail Lucien: Yeah, yeah, totally. It’s been funny because I think we received these, the acceptance into this program right about a year ago, and I was so excited, and a whole year has passed until I’ve been brought here. And so there’s been so much work that has taken place and so much research that’s taken place in that year alone that when I got here, I had thought that I’d be doing something actually totally different than what I had proposed.
But after a couple weeks in the residency, I found myself doing exactly what I said that I would be doing, which is working on this publication that will be published by GenderFail Press, and is this collection of research and interviews and essays and poetry that I’ve been making over the last maybe three or four years, and correlating this all into a printed object.
The biggest thing though that has, I think changed in this time, or at least in my perspective and context of thinking about what I’ve been making, is that in New York, I’ve been so embraced by this sort of ability to see so many deep friendships, and that has now become a starring role and this publication is bringing together other Caribbean and Caribbean diasporic colleagues and friends and artists as well as other queer and trans artists to come in into this book as a context of friendship and radical love and collaboration and all of these things that I think New York has been teaching me as I’ve been here.
So it’s exciting to be doing something but in a way that is not just about my own work, but is also about the reasons that this work can be, right?
Sarah Demeuse: Yeah, yeah. I’m very motivated by what you say about friendship because it seems that research is stimulated by friendship, gets to more places because of these effective relationships. What does friendship do to a research project for you?
Abigail Lucien: Yeah. Well, one, I think it makes it fun, right? It makes it, oh wow, are you looking at that? I’m looking at this, right? It makes a sort of cross pollination that I think is really important in practices. I think something that I’ve been yearning for in my own practice is this sort of ability to have more porosity in the ways that we think about having our studio practice, that we’re not just artists who are in a studio separated and completely isolated. And if you are, then that’s your vibe. That’s great. And so I’m interested in having this more open practice where collaboration is not a scary thing because of a sort of fear of loss of identity within your work, but instead, it’s something that actually is happening naturally all of the time.
And so for me, friendship is our, or friends, that’s based on a relationship of trust, something that’s built, it’s not given. And so there’s this sort of trust that you hold that you’re giving ideas or love or thought or feelings. And so that’s, for me is kind of an ideal within my own practice too, that I am able to trust myself inside of my studio with the ideas and feelings and love that I’m giving and bringing it out into the world. And so it feels really super natural to, super ‘natural and supernatural to be making this publication in line with that idea of friendship at its core.
Sarah Demeuse: And this is really something that emerged by being here.
Abigail Lucien: Yeah, absolutely.
Sarah Demeuse: Amazing. I do wonder, though, Abigail, whether there’s something, because you’re a teacher, that there is a predisposition of developing these relationships of trust. Just kind of thinking about that as well.
Abigail Lucien: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, definitely. I think my creative practice and my pedagogical practice are so intertwined. I don’t think that I could truly just separate them because that’s just not the way that I exist. They help inform each other, and I think that that’s the most natural way that I could be living as someone who is a teacher and a mentor to people.
And that’s also, it’s a lot easier to do something scary if you have trust in someone who is teaching you or do something that might feel intimidating or that maybe you’d never expected yourself to do that. If someone is actively listening to you and working to create a space that feels comfortable that you can be yourself and that maybe it’s a small amount of trust that I ask of my students.
I think particularly because I teach sculpture, and so a lot of folks that I’m teaching for the first time are maybe being introduced to this type of sculptural environment for the first time too, and welding and using saws and sparks and electricity and flames. That is not always the most comfortable or natural thing for someone. And so it feels pretty special to have this moment that is through sharing ideas and even being comfortable enough for my students to share their ideas. That all relies on trust and a built community that has to happen inside of the classroom, which, yeah, it’s a lot of work and practice as well.
Sarah Demeuse: It is. Yeah. You mentioned something about porosity before, and I wonder how for you being a resident in a certain space, an artist in residence might allow more types of porosity, or perhaps there’s a challenge because you come into a studio that has a certain setup. How do you conceive of yourself as someone in residence? Or what does it add to your process, say?
Abigail Lucien: I think when I think about a residency, as someone who loves language, I can’t not see the word “rest” inside of that. And so I think a lot about the most beneficial residencies that I’ve been a part of have not been the residencies where I lug all of my studio tools and am so focused on a goal. The best have been the ones that I am open. And I do feel like I am available to have this sort of seepage, just porosity, this openness to actually even accept something.
And what’s funny is that even in this building, right, it’s not shut totally. Our windows are a part of downstairs, and so the upstairs is a part of down. There’s this sort of fluidity within our studio building at Amant as well, and is inviting in this way.
But it also is a circumstance that being unporous or being unavailable to be open, I think would be a disservice. It would be a sort of closing off to me, I think, in the way that just naturally being inside of this space feels like, but I also think, I kind of feel like a residency is also this ability to reflect, to listen to the space that’s around you so that your ideas are not just sort of sterile versus on or based in the spaces that you’ve come from, that you’re taking yourself out of a comfort zone, placing yourself into a new space, a new home, both in for your practice and your personal life. And you either ride with it and take it for the newness that it is and try to learn from it and try to have fresh eyes, or you don’t, and you close yourself off.
And I think that I’ve just come into this residency, I think, first I was really straightforward, okay, I’m going to do this. I’m going to do this, do this. And then I just had this moment where I realized that pressure on production was coming from within and had to release and realize what I was here for. And so it’s felt nice to know that I’m the person in control of that, but it also it’s, I don’t know. It’s a weird thing I think as a working artist that we have this internal hyper pressure on us.
Sarah Demeuse: I’m sure, I’m sure, but I don’t even think you’re at the halfway point yet in the residency.
Abigail Lucien: I know.
Sarah Demeuse: It’s good. You’ve come to the insight that the pressure cooker situation is not ideal.
Abigail Lucien: No, no, no. I’m a person who likes to do a lot of different things at one time. I really thrive like that. I also, it’s also, I think, different for me in this residency because my studio in Baltimore is primarily a metal shop that I’ve built for myself and as a metal worker without metal in my studio at Amant, it feels a little hard for me. So I find myself busy as a sculptor in different ways. How can I think about material as a stain or a material as something that is effervescent? And it helps me inform that practice that is hard and rigid and takes heat to bend. What can I actually have impression on that will melt with just the contact of my hand? I’m so interested in the ways that those things can feed each other and how sometimes that can make you re-love the things that you already love by having a new appreciation for what you have when it’s not there.
Sarah Demeuse: Yeah. And it’s almost the flip side of the thing that you’re doing normally, but in a way, one informs the other. So I’d be curious to hear what happens when you go back to the metal shop. Have you been back?
Abigail Lucien: I’ve been to Baltimore to finish out a couple classes, but I can’t go back to my studio because I went once and I could only be there for an hour, and it hurt my heart.
Sarah Demeuse: Oh, no.
Abigail Lucien: So I was like, okay, I can’t go in here right now because it just feels like I don’t have the time to really do what I want in there. So I’m just like, I’m just going to wrap that up and put a little bow on it, and I’ll go back when I can really be invested in that space.
Sarah Demeuse: That sounds great. Abigail, I’m curious about the publication as well. Because when you arrived here, we had a little intro session and you said something that the publication is a sculpture, or the sculpture is a publication. There was something about the fluidity between the media that really called my attention. So there’s that component that I’d love for you to talk about a little bit more.
Abigail Lucien: Yeah. Well, I actually had an upbringing in printmaking as well as adjacently artist books. So these were my art gateway drugs, if you will. This is how I, of course, found community. And so I feel like there is actually such a natural relationship to me in thinking about sculptures and thinking about books and thinking about how printed media acts as a sort of tangible object that we get to experience through touching it. And not all sculptures we’re allowed to touch and or not all sculptures are we so commonly understood how we even navigate this thing.
And so thinking about the book as an object, I think has also allowed me to have that same sort of seepage that I think between materials of sculpture to happen between language and the printed image, and thinking about what does this book feel like when you touch the cover of it versus a different page of it? How does it visually relate to us when there’s a sheen on it or glitter? What are these different materialities? How do they reflect?
Sarah Demeuse: Also, what is to me, interesting about if we think about books and sculptures is that they actually travel with you. They can exist out there in the world in a whole set of different contexts, whereas often a sculpture, we imagine it to be static, right?
Abigail Lucien: Yeah. There’s something special about the intimacy that a book gets to have, and that it gets to hang out with you in your bag, and it gets to be with you in your bed, and it gets to get worn and show the effect of its intimacy with someone.
I’ve been thinking about also how language is such a media in itself too, and the ways that we can break it down and use it as this sort of ready made, this sort of thing that is already in our consciousness and the ways that we string things together, the ways that we communicate can also bring this sort of sensorial and visceral way of communicating. But I think we usually associate with the object in the room or sculpture. So yeah, it’s lovely. And for me, that’s how I begin most of my sculptures is through poetry or prose and writing, and then that begets an idea that becomes a object, that becomes a performance, that might become a print, that becomes a sculpture, and so on and so forth.
Sarah Demeuse: Oh, that’s actually great to know, and I wonder how do you work with different languages? I know the book starts with a Creole title that is then translated into English. There’s a French sentence here also on the window in your studio. How do languages other than English seep into what you’re doing?
Abigail Lucien: Yeah. “NAN VANT SOLÈY LA” is the name of the book, and right next to it is the English translation, which is In the Belly of the Sun. And I think as a bicultural person, I have always been in love with this exchange between translation, and it’s also been the thing that has pained me the most too, because in one way, some things can only be said in a certain way, that must be said in a certain language, a word. It can only exist in its context, but in other ways, there’s so much that becomes lost between that exchange too. And so in a way you can honor that. You can always try to honor that. But there’s so much relationship, I think between translation for the ease of ownership of culture, the ease of colonization, that I am always thinking about how do we trace back to what these words actually mean or what was trying to really be communicated?
And so I try to make space for Creole, Haitian Creole inside of this publication because it’s a one, it’s a really beautiful language, but it’s also not recognized as Haiti’s national language. French is recognized as it, but it’s mostly spoken by everyone, and it’s also, it’s a beautiful language in that it ties together sort of three massive ancestry points of Haiti, right? It one, has this, or four, actually, it has this Taino roots by the indigenous people of Hispaniola, but by the indigenous people. It also has this West African dialect, also has this Spanish layer and also a French layer. So there’s these layers of both people enslaved and brought to the land. It has these layers of colonialization. It’s a complicated language, and I think that that’s a story in itself. So to actively use it, I think is another sort of mode of radical love for a place to remember that and to establish that this is also us, right?
Sarah Demeuse: Yeah. I’m very attracted to that and kind of resisting a flat translation into the international art language, say. It’s very important. I mean, of course, I’m very interested in the book, precisely also, it is very much about human relations and sharing experiences. But I wonder if you could slightly backtrack and say how these conversations started with your collaborators. Did you give them carte blanche or were there certain conversations or questions that you posed? How did it all come together?
Abigail Lucien: I don’t think with anyone it is the same, actually. All of my relationships inside of that are, or all of the folks who are featured in the book, which is Justin Chance, Lukaza Branfman-Verissimo, Cielo Felix-Hernandez, Tamara Santibañez, and Sucking Salt. All of our relationships are quite different. And the ways that we’ve been brought into, or the ways that these things have been brought into and tied and layered have been really different experiences.
For example, with Tamara, we actually were on a residency a year ago in July, together at ACRE, and there are, one of their many talents are their oral historian. And so they asked if we could sit down, and I also asked if we could sit down and have this conversation. And so, one of the longest pieces inside of the book is me talking to Tamara about my research and walking them through just materially the ways that I’m thinking, and historically the ways that I’m thinking and having a conversation with a friend who, I have so much appreciation for oral historians because the work is insane.
But I’m also learning from that experience too, and that exchange, where, as with my friend Justin Chen, also an artist, Justin and I met in 2015 at a residency and have been great friends ever since. And there’s a prose piece that I wrote for their online space that they were hosting for a while in 2020, and I asked them, hey, would you want to be a part of this one?
And so there’s this non-linear looping that I’m trying to piece together where I’ve already overlapped with these friends. I’ve also have asked them to tell me what they want, or here, if you feel really passionate about something, then that’s what the thing that should be inside of this. Because I think that in the ways that I know my friends, they know me too, and so they can place where their context or their contribution to this context appropriately. I trust in them, so whatever they want, I’m open and it’s a conversation.
Sarah Demeuse: Great. Abigail, we usually end these conversations with opening the floor to you, whether you have any questions for Amant, because we’re always asking you about what’s going on, and I just wonder if there’s anything that you want to ask us?
Abigail Lucien: Anything that I ask Amant? Can I stay longer? That’s my question.
Sarah Demeuse: Okay.
Abigail Lucien: No, no, no, no, no. Okay. A serious question.
Sarah Demeuse: No, no, no.
Abigail Lucien: A serious question. I think…
Sarah Demeuse: The question has been posed before about the staying longer. Don’t worry.
Abigail Lucien: I guess, I feel like there’s something to be said about the youth of this program and I’m curious about where, I don’t know, where do you see this going in the next few years? What are the moments that you’ve been able to reflect on and hope to see more of for this residency program?
Sarah Demeuse: Yeah. I think for us, this is something that we keep on thinking about too, is it’s kind of the community that we are creating through this program, and whether it makes sense to have a moment where there is a bringing together of everyone or sharing more what is going on with other people who come before or after, because there are some threads that carry through and we see, oh, this person might have potentially have a conversation with someone who was here two years ago. So there’s that. How can we think around those relations and that more? Because I think for us, having people in for three months and then just have them move on to somewhere else is also very strange. We want to somehow keep accompanying you, so that’s where we’re thinking of how to do that.
Abigail Lucien: Yeah, that makes sense. I think especially in, I think once you’re a part of something, you kind of carry that, especially as a residency through with you, the learning that’s happened. I feel like residencies are some of the best and most incredible learning tools that I’ve had as an artist about my own practice. So it makes sense to be able to reflect and continue some sort of line of communication between the community that you’ve made through that experience.
Sarah Demeuse: Well, I’m glad you feel that way too. TBD, we should share ideas and continue thinking about it. Thanks so much for your time.
Abigail Lucien: Thank you.
Sarah Demeuse: And for sharing all these wonderful insights and feelings.
Abigail Lucien: Of course. Yep.
You can find a transcript of this conversation as well as some photos of Abigail’s studio on our website at amant.org. This is the final interview for Spring 2023. Please join us again for Fall 2023. Our theme music is composed by Silas Edgar. Eda Li recorded and co-edited the interviews. Sound editing and engineering is by Isaac Silber. Thanks for listening. Join us again next time.
Nadja Abt, Spring 2023
Sarah Demeuse: This is Meet the Residents, a series of interviews with Amant’s artists-in-residence in which we speak and digress about research, the impact of context on artistic process, serendipity, and making community.
Amant is a nonprofit arts organization and residency in North Brooklyn. Our studios are at 306 Maujer, where we host four artists for three months, one cohort in fall and another one in spring.
My name is Sarah Demeuse. I’m your host and Amant’s head of publications. This is our spring 2023 season. Today, I’m in Nadja Abt’s studio.
Nadja, thank you for inviting me to your studio. I’m sitting here on a cozy couch surrounded by many things that are going on. As a first introductory question, could you tell us a little bit of where you came from? Where were you before coming to New York? What was the story before we met you?
Nadja Abt: Okay. Yep, that’s already a bit complicated because I have a flat since 17 years in Berlin where I live sometimes, but actually, since 11 years, I’ve been more or less living out of a suitcase between, first, Argentina, then Brazil and then Portugal. The last four years, I lived between Berlin and Portugal and Lisbon. Yeah. When I arrived, I actually came from Berlin.
Sarah Demeuse: Okay. What does it mean for you then to come to a place as an artist and to do your practice? I guess, specifically, I’m asking what does it mean to be an artist-in-residence in a place that is not your home base?
Nadja Abt: I mean, for me, it depends on the residency first and the city, of course. For me, at the moment, it means that I can work only as an artist, which is great actually because I usually have to work also for money jobs on the side. For example, these three months, I can just focus on artistic practice and have a studio because, since as I was working out of a suitcase basically, I never had a proper studio the last, I don’t know, seven years maybe. It’s great to have one here, first of all, and then it’s New York, so I, of course, do also a lot in the city and get every influence that I can from the outside.
Sarah Demeuse: Yeah. We are sitting in a studio that is fairly secluded and private. It’s in the heart of Brooklyn, but, in a way, you also feel in a very-
Nadja Abt: Spaceship.
Sarah Demeuse: Spaceship? Maybe. Someone else called it a ship. Yeah, a ship, so I wonder in what way the context infiltrates your thoughts or, perhaps, it’s just in fact the city that allows you to also focus on yourself. Sometimes, the relationships are complex between New York City and someone who’s here to do a project, say. How is it in your case?
Nadja Abt: I mean, yeah, it feels really cut off from the outside to be in here. In a way, I think it’s pretty good because you can focus. One part of my practice is writing. It’s very quiet in here usually. You can write very well, or I need silence to write. Some people write with music. I can’t, so that’s actually a good thing. You can lose time in here. I have the feeling, sometimes I get out of here, like, “What’s the time? What’s the weather? In which city am I?”
On the other hand, of course, I love to watch out of the window when I do things. You can look at the city. Especially when you’re in New York, you want to look at the city and look what’s going on outside. Sometimes, I think it’s also a bit sad that I don’t have this window to the outside while working actually inside on my stuff. I think the contrast is pretty strong between this studio in particular and the outside world when you step out of Amant and then you are in this area of construction, warehouses, people bringing boxes from A to B. I mean, there’s so much to discover actually in this neighborhood when you walk around.
Sarah Demeuse: Yeah, in a way, it’s the back-end of the city. Having a computer, you have the content management. Here, you see all of the management of the goods, but I’m interested in learning what you originally thought you were going to do and what you are doing now. What happened between, not necessarily what happened to you, but what happened to the project from sending in your application to become a resident to actually being here and then developing a research project?
Nadja Abt: The original proposal was, as I worked for more or less five years on female seafaring or fiction around female seafarers, that I go to the harbors and create new stories about female seafarers, and then the whole project was more fictionalized through time actually. It was not so much about really documenting them, fictionalizing stories around seafaring.
When I arrived here, I already opened up a new chapter actually in Berlin about the topic of obsession, which has maybe something to do with seafaring, but it was for me, okay, I did a lot about seafaring now for four or five years. I also want to do something else. I want to put the focus a little bit somewhere else on things that I’m also interested in, but then also when I arrived, I mean, I still have it in me, so, of course, I went first to the piers and then looked at all this history around the piers, the New York Waterfront on the west side of Manhattan, the works of Gordon Matta-Clark, Alvin Baltrop, then the occupation, the stories around David Wojnarowicz. I read the John Giorno autobiography, the Samuel Delany autobiography in all place-
Sarah Demeuse: Everything while you were here?
Nadja Abt: No. Before, in preparation actually.
Sarah Demeuse: Yeah. Yeah.
Nadja Abt: Yeah, that would be-
Sarah Demeuse: It’s sizeable.
Nadja Abt: I knew a lot about these pier or the stories, and I was interested, as I’m always interested, in occupying these male-connotated spaces. In this particular thing, it’s the gay male space of the cruising area in the ‘70s and the stories that are built up around it. It’s like mythologizing all those space that was for marginalized people, but it was also very dangerous to go there as a gay male person. I read all these stories, and then I knew, of course, the work by Every Ocean Hughes, a.k.a. Emily Roysdon, who did The Piers work series and, yeah, I have David Wojnarowicz’s work that is also hanging here.
Sarah Demeuse: The tiny postcard behind that. Yeah.
Nadja Abt: Then I became interested in are there any female stories around, as I did with the seafaring actually, are there any female cultural production around the piers, not only were there any women involved in this cruising area actually, was there, for example, lesbian sex happening at the piers, but also is there any female cultural production around this? Are there stories around? I went to the Lesbian Herstory Archives. I talked to Saskia, who is co-running the LHA at the moment. She talked to Joan Nestle, who was one of the founders of the LHA. It was very interesting actually because there were actually women involved in this pier story. There was, for example, lesbian sex happening at the piers, but, of course, not as much because it was way too dangerous, I guess also, also because the scene was a little bit happening somewhere else and they had their own spaces, of course.
Yeah, and then I researched the works of Jill Johnston, who was an art critic in the '70s, who wrote a lot about the dance scene, but also about the lesbian scene in New York. Yeah, I was interested in this kind of works that is already a step further. Actually are there works of cultural production already? Is this existing already? Not can I write it, but is it existing and can I share it somehow or can I collect it?
This was one part I did here, and it changed from the part of like I go actually to the harbor and look if they are female seafarers, too. Is there cultural production so it went a step back and distanced a little bit from the actual site, let’s say?
Sarah Demeuse: Yeah. Yeah, so when an artifact or something that circulates in different areas?
Nadja Abt: Yeah. Exactly.
Sarah Demeuse: Good. That’s basically just because of time and where you are personally, and then I guess also just by virtue of being around and learning from the archive, and it seems also from personal conversations a lot. That’s part of your process.
Nadja Abt: Yeah. Yeah.
Sarah Demeuse: I mean, maybe a step back would be to ask you what is generally a research project like for you?
Nadja Abt: It’s a little bit of everything actually. I read a lot. I read a lot of fiction. Then I look at art history, of course, but also, for me, a big part is talking to people and experiencing the experience itself. When I did, for example, this going on a ship, going with a cargo ship from Hamburg to Santos, Brazil, it was more like I want to have the experience and then I can write about it or I can say something about it. I don’t want to just read about seafaring stories and never been on a ship before. Yeah. That’s, I guess, a mixture and then the experience of also… or the research, I think a part of the research is then also the product that comes out of it.
While being in the studio, I write a diary at the moment here. Then you added already in your head what you researched or what was important yesterday, what happened yesterday and what was important or what is part of my research, what is private, what is political. I guess it’s all a mixture, but then what do I filter out of this and put it in part of like in a work of research.
Sarah Demeuse: For you, the diary is tying together all of your research. Is that how I understand it?
Nadja Abt: Yeah. Yeah, I guess so because I’m interested in a lot of things. I’m just like a fan of different directions that I’m interested in. I’m also interested in film, in film history, feminist film history. As I said, the whole literature poetry scene in New York is very strong. I went a lot to Poetry Project to see Anne Waldman, like for example, like all these legend people that I only had in my head, and then you can see them actually, and then you go, of course, to the galleries. It’s so much happening at the same time that I had the feeling I have to somehow bring it together at least in a text that somehow, yeah, it’s not like only a stream of consciousness or a diary of my inner thoughts, but also somehow it helped to memorize what I’ve researched on or what I experienced.
Sarah Demeuse: Yeah, but do you normally write a diary or this the first-
Nadja Abt: No. This is the first time. No, not the first time. I mean, I wrote a diary when I was a teenager, but since then, never. It feels very strange. It has a big thing of like a big, embarrassing… That’s why I call it diarrhea.
Sarah Demeuse: Okay. Makes sense. Yes. Yes.
Nadja Abt: It’s… How do you say it? There’s a German word for it. In German, you would say, “Fremdschamen,” this thing where you feel that it can be embarrassing also for somebody else-
Sarah Demeuse: For others, yes.
Nadja Abt: … for others to read it. I think it’s always that thing when it comes to diaries or letters that you publish. I’m reading now the letters between Rosemary and Bernadette Mayer. Some things are really not that interesting, and then they’re published. Some things are very poetic, but you have all this unedited thoughts that come out.
Sarah Demeuse: True, and maybe, with the letters, I’m not very familiar about the history of them and how they were edited into a book. With your diary you’re actually writing, or shall we call it a report per day, but then you actually also surround it or you embed it within a page that is painted so it becomes part of something else. There’s a sense of this needs to be seen, it needs to be read, but it also needs to be seen as an image. You’re making it public in a very vibrant way. The colors are just screaming, “I’m here,” so your diary is not private.
Nadja Abt: No.
Sarah Demeuse: I mean, we can see how much we include on the website, for example, as a point of reference, but just there’s a style that you’re developing through it. It’s not just, “Dear diary.” It seems that you really did think about the form in which you’re going to present this. I think, personally speaking from a space as Amant, it’s interesting to see that this becomes a place where all research comes together, and it’s also through a filter of emotions and your own physicality. Everything gets mashed-up in that one page per day.
Nadja Abt: Yeah. Yeah, plus, it combines the two things that I really like like, first, writing and then painting. Maybe I’m not perfect in either. I would not consider myself a painter, as an artist. I would always say I’m an artist, not a painter, but then also I’m not really an author. I write, but I’m not like a novelist maybe. It’s this vague in-between state, but it combines also two practices that are in way very different because first I can write in the morning and I’m very clear, my head is clear. I’m more like a morning person. I’m focused. Then I can write down the stuff that I experience, and in the afternoon, after lunch-
Sarah Demeuse: It’s all a blur.
Nadja Abt: It’s a blur of using colors and being more this intuitive person with crayons and gouache and expressing thoughts in a different way somehow. Maybe also the painting on top of it like in this collage develops through time. I mean, I started very abstract, and I thought it would stay abstract, and then it became more an illustration of what is written in the text, and then sometimes it gets back to abstract forms. It’s not always like a children’s book like, “Oh, this is what I did, and this is what you see here,” kind of like maybe a second layer of interpretation.
Sarah Demeuse: Yeah. Throughout, I mean, there are a lot of moments where I still see water as somewhat of a reference, so the seafaring I feel. If I want to see it, I can see it. Also, the sense that it’s a diary, it reminds me of the practice of writing a log when you’re on a ship.
Nadja Abt: Yes. Right. I forgot that. Actually, I did a diary on the ship, so that’s why when I did the video work about my trip from Hamburg to Santos, actually that was based on my diary on the ship.
Sarah Demeuse: See? This may again have a similar function. Who knows? Yeah. It’s also interesting to see you recognize, and so the plan, Nadja, is to keep doing this every day, or am I just now thinking that you have a set program?
Nadja Abt: The plan is to do it for 90 days or exactly the time I’m here. Yeah, I’m a little bit behind, as you can count.
Sarah Demeuse: I haven’t seen it, but thanks for pointing that out. Yeah.
Nadja Abt: No, but the plan is 90 papers. The practice has also a lot to do with actually this residency life. I guess you talk to a lot of artists who’ve been on a lot of residencies before or they’re artists like residency artists.
Sarah Demeuse: Yes, for sure.
Nadja Abt: I guess I’m also one of them who’s traveling a lot, and then, of course, you have an artistic practice that is usually lightweight, in suitcases, so it’s usually paper or something small or fabric that you can fold and bring somewhere else, so, yeah, the practice comes with the travel aspect I guess.
Sarah Demeuse: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, and it’s a standard page. I mean, On Kawara, it’s a similar thing, he was also in different places and kept doing that. The format was defined by the fact that he was traveling places, so indeed, yeah, wow. Yeah, I’m curious to see the wall at the end of the studio. Maybe it closes over into the hallways.
Nadja Abt: Maybe not for the diary.
Sarah Demeuse: Well, by that time you’ve all become really close. This leads me to another question about just the idea of the residency and how being so close to the three other residents, how something might happen in that dynamic of being a micro community within this large, behemoth New York City.
Nadja Abt: It’s nice. I mean, I’m not sure, but I have the feeling I’m the only person who hasn’t lived in New York before for some time from us four. Yeah, I don’t even have a friend structure here, a close one. For me, it was super nice to be surrounded by other artists. Usually, we have this open-door policy, so if someone is here, the door is open. We read and we have lunch together and, yeah, that’s actually very nice.
Sarah Demeuse: This is probably a strange way of ending a conversation, but I wonder if you have questions for us, for Amant or the residency. I don’t know. I’m always curious to think what people might be thinking. Sometimes, there’s also nothing, so that’s fine.
Nadja Abt: I mean, of course, it’s this residency and then the staff of the house. It’s like this weird “we look at you, you look at us, who’s behaving…”
Sarah Demeuse: Yeah, we have our roles. Yes.
Nadja Abt: Yeah. Exactly. Of course, I guess it’s like a spontaneous question, so what would you think is the impact on your work here, and has it changed over the time?
Sarah Demeuse: You mean Amant’s work in the environment or me?
Nadja Abt: You personally.
Sarah Demeuse: Ooh.
Nadja Abt: I cannot imagine, after the 10th resident, you’re a bit like, “Yeah. Okay.” It’s like-
Sarah Demeuse: No. Weirdly enough, Nadja, I feel like this is the first cohort for me that I feel I get to know better because we have more casual encounters. Maybe it’s because you all use the kitchen more than other people before. I feel, on the contrary, that the relationships are actually stronger now than they used to be in the past. Of course, there is a sense that we are facilitators for you or something, but we are all also very interested in art and artistic practices. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be here. We’re all eager to know more about you, too. Sadly, the office schedule and the demands of the job often don’t allow you to get to know someone’s practice as much as you would like. That’s what we keep working on, to find more spaces for our conversations. The open-door policy sounds fantastic. Maybe I’ll just come by every once in a while to see if doors are open.
Nadja Abt: Yes, I know. Yeah, I would love that.
Sarah Demeuse: On our website, you can find images of some of Nadja’s diary entries as well as the transcript of this conversation. Go to amant.org. In our next episode, I talk with Abigail Lucien.
Our theme music is composed by Silas Edgar. Eda Li recorded and co-edited the interviews. Sound editing and engineering is by Isaac Silber. Thanks for listening. Join us again next time.
Eduardo Navarro, Spring 2023
Sarah Demeuse: This is Meet the Residents, a series of interviews with Amant’s artist in residency in which we speak and digress about research. The impact of context on artistic process, serendipity and making community. Amant is a nonprofit arts organization and residency in North Brooklyn. Our studios are at 306 Maujer, where we host four artists for three months, one cohort in fall and another one in spring. My name is Sarah Demeuse. I’m your host and Amant’s head of publications. This is our spring 2023 season.
Today I’m in Eduardo Navarro studio.
So Eduardo, thank you for inviting us into your studio. We are sitting here on the couch.
Sarah Demeuse: I wanted to ask you a very basic question in the beginning, just so we know where to place you, but where were you before coming to a Amant? Where are you normally based?
Eduardo: Before coming here I was exactly in between Buenos Aires and Uruguay. And I usually don’t think myself of being based in a place because I have a hard time understanding what that really means. That’s like living there.
Sarah Demeuse: Yeah, no, it’s actually a hard question to ask too because in a way, I mean what is the context from which you normally work, but often it coincides with where you live and then often it coincides with where you’re from. So there’s many layers. I think what I’m trying to lay out here is map where your practice was before, where it was happening before coming here to these specifics to the environment.
Eduardo: I feel like it’s much more accurate to say that all of that search for an origin in my case, more based in terms of how I perceive myself than where I am or what I’m doing, which is also very much connected to what I consider Eduardo and how that perception of identity works rather than where or when or how or what because I feel like that’s much more really responding as me than, because I can say that where I was doing my drawings and things like that, but for me it’s more occurring in another layer if I have to be really, really, really honest. So it’s more a matter of what defines me as me.
Sarah Demeuse: So I mean kind of going along with that language, as you morph, as you land into a specific residency, is it a continuum? What happens?
Eduardo: No. I had a really, really hard time landing here. Not in the residency, but in the city specifically because it’s a city that, it’s a huge mind that simultaneously swallows you and once you’re swallowed by that mind, it’s very difficult to keep yourself free from identity perception, which is much the root of all meditation. So being in New York is the opposite of… Was kind of a surprise because it really felt like the opposite of what I was trying or the direction where I was going in my internal belief system. And the demands are a lot of focus to be here without the feeling of being swallowed by a large mind.
Sarah Demeuse: Because where you are in your own development is letting go of the self emptying. And over here, you’re always asked to provide content or to produce or how could we phrase it?
Eduardo: In my perception of what I’m trying to find is a place that is not enters in a conflict in that constructive mind zone. So here in this city it’s very much about who you are, where you come from, what you do, what’s your practice. So those terms for me are like, I think that’s trying to convince myself that there’s something that I’m not on any of those terms. So that was a really difficult part of landing here.
Sarah Demeuse: Is it also maybe more in a general way because you are constantly asked to define?
Eduardo: I think New York City, it’s exactly the definition of a mind. It’s something that is hyper-realistic and its self-invented because once you live in New York City, I feel like where was I? Why did I get all these things? Why did I wanted to meet so many people? Why did I feel like I was not doing enough? And I feel like it’s very much how the mind works.
Sarah Demeuse: I wonder though if you’re seeing this because you came here with a certain idea in mind and what you had in mind was just shocking more clearly with this city as an all absorbing mind.
Eduardo: The idea of interviewing Swami was very much connected to a personal belief system and I was intrigued with how they would see a society that’s so pragmatically and functional and how they would help people in this society. And I was like, maybe if I can learn how they help people, I can do that too in my work and invent my own method of combining drawing and meditation.
Sarah Demeuse: Note: In Hinduism, Swami is a title given to a religious aesthetic leader.
Eduardo: But the word meditation simultaneously is so… It’s like self-esteem right now. So people just imagine somebody letting go and not using their mind or something or being extremely relaxed. And it’s kind of the opposite, it’s accepting everything, which is also really difficult in the city. Nobody is really okay with acceptance. It’s really once you accept everything then you can deal with things. But here is the opposite. You can do it, you can make it happen, you can accomplish it. So I was wondering how would they deal with that kind of people that visit them or what do they teach since they’re in a completely opposite perception of who they are. That was the goal. But ironically the Swami doesn’t have time for questions.
Sarah Demeuse: The swami is too booked. Yes.
Eduardo: Oh my God. Okay. If the swami is too busy, what else is there?
Sarah Demeuse: So first, when you were here, you were cooking maybe as a way of escaping, I don’t know. But now it seems that you’ve… When you’ve gone back to drawing, which is something that you’ve been doing throughout, but I wonder how the transition goes and how the drawing might be related to the Swami not having time and developing other methods.
Eduardo: It’s always a self-portrait drawing, no matter what. You are drawing, you’re always doing a self-portrait. So for me, drawing right now was a way of channelizing all these endless layers that I feel that are in the city and all these programmed ways of interaction that are here that are simultaneously, they’re very pre-established, but simultaneously there’s always an under energy or under communication that is not explicitly talked about. So all those underlying energies I was, I think it’s the only way I can capture them is drawing because drawing is like capturing ghosts.
Sarah Demeuse: Can I ask you with the drawing in what’s, because there’s also a yoga mat and I know you’ve been doing practices with a stethoscope, but maybe also other forms to sharpen your mind to do the drawing. Is that happening also with these drawings or it’s not related?
Eduardo: I think that sharpening the mind for me, it’s kind of like the moment that I’m drawing, I’m kind of feels throwing out the garbage rather than sharpening the mind. Once I threw out all the garbage, then I feel like okay, now my mind is like, it’s not… It has got rid of all this electricity. So the yoga mat and the yoga ball are specifically to do exercises, stretching exercises because I also felt very physically I need to do those stretches otherwise all the mental electricity that I accumulate during the day in the city, if it transfers to my body, then it’s really difficult to get it out. So all those jumping rope and stretching, all of that is just a way of not allowing the ghosts to start sculpting my body. You can see less amount of people like that. Their bodies morph into what they’re thinking, their faces, their backs, their eyes, everyone’s kind of like, it’s the mind modulates the body. So I think that is important to be aware of that.
Sarah Demeuse: And in a way it does relate with putting out the trash to me at least. Because it also takes away all of that residue from the body.
Eduardo: Ironically, when it takes it out of the body, since the body is inside the mind and not the mind inside the body, then you can really feel that there’s no separation. Which is also something that is very much confused here in the terms that your body and your mind are two separate things. But when doing all those exercises, the body becomes like a construction. The body falls into the category of the mind and not the mind inside the body, which is so waste. When you see people walking here on the streets, you feel like they’re walking, their head goes first and then their body. And that’s the opposite of what it really is ultimately.
Sarah Demeuse: So I mean this studio space is very isolated and I wonder whether there’s something about the setup of this that allows you to do these practices. I imagine it’s not anywhere in the city that you can do that.
Eduardo: And there’s no exterior windows, which for me is a relief. Because when I’m walking on the street, I feel like I have to make an effort to shield myself from so much information, noise, advertisements, food and everything. That then being here is kind of, it is a nice place to isolate. I think it’s very important to have a space to isolate in the city. So at first I was claustrophobic, I have to admit. So I was like, when these turbines turn on, all the drawings come flying everywhere and I cannot control it. It felt like a hamster in an experiment. And then now I’m like, “Okay, no, I was kind of stressed. Perhaps now I’m enjoying it.”
Sarah Demeuse: Are you still walking around a lot in the city?
Eduardo: Yeah, I try to. This past week, this week was busy, but last week I would walk at least three hours a day.
Sarah Demeuse: And how does that relate to this, when you walk you try to isolate as well? Or is it kind of a complete opposite?
Eduardo: I think that there’s something of a serendipity and walking a lot in the city because I always find stores or things that I was… Unexpected things in the city, on the street, it’s a very spontaneous place. There’s a lot of really old places that are still there surviving from another time. So I’m thinking it’s an invocation to walk three hours in the city because since I always find something or a store or something on the street or a photograph, something that I was like, it’s a surprise. The drawing, I relate it much more with garbage, I don’t know why.
Sarah Demeuse: That’s funny.
Eduardo: Because I feel like I can, I don’t know, well yeah, more garbage in a positive way, know. I could say a lot of things about the printing of the drawing. But in the end, the way how it feels in the mind is making all those subconscious endless amount of information that I gather to become an image.
Sarah Demeuse: And I mean there’s a stack there. I’m just wondering, it feels like it’s somewhat automatic. Is it kind of there’s multiples or it is just one day one and then that’s it? How is that process? Or is it an abundance of garbage all at once?
Eduardo: It depends on the day because in the end I feel like it’s more the act of throwing the garbage. But then it is not that I consider them. I feel like in the end, once I see something that it’s… The drawings always explained me something that I didn’t know. So once I find that image that it explained me something about a certain dynamic, I’m like, “Okay, this is enough for today. It did something.” Sometimes I make one drawing and then that drawing leads to another and another and another. And then it’s in one day I make perhaps 10 drawings and then it’s three days without the whole electric system gets and then it’s again. But sometimes one drawing that I feel like it explained a lot is enough.
Sarah Demeuse: Do you look back at them to see the explanation again or is it literally as if you need to get rid of it and you do not need to see it again?
Eduardo: No, I see them a lot when I’m after… The more I do them, the more I need to see them all together because then they generate some sort of map and I understand, “Ah, this is the drawing that I did when I just arrived. This one was afterwards, this was after this.” So they’re very personal, but at the same time, nobody can read what’s personal about them. I guess.
Sarah Demeuse: Yeah. But you for example, you would look back on them when you were back, I don’t know, between Buenos Aires and Uruguay. You look at them and you say, “This is New York. This is where my body was when I was there.” Maybe the question is it’s really connected to this space and the charges that you’re experiencing.
Eduardo: Yeah, they’re like fuses in a car, once they’re burned, they have a feeling of being matches that they burned something or it was capturing a certain light or whatever in that moment. And then when I see them, I can understand where I was in that moment in time because they’re always self-portraits, so when I see drawings that I did 10 years ago, 5 years ago, all of the sketches that I do in notebooks that are in my work that I keep are always diaries. But if you see them, you probably don’t see the personal aspect of them. Because I don’t want also to be a romantic diary. I don’t like that.
Sarah Demeuse: I mean I know some of your drawings and I feel that some of them also feel like proposals for something to build or make. Whereas these don’t seem to have that at first sight to me.
Eduardo: No, these ones are much more kind of, if I could imagine doing some sort of a… I feel like that they are… I don’t know. I feel like they all could be something that could be done. But they’re more the feeling of when you in a dream see many things happening simultaneously. And when you try to explain them, it’s like there was someone, there was a head on a bed and there was somebody entering through the window. But then, I don’t know, this friend that I hadn’t seen in a million years was dressed in my mother’s dress and all these crazy symbolisms come together without explanation, they’re kind of more that spirit and which is something that I haven’t done in a while to just draw more like, drawing. That’s it. No planning, no execution, no performance, no nothing.
Sarah Demeuse: And the drawings they’re done on very light paper. They also just feel more like tracings.
Eduardo: I like the idea of drawing on paper that doesn’t force me to feel that I’m this artist doing an artwork. So I draw a lot on napkins, on sandwich paper or newspapers that I save them later because then there’s a lot of ideas there. But at the same time I feel like if I use really cheap paper, it’s more about the conclusion of what the image is harvesting than the actual object of the art. And then of that, wow amazing paper, really nice drawing. And I’m like, “Okay, who cares about the paper.” Sometimes there’s a lot of amazing drawings done an amazing paper, but it’s not for me.
Sarah Demeuse: Yeah, I mean it’s also very light and easy to take back with you in a sense, it’s very mobile.
Eduardo: That kind of paper?
Sarah Demeuse: Yeah, no?
Eduardo: Yes. I feel like it’s the kind of drawings that if there’s a stain of oil on them, it would be good for, they are kind of filters. They’re filtering something. So I think it’s good that they keep that nature of the not feeling sacred.
Sarah Demeuse: I wonder [inaudible 00:23:05] to bring this back, the Swami, I’m thinking of the Swami who said no who didn’t have time. Are you still trying to see people or meet people here while you’re here?
Eduardo: No, I’m not. I think that once I get a no, I don’t receiving two nos. So I think the Swami approach perhaps is not the right time or the right place. So I take that as a way of continuing my own imaginary vacuum electronic or magnetic vacuum cleaning and developing my own system rather than perhaps I’m not ready to become stuck like a metal in a magnet in another system that is much more ancient. So the moment I received the no, then I was like I have to go into another direction.
Sarah Demeuse: And it seems that it works within this setup.
Eduardo: It’s the experience. As long as I live with a feeling that I created an experience that was key that allowed me to understand something, then I’ll be happy. I don’t need to have the blessing of a Swami to… If that happened, it would’ve been amazing, I guess. But it was not, it’s certainly not the time.
Sarah Demeuse: Well I actually, I like the idea of the key that allows you to explain something because this is termed a research residency, but perhaps research, it’s just about that key. If you understand it in a more expanded sense of it’s locating a key versus necessarily going to a specific archive or doing this or that. It’s much more abstract.
Eduardo: Yeah. Because then it’s like who is governing you? Because you have an idea, then you’re there, then you go to the archive, you get everything and then nothing has happened simultaneously. So the idea of the key is more giving sense to the origin of why you are looking for that. What do you need to find in an archive? What’s out in an archive? And why you research, why the word research in terms of searching for something. So that inner key I think, it always requires a lot of elasticity in terms of what you expected and then what you got. Because that’s why it’s art and not building bridges. I think it’s better to build bridges that you can take with you everywhere rather than aim to creating this amazing bridge. And if it doesn’t happen, then you feel like you have wonder if you’re really worth it or not.
Sarah Demeuse: Yeah, I think that’s a good point to end with, thank you.
On our website, you can find a transcript as well as some images of the drawings Eduardo has been making. Go to amant.org. In our next episode, I talk with Nadja Abt.
Our theme music is composed by Silas Edgar. Eda Li recorded and co-edited the interviews. Sound editing and engineering is by Isaac Silber. Thanks for listening. Join us again next time.
Himali Singh Soin, Spring 2023
Sarah Demeuse: This is Meet the Residents, a series of interviews with Amant artists and residents, in which we speak and digress about research, the impact of context on artistic process, serendipity, and making community. Amant is a nonprofit arts organization and residency in North Brooklyn. Our studios are at 306 Maujer, where we host four artists for three months. One cohort in fall and another one in spring. My name is Sarah Demeuse. I’m your host and Amant’s head of publications. This is our Spring 2023 season.
Today, I’m with Himali Singh Soin. Himali, thanks we are here having tea on your couch in the studio. It’s a beautiful spring day. And, of course, you’ve been here a while. We’ve had many conversations already. But, it would just be nice to understand where you were beforehand, where you came from, and yeah.
Himali Singh Soin:
Thank you. And welcome. I was actually in the Coachella Valley before I came to New York, because we installed a salt pillar
in the middle of the desert, which was quite a beautiful experience.
Sarah Demeuse: Do you have a regular place from where you’re based? Or do you move along with the projects? How does that go?
Himali Singh Soin: So technically, my studio is in London and I have artworks stored there. But, a lot of friends who are curators say that my practice is expeditionary and not exhibitionary and I really like that, because it does involve a lot of field work and a lot of research. So just before being in London, I was actually on the salt pans between India and Pakistan on the border, researching salt.
Sarah Demeuse: For the Coachella project?
Himali Singh Soin: For that project.
Sarah Demeuse: I wonder where New York fits into the expeditionary, because as a landscape, I’d be interested to understand New York as a landscape for you. But, I suspect it’s more with an archival intent that you came here. How does that balance out?
Himali Singh Soin: Well, interestingly, in the first week, I was talking to my friend who was the science historian on some of my previous polar work, and we were talking about how Manhattan was beneath the Laurentide Ice Sheet. And in fact, it was beneath glaciers. So that links to what I’ve been doing for the last seven years, which is looking at glaciers and glacial movements. So, it has a deep connection to the ice, interestingly. And that’s when we make those land acknowledgements of Lenape land or whatever. You also understand those different histories of what seems like pure concrete right now.
Sarah Demeuse: Yeah.
Himali Singh Soin: But Manhattan, I’m here, because New Yorkers between the ‘70s and the '90s took a great fascination to Himalayan art. So some of the most incredible archives are in Manhattan. And I began with the Rubin Museum, and now I’m going to the American Museum of Natural History, and finding these incredible cosmic Buddhist mandalas.
Sarah Demeuse: And, those are the ones that you have enlarged and printed out in the studio. And as you said, they function like mental notes for you.
Himali Singh Soin: Yeah. And in fact, because I spend so much time with them, as portals and maps, I feel like I also wonder into the city with these as a lens. So I’m having this very fractal portal-like experience of New York, where things are reflecting each other and becoming microcosms and macrocosms of each other.
Sarah Demeuse: So, I have a question.
Himali Singh Soin: Yeah.
Sarah Demeuse: Does that often happen when you are deep into research that there’s an overlay between things, and your time becomes a multi-layered time or your space becomes a space that is a portal?
Himali Singh Soin: Does that happen to you?
Sarah Demeuse: Maybe I walk around with phrases or certain thoughts or characters, yes. But, what you described with the mandala and the portal seems to be a bit more intense.
Himali Singh Soin: Yeah, I mean, I like to look for patterns when things leak into each other. This happens quite a lot. When I was writing my bird opera, which had everything to do with the north and south pole, I was working on a simultaneous project on a nuclear device in the Himalayas. And when I went to look for the bird in Wales, I found it breeding on a nuclear site. So these are the bizarre… But it’s of course the single consciousness that’s making those patterns.
Sarah Demeuse: And so far in your archival research, I mean, you have several printouts here of fantastic works or artifacts, not even sure how to classify these cultural products, cultural signifiers. You have many of them.
Himali Singh Soin: Mm-hmm.
Sarah Demeuse: I wonder what your experience has been of planning to go to an archive and then actually being in there. I assume that it’s never straightforward that you intend to see something and then see that, but you actually find maybe adjacent elements, so they’re more interesting. I wonder how that element of surprise or deviation comes into your research.
Himali Singh Soin: Well, since I brought up the bird opera, I’ll say, that the bird, the Arctic town in particular taught me a lot about deviation.
Sarah Demeuse: Mm-hmm.
Himali Singh Soin: And the pleasure of being swung by the wind and finding yourself somewhere else and still making your way back home. It doesn’t move in a straight line. It makes a lot of tangents. So maybe I won’t walk to them, but I’ll point to them.
Sarah Demeuse: Sounds good. Yeah.
Himali Singh Soin: So, that’s a more traditional depiction of Mount Meru. Mount Meru is according to Tibetan Buddhism, the center of the universe. It also functions in gen cosmology, and in Hindu cosmology, and Taoist cosmology. It’s depicted often as a pillar surrounded by these continents. And, where the blue is on the east side is where we are. That’s the ocean and the sea. And it’s this central pillar that in every lifetime we have to make a pilgrimage there. So that’s what I went to look for. And then I was surprised, it’s not a mountain, it’s a pillar. And I was looking for a mountain. Also, the way that it’s depicted in pop culture, it’s always this inaccessible summit and this accessible base. And, the reason I also got interested in this was because when my mom was pregnant with me, my dad climbed, what’s called, Mount Meru in India. And then, I started seeing all these portals and these umbilical cords everywhere. And if we look at that diagram there, you can see that it says, “Crown. Face. Throat.” And then, “Mount Meru.” And then, there’s the base. So, it’s this world realm. And in that world, this central chest area is Mount Meru.
Sarah Demeuse: Right.
Himali Singh Soin: So, it’s these realms. It’s from the space from the crown to the root, to the base. So then, I found this scroll, which is a depiction of Mount Meru from different cross sections. And you see it as the world, and then you see it as the city, and then you see it as the body. Now, when I got to the body, I realized, “Oh, that’s interesting.” Because I remembered seeing these diagrams, which are then medical charts, which I hadn’t asked the archives to take out for me. But there it is. There’s the mountain.
Sarah Demeuse: Finally. Mm-hmm.
Himali Singh Soin: Finally. And then, if you look at that scroll, if you look at the same place where the mountain is, there are these circular, almost chakra-like portals, and they have these four rivers coming out of them, veins or arteries on the body.
Sarah Demeuse: Right.
Himali Singh Soin: But in Mount Meru, it’s always depicted as that there’s four rivers coming out of it. And then, I remembered the mercator map, which is on top, which is the first map of the North Pole. And there, you have these four rivers coming out of it with this black mountain in the middle, that could also be Mount Meru. So I started realizing that Mount Meru is possibly… While it’s the center and it’s the pillar, it’s also movable, and it seems to manifest everywhere. The Tibetans think it’s in Tibet, it’s Mount Kailash, where I’ve also been. There’s the one that my dad climbed in India. There’s one in Tanzania. There’s one in Korea. Here’s a depiction of it in the North Pole, perhaps it’s inside of us. Maybe it’s the city itself, which then made me think that Tibetans in exile cannot actually return to a physical mountain. So this is a moving mountain. So they create new sacred mountains where they go. And, the way that you climb, you don’t climb, you really circuit the mountain. You do it with pilgrimage guides that are these texts written on palm leaves that guide you to see both the natural landscape as it is. So there’s a rock, there’s a stone, this is the leaf, and there’s the water. And then, it’s a process called co-seeing, where you see the metaphorical spiritual quality of that. So perhaps that is the rock that created the flame that killed the demon. Or, this is the water that healed the prince in the scripture. So you start to see the landscape double. All of this, I didn’t know before I came here.
Sarah Demeuse: Mm-hmm.
Himali Singh Soin: These are the excavations, but the pilgrimage texts are super beautiful. So, my first call is to recreate a pilgrimage text. For a contemporary experience, you’re walking down New York, and what if you had a guidebook, it’s maybe in the form of poetry, maybe some music, and you can listen to me, guide you. But where you’re really going is to the inner landscape through the outer landscape. And then, the way that the texts are written, they’re ancient texts, but they’re begging for something like augmented reality. They’re seen. This is a reality, and then here’s an extension of reality.
Sarah Demeuse: Right.
Himali Singh Soin: And I’m not super into… I’m super skeptical of all of this technology.
Sarah Demeuse: Yeah. I mean, we just happen to live in a time period where layering of realities visually is now achievable through technology, but it’s a practice that has been existing since forever. Yeah. I am fascinated by the idea that there is already something that exists knowing that people will move around, and that your landscape is never a static thing. So, it’s allowing for spirituality to be present everywhere. That’s very, very timely, I guess, too.
Himali Singh Soin: Yeah. Is it? I don’t know. Something about desiring this very analog experience. So I want to create this very earthy, almost with palm leaves book. And then, how do I then recreate that as an AR experience, where the landscape itself gives you triggers to listen to poetry and music?
Sarah Demeuse: When you say triggers, what does that mean?
Himali Singh Soin: So, for example, the thing that would separate an AR experience from simply a sound work is that you’re actually walking down Grand Avenue and you see every time the metro arrives or whatever, it sparks a new piece.
Sarah Demeuse: Yeah.
Himali Singh Soin: In my case, I love to think about what indigenous cybernetics looks like, or a more DIY feminist AR, and not something super… The aesthetic so far that I’ve noticed is very masculine.
Sarah Demeuse: And super smooth too.
Himali Singh Soin: And super smooth. I wonder if light can trigger something, or wind can trigger something. I don’t think that’s actually programmable at the moment, but I would love to think about how the elements of the earth itself could spark a new idea. And I guess as more and more people lose their sense of home, then to create these pilgrimages become more important. And, whether their homes are contested spaces. In the case of Tibet, it’s militarized by a Chinese occupation, and that has exacerbated climate change. So those mountains are literally melting.
Sarah Demeuse: Yeah, yeah. No, I mean, exactly. The landscape is also not a static thing. So, how to interiorize something that is always transforming. So, you’re in the archive, you’re seeing all these amazing relations. You’re thinking about the text that might come along. How does your process go? Are there moments where you say, “I do not need any more archive and I need to just walk”? Himali Singh Soin: Mm-hmm.
Sarah Demeuse: Because I imagine research is much more broad than just looking at documents, or in this case, very beautiful artifacts that… What else happens?
Himali Singh Soin: I look for gaps. I look for lacunas or missing moments. And, often those erasures are caused by a powerful infrastructural violence that is to say, a character has purposefully been left out of the archives. Or, there’s a literary prompt. So I think I stop at the archives once I find enough fissures to then enter into.
Sarah Demeuse: Yeah. And find a place from where to speak, or sing, or imagine. Himali Singh Soin: Yeah. And for me, I think, I recognize Buddhism as also being deeply racist, and sexist, and having its own internal problematic. So, it’s to also leave the religious aspect a little bit and use that idea of the pilgrimage text, so that it can be an experience of liberation for any body. Using the exiled body as a starting point.
Sarah Demeuse: Mm-hmm. And that liberation comes through an exercise in the imagination and traveling to a place that is more meaningful. Or, in what way do you replace the religious encounters say? Maybe it’s not replacing, you’re doing something else in that space.
Himali Singh Soin: I think it might be because my practice often gives voice to non-human voices. So I think it’s also thinking about all of the rocks, and the piece of salt, and the piece of ice, and everything that you come across on your way.
Sarah Demeuse: I wonder, going back a bit to your stance here, and I know you’ve been to many places, but I wonder what it’s like for you to do this work in New York, in this type of city, being as a resident here. Does that make a difference? Are there any experiences that you might not have expected before coming here? I just wonder how the context participates.
Himali Singh Soin: Certainly, I mean, of course the archives are here, and they’re incredible, and they’re conserved, which is beautiful. There’s a lot of problems with having an archive here, and not having enough translation, and transfiguration, and such. But I think, being here, and seeing how different communities and bodies are so much in proximity with each other, and yet, there is so much distance between them is really interesting. And that’s where those ideas of abolition and liberation are coming to me. Last night, I heard this incredible presentation that the Studio Museum and MoMA collaborated on, called “Black and Blur(e)” after the Fred Moton book.
Sarah Demeuse: Mm-hmm.
Himali Singh Soin: Where they were looking at images of blur(e) in photography. And that had me thinking, that in a way, going through the city as portals after portals means that everything is blurring into each other. And blurring is a form of precision, but it’s also a form of combining these different communities and seeing things as one whole. But then, quickly being… All that is snatched away from you. I think New York is an amazing city to think about what freedom could look like and what translucency feels like. Different bodies, and colors, and cultures, and music all in relation to each other.
Sarah Demeuse: Right. Yeah.
Himali Singh Soin: In a way that in London, I never… I mean, it’s a million different communities, but you just don’t encounter it in that same ecstatic way. Do you know what about the residency in New York? I think, it’s that I can hear my own inner consciousness and voice better. I’m often in collaborative settings. I’ve been producing for the last two years quite intensely with lots of people. It’s been a long time since I could hear myself.
Sarah Demeuse: Oh, good. Yeah.
Himali Singh Soin: And the sirens and the ambulances, they just enhance that listening.
Sarah Demeuse: Yeah. It happens to me in a strange way too. When I’m on the subway, it’s true, you get the full spectrum. For sure. Yeah. So we’ve talked about research, how you’re doing it here, and then the specific archives. As a general question that we ask most of our residents is, what does a residency mean for you? I guess, perhaps it’s a way of getting to an archive where you want to be, but it’s probably also just thinking about what you’re doing. You’re looking at pilgrimages, people in exile. In what way does being artists in residence maybe speak to that? Himali Singh Soin: I think it’s an expedition in a way, a residency. It’s a way you shut out a lot of the noise, and you’re on a journey. I also feel an affinity with the past and future programs over here. It feels like a similar lineup and good company. So, you share brainwaves. So it’s cool as a residency space, you can almost be like an astrologer of what artists are thinking about, or why.
Sarah Demeuse: That’s a very beautiful imagery, very telling. I think that’s a good point to end with. Thank you.
Himali Singh Soin: Thank you.
Sarah Demeuse: You can find images of the mandalas and maps that Himali mentioned, as well as a transcript of this conversation on our website at amant.org. In our next episode, I talk with Eduardo Navarro. Our theme music is composed by Silas Edgar. Eda Li recorded and co-edited the interviews. Sound editing and engineering is by Isaac Silver. Thanks for listening. Join us again next time.
Jordan Deal, Fall 2022
Sarah Demeuse: This is “Meet the Residents”, a series of interviews with Amant’s artists-in-residence, in which we speak, and digress about research, the impact of context on artistic process, serendipity, and making community. Amant is a nonprofit arts organization and residency in North Brooklyn . Our studios are at 306 Maujer, where we host 4 artists for 3 months; one cohort in fall, another one in spring.
My name is Sarah Demeuse, I’m your host and Amant’s Head of Publications. This is our Fall 2022 season.
Today, I am at Jordan Deal’s studio.
Sarah Demeuse: Jordan. Thanks for inviting me or letting me into your studio. I’m sitting on the couch here with you,
Jordan Deal:Of course.
Sarah Demeuse:I would love to just have a talk a little bit about where you joined us from, and then we take it from there. So–
Sarah Demeuse:Start with the basics.
Jordan Deal:I’m coming from Philly, which is not very far away from here, from New York. It’s about like a two hour bus ride. I’m from there. I’m from West Philadelphia. And yeah, yeah.
Sarah Demeuse:Great. So in a way, we’ve had residents in the past who come from somewhere more nearby. But I wonder I wonder how it feels to you to be in a context where you kind of understand everything, but also not maybe it’s it’s a very strange way of being a resident because you are local. But there’s so many other, I guess, to moving a practice to a certain place.
Jordan Deal: Yeah. I mean, like New York is its own world. I mean, like in our own ecosystem, it is quite different than Philly, which has been really interesting getting to know how that ecosystem runs and like the different communities and yeah, again, just totally different world for that.
Sarah Demeuse: What are some of the things you’ve discovered since moving here basically?
Jordan Deal: You know, I mean, like, I think some of it is just like the natural appeal and also kind of what is thought of as New York, like just a fast pace. But like with that, like people are very direct in a way that is like very nice. Like a lot, very well. I notice especially like walking down the street.
Jordan Deal: It’s just relationships. Like people you can tell that like people have been either walk down the same street to work at the same time or like have like a real history to the city or like relationship that’s long, genuine. It feels very like just a lot of heat. Yeah, I mean, it’s just very beautiful to see. I mean, like.
Jordan Deal: Yeah, you know, I’m staying in Bed-Stuy and it’s a really interesting area, but you could tell again, like the history is very deep, it’s long and the community that’s there and the people who lived there has been you can tell that it’s been generations of people living there. And yes, it’s amazing to see. And Philly still also has that like deep relationship with each other.
Jordan Deal: Like, you can tell, you know, a lot of the families are in Philly or it’s from generations, but yeah, so they’re just operating in a just a slightly different way.
Sarah Demeuse: Yeah. No, I, I can understand that. I wonder. So you came here with a certain idea of what you would do, and I wonder to what degree these findings are just these other elements that you’re seeing, how are they shaping what you’re doing now? In what way has your kind of your daily routine and your practice?It’s been more by what you’re seeing on the street or elsewhere.
Jordan Deal: Yeah. I mean, I think the so the one of the biggest things that really inspired just even within my practice, a big thing is just black parties when I was growing up the black party and I think it still is a big thing for me. But you know, it was a space that was like, well, my grandparents always threw the black party as well.
Jordan Deal: It was a very you know, all the family would come together and, you know, even from different blocks, you know, people would just come through the black party and it’d be like all kinds of food and, you know, fun is a very important space. It’s a very political space. It’s a very I find the black party is also like this space of like subversiveness, you know, I mean, like the way I’ve seen the city attack, particularly black parties and try to restrain it from happening, you know, made me really interested in the ways that people gather and celebrate.
Jordan Deal:And also how is that like spiritually nourishing in its own way and also like its own form of resistance? So, you know, like they even come into New York and I have friends in New York and I even go into parties or like even having people have dinner parties or, you know, like inviting people to homes. Like I just a very important ways for me to really just see how are people naturally resisting, you know, in developing these relationships.
Jordan Deal: And also, just like respecting those ways of that they’re gathering, you know? I mean, so yeah, that’s like one of the biggest motivators of like that also brought me here and it’s also the center of the practice is like form of like how is celebration resistance and what are these other manifestations of, um, of these disruptive like modalities.
Jordan Deal: Yeah.
Sarah Demeuse: When you so when you’re, when you’re researching, how have how do you, how do you gather everything? It seems that it’s a lot about observation and kind of taking it in. Do you take notes? Do you rehearse things? Do you like, you know, does it become part of your body? How does all of that go for you?
Jordan Deal: Yeah, you know, I find it very interesting. And I’m also just talking to a friend about this of the different ways that like, you know, with how do we like gather or like also like interact with the world and then like how does it stay in our bodies? I think a lot through just conversation. I mean the most like, to space of just like that often doesn’t feel like it’s trying to create a container that reduces the experience or like creates like a wall or barrier that of abstraction, you know.
Jordan Deal: I mean, I find it just from like relational, like just from relationships and conversations I do. I love recording I love recordings. I love gathering things as well. So like sometimes I’m either keep I keep a bunch of like pamphlets, I keep a bunch of menus, I keep I just love to collect those things. But also through recordings and also recordings that people are willing to send or like they’re like songs, you know, like playlists.
Jordan Deal: I think all of these things are generative for that. So as I’m walking around like I’m, I’m taking things in, I’m witnessing things and yeah, also trying to like respect those experiences, you know.
Sarah Demeuse: Because you are part in the end of the party as well. And I don’t assume that you go there saying I’m an artist doing research, that you’re just part of it.
Jordan Deal: Yeah. Yes.
Sarah Demeuse: Which is which is a very distinct way of engaging. Then, you know, some of your cohort members because everybody has a different method. And so it’s important to to kind of, I think, stand still at the fact that you’re in it and experiencing and then it’s part of the practice, but it’s not like you are doing some kind of research as an outside observer.
Jordan Deal: Yes.
Sarah Demeuse: Dressed as like a participant or something, you know.
Jordan Deal: Yes, yes, yes. So yeah, I mean, like I’m this is really important. Like does relationship that doesn’t feel again like in genuine you know so that’s why it’s like very organic and it’s already building off of some of the relationship that I do have. You know, that’s what’s often nice about not being too far away or like growing up in Philly.
Jordan Deal: I have friends and family that have navigated and has different roots. ‘Ive been doing a lot of thinking on this idea of chaos and, you know, like the same thing of like the way that celebration acts as a resistance. I’ve been thinking about ways like what are manifestations of this chaos force and what I’m thinking about as I’m thinking about chaos force or the force of chaos, I’m thinking of a subversive and a disruptive and boundless thing. You know that also it’s hard. Like it’s almost inescapable from naming, you know, like I think about that with Improvisation. I think about that, you know, especially when I look at the things that. I’m thinking about chaos is like something that is it can be random, it can be surprising, it can be, you know, something happens that almost even like, you know, in that space of even when we’re celebrating or at a party or something like that, like this sense of fear of no. And I’m I’m yes, I’m not thinking about it as like I mean, it can be chaotic, you know, again, how we know chaos. But it is also something I am I’m still questioning and exploring, but yeah, for 99, the ways that we may think of chaos.
Sarah Demeuse: Yeah. Yeah. Because celebrations might also lead to like a new collectivity, right? Yeah. I feel at least. Yeah. And that’s all of a sudden kind of a structure that is intuitive or something. So. But it emerges out of a moment.
Jordan Deal: Yeah. And I’m also like interested in celebration as like that is also in a like is separate from the political and social bounds. You know, like I think why is why are we celebrating? Where are we celebrating for who is celebrating and gathering in spaces? I mean, like who has access to be able to gather in spaces and celebrate?
Jordan Deal: Like, I think all these things are part of that question of like what, how it can be harnessed into a disruptive force. And yeah, you know, so I think about other things, especially when it comes to celebration and you know, it’s not just for celebration as I’m still also interested in like what are these other manifestations, right? Like, like for like even the moments of like deciding to walk across street or a red light, you know, like that is a manifestation of this thing of like, defiance, right?
Jordan Deal: Of like, not listening, doing the unpredictable, unexpected. And that I’m interested in, in like, either dismantling or deconstructing what we know of the bounds of the system or understanding the system, you know, its limitations, borders, it’s all these things. And, and in actively deciding to pass through them and resist in certain ways and also accept in certain places like this, the agency is kind of be happening.
Jordan Deal: And this is happening. This like all the times, every day, every space that we interact with institutions, signs, you know, like so the active thing is an active decision making that we’re all kind of participating in whether or not, you know, listen to authority or not listen to authority in these moments.
Sarah Demeuse: Given that we’re in your studio, I kind of just wanted us to talk about how you set up the studio. It’s that you have a set up here to make music. There’s a lot of books and then there’s also costumes. It seems like props of all matter. So I think it would just be really nice to kind of walk through this and and have you tell us a little bit of how these elements here are coming together, or maybe not.
Sarah Demeuse: Like how do you engage with them as you’re in the studio?
Jordan Deal: Yeah, I mean, I think the first thing was how to dirty it up, you know, I mean, I think that was like one of the biggest things. I’m very I can be very messy which if there’s great. Yeah there’s a lot of I’m also prepping I’m in the middle of like prepping for a performance. So there’s some things that aren’t present here.
Jordan Deal: But yeah, I, a big part of the practice also is making music and making sounds and improvising with those. So I have a set up that I, you know, has two pianos. I have electric guitar, three mics and another acoustic guitar and just also instruments that either I’ve touched or not touched, which is violin, a harp, or like a little mini harp.
Jordan Deal: Yeah. And I love books. I mean, I love going things. So there’s a there’s, there’s ranges from all things right now. Yeah. And I think because I mean the way I work is very either I’m, I have a lot of things on my mind and a lot of different I can’t think of at almost like abbreviated thoughts. So, you know, I work very manically.
Jordan Deal: So these different stations that allow me to kind of like navigate these different worlds of like, oh, okay, like I’m working a film and then I can be very physical and work with these instruments and or play around with I have different devices. I have a cassette player and VCR tapes, like for different types of sounds and different type of things like I might have.
Jordan Deal: So that allows me to kind of like navigate these different parts of my brain a bit in either a physical way or like a sonic way. Yeah. Also, yeah, I’ve, I’ve during my time here, I’ve been exploring like these different tropes and characters and performance and also like the ways it with its social and political context. And one of the things that were coming up is Power Rangers.
Jordan Deal: So even with so within these, like I have these suits and some of them are helmets and shoulder pads. A lot of these are are for costume and wearable pieces. And also one of the things that I think I carry everywhere I go is this skeleton, which I’ve had for a couple of years now. And it’s constantly morphing and changing and being reconstructed and deconstructed and developing its own type of life.
Jordan Deal: So that’s always going to that is staying with me.
Sarah Demeuse: And does it have a name?
Jordan Deal: Now yet, you know, I mean, it changes, I mean, and it acts as a vessel in my performances. So I lot I allow kind of like whatever wants to embody that during a performance that space too. So I don’t name it.
Sarah Demeuse: Got it. Yeah, that’s very distinct for this year or for this season, Ayo came with a specific object and used it to like in a way, it’s not just you coming for a residency. It’s very, it’s very particular. The Power Rangers. We definitely need an image of that. Also on the on the wall is a pretty nice combination of things there.
Sarah Demeuse: But I, I wonder is this, is this how in Philly you work as well, you have a studio or do you live in the studio in like in what way is this setup common for your practice or is there something that is very new or something that you’re trying out here in this space?
Jordan Deal: Yeah, I think there’s a few things this new. I have a two studio space in Philly, but most of the time I do a lot of my work from like in the spaces I live in and like for like I do a lot of sculptural work like in my studio, but a lot of sound and film and things like that.
Jordan Deal: Like I may even use like a bedroom living room. Like it’s something about living with those things and also always work over night. So here it’s kind of interesting. Like I’ve also been, you know, one of the most times I’ve been here is from it’s at midnight, you know, is staying here to the morning. And I yeah, I think that it’s also interesting like having to one of the things I’m adjusting to is like having this other space that also everything is happening in one space and then we have like three different locations that do things.
Jordan Deal: And so here like the music, even playing with sculpture and doing the films, it’s all here is is interesting because it’s gathering its own congested and dense energy in one space, you know, it’s concentrated. Yeah. So I’m enjoying that process. And I’m also thinking about, like, continuing that in Philly. Mm hmm. Yeah.
Sarah Demeuse: Interesting. So what does it mean for you to, like, be in residency? Like, we’ve spoken about New York and kind of similarities, distinctions, but is there something that you do or that your practice kind of adjusts to because you’re not in in your regular space, like in what way has it grown or learned things? Sometimes it just seems that I’m not talking about you, but just in general, people feel like they have to go on a residence.
Sarah Demeuse: And I wonder, like what is learned from that? And I’d be really interested to hear how that’s going for you. Maybe is it pushing you out of your comfort zone in one way or another?
Jordan Deal: Yeah. I mean like I think when just like trying to get adjusted to a new city away from, you know, friends and what my normal routine is, I’m happy. And that on its own is its own challenge. And yeah.
Sarah Demeuse: Is there also something that is distinct because you’re with you’re with two or three other artists? And what happens in that kind of microcosm of things? Yeah.
Jordan Deal: Yeah. I mean, I think one of the things I’ve been cherishing is the relationship that we’ve built of just like either does going to be shows or just being in conversation and being able to watch how all of our practices are developing, our ideas are developing, are moving, and because it’s such a concentrated in short amount of time, I mean, it’s three months, but you know, sometimes it feels very fast, but it’s still amazing to like, we can see each other and watch each other move to these ideas.
Jordan Deal: Also explore the city together and yeah.
Sarah Demeuse: And I do feel that in comparison to other groups, this group, you do a lot of things together.
Jordan Deal: Yeah, we do.
Sarah Demeuse: You do? Yeah.
Jordan Deal: Yeah, we have a group chat. We’re kind of like each other now. Like, what’s happening tonight? Or is it a jazz scene? Or we kind of dance and we’re like, Oh, there’s a show happening, you know, like to also. Yeah, I mean, just to also be in relationship with the artists and out of this city, you know, and also to work in the city and which is very informative it seems to all of our practices too.
Sarah Demeuse: Yeah, so true. I in these interviews, I always ask the residents if they have a question for or if they have questions for Amant. And I wonder if you have any. Feels like you have too many.
Jordan Deal: Yeah. No, no, no. I think. Yeah, I’m I think I’m, I’m always curious about the people, what makes up the institution. So, you know, like you, what’s your experience, you know, like and I’m what now moves you to be a part of Amant.
Sarah Demeuse: Yeah I ha. It’s really strange because Amant is a collection of people. You’re right. And somehow I’m here speaking for Amant, but it’s my specific place where I’m talking from. I think it first started with a relationship also, like I knew the director and we had worked together. You know? So there’s like a history that brings you here of doing things together.
Sarah Demeuse: And then I, I am actually really drawn to this environment that is small. I, New York, I feel institutionally has a lot of great things to offer, but often the scale is just like too daunting for me. And it feels like you cannot be a person anymore. And there is space for that here. So I really appreciate that you’re here.
Sarah Demeuse: Yeah, no, there are new relationships that happen all the time. And the one with the artists is one that we’re kind of artists by, which I mean resident is one that we’re we I think we not just me. I would like to think of how we carry that forward. Even after you’ve left, how do we stay in conversation? Thank you very much Jordan for for opening your thoughts and for letting me ask you questions and bring it somewhere else.
Jordan Deal: Yeah, yeah. No, of course. Thank you. Thank you for this time.
Thanks for listening! On our website, you can find a transcript of this conversation as well as more reference images. This is the final interview for Fall 2022, please join us again for Spring 2023.
“Meet the Resident” theme music is composed by Silas Edgar, who also recorded the conversations. Sound editing and engineering is by Isaac Silber. Finally, we’re also thankful to our residents, for letting us into their studios, their process and for finding time in their tight schedules.
Ayo, Fall 22
Sarah Demeuse: This is “Meet the Residents”, a series of interviews with Amant’s artists-in-residence, in which we speak, and digress about research, the impact of context on artistic process, serendipity, and making community. Amant is a nonprofit arts organization and residency in North Brooklyn . Our studios are at 306 Maujer, where we host 4 artists for 3 months; one cohort in fall, another one in spring.
My name is Sarah Demeuse, I’m your host and Amant’s Head of Publications. This is our Fall 2022 season.
Today, I am at Ayo’s studio.
Sarah Demeuse: So Ayo, great to be in your studio! Thanks so much for making space and time in your stay here. I think we can just jump right in. There’s so much to see here and to talk about. And I think a first question would be, where are you? Where did you join us from before coming to Amant? Where were you?
Ayo: Where was I? In terms of my work or–oh, geographically. Geographically, yeah. Yeah. I was in– I live in the Netherlands. I’ve been living there for about 13 years. But I’m originally from Uganda.
Sarah Demeuse: Great. And. And then, yes, I. It would be great to talk about where you where you work. And maybe we can rephrase that question to be a bit more specific in terms of when you arrived here, you came with a certain plan. It would be great to hear what you thought you were going to do and then how this is developing now that you’re here.
Ayo: So prior to coming here, I think it’s important to at least contextualize what I’d been interested in, because it’s kind of like.
Sarah Demeuse: Aha
Ayo: Falls in line to the reason, my main motivation for coming to New York and for this residency. So two years ago I became very interested in information, knowledge practices specific to the Ugandan Langi people because this is part of my ancestry and through like some researching an anthropological and anthropological publication, I came across a particular cultural performance that I’d heard about, but I hadn’t like read about it, you know?
Ayo: Yeah, I hadn’t read about it like in a book, you know, it had been like of course, of course it transmitted through like people had some sort of knowledge about it. And then from that point, when I started to research that cultural performance, you know, it opened up or it opened up certain parts of history that hadn’t also been taught in school, you know, and that’s where the interest came.
Ayo: And from then on, I’ve always been looking at ways in which I can revisit these oral histories or these forms of storytelling, these traditions that are kind of embedded within my ancestry, but have kind of like not been passed through because these are usually done generationally. And at that point of time, I was I had this I inherited the winnower and it was just called a dero in my mother tongue.
Ayo: And I was just thinking of a way of expanding this. And that’s when I saw the open call at Amant. And I thought, Oh, it would be very interesting to take this object and look at this dispersal of informal knowledge. You know, if I’m looking at the archive as the body of the body as an archive, it would be interesting to expand this research in a completely different geography.
Ayo: So I came with the intention of doing that.
Sarah Demeuse: And previously, just to understand, when you were researching those oral traditions, would you be going back to Uganda or was it also already in a diasporic situation?
Ayo: No, those oral histories were very specific to my I hesitate to say tribe, you know, to my own. Yeah. Which other word can I use? I don’t know.
Ayo: So the language society so like those long. Yes, I would go back to supplement the information because what was written down was, was in the context of something broader and there was just like in this case, Ikoce, this specific cultural performance. But I was so interested in it was just a small like two page document.
Ayo: Speaking about this Ugandan healer who became prolific in the 1960s. And the reason why she became quite famous was I mean, the reason why she started practicing was because her husband was drafted to fight for the British during the Second World War. And these are actual events that, you know, happened. But the but these are things that are not told within those oral histories.
Ayo: It’s just the performance and the, you know. Yeah. So just to supplement and that’s I went home to Uganda to the northern part of Uganda and I spoke with like elders and different people to like tap into the, you know, the different forms of knowledge and memory of this practice. So, yes, I’ve always been going back when it’s specific to the history, specific to the community of people.
Sarah Demeuse: Great. So then tell us how how it works here, what you bring to the conversations here. How do you do your research? How do you even introduce yourself?
Ayo: Yeah, that’s a good question. There’s been it’s different, of course. And I think I came here because I mean, firstly, the histories that I found is that during the time when I submitted my application and my proposal, there were these oral histories archived at Fordham University called the Bronx African American Oral History Project, BAAHP. And I thought that there would be particular or more records about African immigrants, you know, because in the 1980s till now, I think starting from the 1980s, there was an influx, a large amount of African immigrants from the continent and a lot of histories that have been done on like black people in America.
Ayo: I think those are specific to African Americans and not a lot. And that distinction sometimes is sometimes, you know, it’s not made. And I came with an intention to make that distinction. And so that, of course, was also like a different approach, because I’m in in that case, I’m approaching it approach, approach, approach, sorry. But I, you know, I contacted an institution and it’s usually I usually work with people, not institutions to like access archives.
Sarah Demeuse: Yeah.
Ayo: And this time it was yeah. So there have been some I think the challenge, the biggest challenge I face right now is just if there is like a barrier between the, you know, the I listen to the oral some of the records, about 15 of them out of 46 that were archived. And out of those and 46 of them, you know, are from like 400 records that they made from 2002 to now.
Ayo: And, you know, it’s just it’s been quite difficult to to actually contact the people whose voices were recorded.
Sarah Demeuse: And who was doing the recording. This is actually still going on at Fordham?
Ayo: No. Since well, the professor who did the recording, who initiated the project is called Mark Mason. Dr. Mark Mason. And he started the archive in 2003 because there was a need from within the community to like create more visibility for the work, the contribution of African Americans within the Bronx. And then later on they noticed or one of the staff members, Jane, Jane Edward noticed that there was also and there were also African immigrants, actually, who wanted to share the stories, you know.
Sarah Demeuse: And so you’re focusing mostly on the immigrants. Yes. Yeah. And then what is the next step after listening to it? And I’m just kind of wondering how the object of the winnower here comes in. Also, because it’s not just you are here on the residency, the winnower is on a residency too and I’m really interested in how that works for you with this very specific object from your family history that comes with them.
Ayo: Well, the winnower. Yeah, I carry it everywhere with me. As long as I’m staying at a place for like more than a month, I take it with me and the I. I look at the act of winnowing, actually. I look at it metaphorically in relation to like informal knowledge and experiences that are kind of like winnowed from the body during migration.
Ayo: It comes from a very personal, you know, point of relation. And I wanted to extend this to like African immigrants in New York through film though, because and in the film that I’m working on, the filmic research, I’m taking that sound of winnowing, you know, formally to kind of like structure the video, to give a sense of rhythm and a sense of, you know, memory in my case, maybe in like pacing the images that I’m collecting and and the text that I’m writing. Because while listening to these oral histories, I’m also like writing, reacting to what I’m listening to. And that’s why you see some varied texts all over the wall. Yeah. So that’s how, how the winnower is informing the filmic research work.
Sarah Demeuse: Yeah. Yeah. And so that the interviews are the starting point for the filmic research, here you have your reactions. Is there another layer of direct interaction with people here as well? Mm hmm.
Ayo: Those ones I’ve done, like outside of the the archive. How do they frame us? Like, yeah, self-initiated, like, but also informed partially by the archives because some of the the the interviewees there were speaking of places where Africans commune and for example, the Malcolm Shabazz and I went there and just had some conversations with the vendors who have been selling, you know, goods, mainly African artifacts and clothing for for about 30 years, 25 years to 30 years.
Ayo: So I have spoken with some of them just to casually speak about, you know, their experiences here or their ties to home and those kind of matters. Yeah. Yeah. It’s still it’s an ongoing thing because on one hand, I do feel like three months is a very short period of time for like what I’ve kind of started to do.
Ayo: And because it takes a lot, it takes some time to develop a sense of trust and to be invited to communal activities. And the fact that I’m also Ugandan and most of the people in New York, the ones I’ve met right now, they’re from West Africa. We relate in a very in quite a different. Yeah. Cultural, historical. Yeah.
Ayo: Basis as well.
Sarah Demeuse: For Sure now and then I know there’s also a lot of drawings and glass that you are blowing. How does that feature into everything?
Ayo: Yeah, well, the glass, the glass sculptures are, um, they are formal manifestations of like the drawings you see there. These are drawings of, for example, those two, those are drawings of this plant, the pitcher plant called scientific called Nepenthes.
Sarah Demeuse: Nepenthes, yeah.
Ayo: And I, I became obsessed with these plants like a year ago when I was looking for the scientific name of the materials used to weave, the Otero. Otero is the winnower. Yeah, I found this botanical publication, I think it was written in the 19th century by these two explorers who discovered discovered the source of the Nile.
Ayo: And that’s and it starts from like Egypt all the way to Uganda. And they started, I think, with the Nepenthes, you know, this plant. So it’s very beautiful, very beautiful, gorgeous life plant. And the illustration was also really, really gorgeous. And I just find it very interesting that they started from Egypt and then ended in Uganda with the I did find the name of the plant is Grewia Mollis.
Ayo: Is this the scientific name. But it means in my mother tongue is called Opobo Bark. And I just wanted to metaphorically like weave that journey maybe in my in my head. It makes a lot of sense. But I think to some people it’s just random. It could be random. But sculpture for me is just, you know, they’re always they’re like punctuations within long term research because the film and this these oral histories that I’m doing will take a while to to like materialize if I even get to materialize that and sculpture is just more immediate, you know .And so I’m able to.
Sarah Demeuse: Yeah. And I mean glass yeah. You can’t control or edit a glass make a film.
Sarah Demeuse: You engage with it in a very different way. Mm hmm. Yeah. So they’re there are all bell shaped pieces trying to kind of visually describe them. One is bright orange, another transparent, and another is more kind of dark red leaning towards brown when you’ve made them nearby or at a Brooklyn Glass studio.
Ayo: Yeah, I’ve made them at Urban Glass Studio.
Sarah Demeuse: Yeah, yeah.
Sarah Demeuse: And is that also an environment that kind of informs what you do? I’m sure you see other people working there. How does that kind of more casual? Everybody’s doing their thing, experience inform. Yeah. Your work here.
Ayo: Yeah, well, I’ve never worked with glass before. This is the first time and these are experiments, the ones that you see on the table. And when I approached them, I’d been thinking about ways in which to create like an object, like the Nepenthes. And but I didn’t want to use ceramic because I’ve been using that for quite a bit of time now and I wanted a new material to like engage with.
Ayo: So I approached the studio and they paired me up with two other artists. And because you have to do a workshop or training before you can actually use the facility, I no, I just wanted something quicker. So we collaborated. They actually blew the objects, but I gave directions and the color and the shape after. That’s why their iterations on each of the four different, like objects on the table.
Sarah Demeuse: Yeah. Yeah.
Ayo: It was quite easy to work with other people.
Sarah Demeuse: When you work with those other people, do you tell them why this shape and how it relates to you?
Ayo: Yeah, yeah. We had a we had a very nice meeting before we actually got to glassblowing to just understand where I was coming from and how I wanted to to use the objects. Yeah. And also during like every session, like it takes an hour to finish an object aside from the smallest one and, but don’t have pauses between each before it could get really large to be like, oh how how much, how much deeper, how much wider, how much?
Ayo: You know, always like going back and forth. Yeah. Before the final shape was put in this cooling cabinet for 24 hours.
Sarah Demeuse: Oh yeah. How do you show them the drawings too? Yeah, yeah.
Ayo: Definitely. I mean, they’re based on the drawings.
Sarah Demeuse: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. I’m quite fascinated by how in what you’re doing here, there’s a translation from an object to a metaphor to a personal, personal experience. And then it comes back to an object. There are all these kind of the reverse flow both ways. And now in, in, in to kind of revert that idea of the source of the Nile.
Sarah Demeuse: So it’s you’re distilling and you’re also not because then you’re making it into an object that actually kind of opens up again for a lot of other interpretations. In any case, my in my question to you also is a little bit you know, we’ve been circling around this the question of research. No, this is a research residency. And it seems that for you, research is also very much related, trying to give a form and a shape to things.
Sarah Demeuse: You’re in archives, but you react to it. It’s it’s it’s it’s not just an accumulation or gathering of information or stories or data. There’s, there’s always another engagement with it, too. Or is that just kind of more around the occurrence here? What how is research how does that happen for you?
Ayo: Yeah, yeah. You’ve articulated that so well. But yes, I, I think when I approach archives, I, I’m thinking of ways to add to them. So it’s not so much accumulating. There’s already so much stuff that’s been accumulated. You know, it’s there. I don’t I’m not interested in just presenting what’s already there. I have to add to it in some sort of way.
Ayo: And then approaching it from a personal point of like interest enables me not to like limit myself with how I can actually materialize it or question it or present it, also. Yeah, just reimagination is very important for me, even within these histories that are that are maybe so precious to some, like I’m not interested in like showing things like this is how it was, this is how it should always be.
Ayo: But it’s like, how can I take this and reimagine it and show it? You know? I think that’s a way for me in which these archives can continue living. Reimagining memory, incorporating them within a contemporary artistic practice. For me.
Sarah Demeuse: You know, I wonder how the specific New York experience might might influence that reimagining. I’m sure conversations that you have here are different from the ones that you have, say, in Rotterdam or in Uganda. Is there anything that’s surprised you or that you feel like brought you in a different direction?
Sarah Demeuse: And I I’d be curious to hear your your experience what it yeah.
Ayo: When that’s a good question. I on one hand I feel like I’ve been here for just a couple of weeks. Yeah. And so it’s, it’s, it’s difficult to, to have like a conclusion and a conclusion, but like a fully formed you’re in it. Yeah. Yeah, exactly. I haven’t heard like some sort of different I’m in it and, and I’m starting to, I feel like it’s just begun in some sort of way and it’s going to end very soon.
Ayo: So. But yeah, I would have to, to revisit that question. I think I need to take some distance from actually being here.
Sarah Demeuse: Yeah.
Ayo: To gauge the impact I can.
Ayo: Oh well, I a lot of sensory stimulation, I think in New York actually, especially when at is for me when I from the time that I live the door of my apartment to like getting here, like I’m just like there’s a lot of energy, there’s a lot of light input and I think but no, at the beginning it was quite overwhelming, you know, because just to to witness, you know, the differences in I don’t know, in.
Ayo: Yeah, just to put it bluntly, like to the difference in class and race in all these things, it’s so intense, especially if you live in like Brooklyn and then in Bed-Stuy and then you come to Williamsburg, then you go to Manhattan. It’s so yeah, it’s a lot, you know. And so that actually quite affected me quite a bit when I first got here.
Ayo: And then over time, you know, you get used to it, you know, commuting in the subway and then you become very numb to all of these, you know, issues that the city is facing. But but that like that that haunts the most. And then also coming into this space and this space feels like some sort of it feels a bit like excluded from the reality of the environment in some sort of way.
Ayo: Maybe because it looks so pristine and it’s so and there’s so much care in making sure that everything stays just the way that you got it when you go, you know, it’s just yeah, it’s so there’s a lot of sensory stimulation, you know.
Sarah Demeuse: Yeah. No. And I think you’re so right in connecting that also to questions of class and, and to fall really deep reality of how this place is built and how it continues to operate. Yeah, yeah, for sure. Um, one last question and this is, this is a bit more maybe about Amant but I wonder if you have any questions for us.
Sarah Demeuse: I’m asking you a lot of things and maybe there are certain questions that you might have and that could actually be really great for us to to hear. Not everyone has questions, so share that is certainly fine. This is not like, yeah, a job interview.
Ayo: Oh, oh yeah. I know. I mean, maybe my question would be more directed to you. And actually the reason firstly like why do you feel it’s important to like archive this particular moment during the residency.
Sarah Demeuse: Yeah.
Ayo: And do you, how did you choose the mode of like because there are different ways of also like video. I mean documenting this moment and you’ve chosen this sonic.
Sarah Demeuse: Yes, well, we chose this Sonic because there’s so much visual material already and it feels like then it’s so much about what the person looks like. And we have to think so much about, you know, the limitations around that. But also to be you want to just have it be about how I was dressed today to kind of I mean, but, but this is a very reductive way of saying it.
Sarah Demeuse: But we didn’t really wanted to make a thing of like a life style feeling. So we thought audio is in a way more sincere in that regard. And then it’s also a way that people really engage with the often content that is a bit longer and slower. You know, if you listen to a podcast you’re committing for say like 20, 25 minutes.
Sarah Demeuse: So we kind of like that idea of sitting down with someone. And now what I these interviews and this particular moment, I don’t really know whether it is about, you know, your we or whatever five week meet for he did do that into the residency we thought we’d do it now because then we can still work on edits while you’re here.
Sarah Demeuse: And so it’s maybe it’s, it’s a bit easier we thought doing it that way and for, for us I think it’s really great to hear you now too, because it’s before your public presentation and we can kind of just, you know, come to that with a more informed mind. And and then in general, I think we like for people or audiences to know, to know our residents up to the point where our residents most want to show or share.
Sarah Demeuse: Of course. But yeah, we don’t we’re trying to not just have it be about a headshot and a CV, but more about how people work and how they think and what it means to be an artist. What so that’s that’s that’s kind of a longwinded answer to your multiple part question.
Ayo: Thank you. I really enjoyed this conversation too.
Sarah Demeuse: Thanks for listening, in our next episode I talk with Jordan Deal.
Our theme music is composed by Silas Edgar, who also recorded the conversations.
Sound editing and engineering is by Isaac Silber. Finally, we’re also thankful to our residents, for letting us into their studios, their process and for finding time in their tight schedules.
Denise Ferreira da Silva & Valentina Desideri, Fall 2022
Sarah Demeuse: This is “Meet the Residents”, a series of interviews with Amant’s artists-in-residence, in which we speak, and digress about research, the impact of context on artistic process, serendipity, and making community. Amant is a nonprofit arts organization and residency in North Brooklyn . Our studios are at 306 Maujer, where we host 4 artists for 3 months; one cohort in fall, another one in spring.
My name is Sarah Demeuse, I’m your host and Amant’s Head of Publications.
This is our Fall 2022 season.
Today I am with Valentina Desideri and Denise Ferreira da Silva, who work together as the “Sensing Salon”.
Sarah Demeuse: Valentina and Denise, thanks so much for being here. This is our second season and I’m very excited to be starting with you both. And tell us quickly, where did you join us from?
Denise Ferreira da Silva: I join you from Vancouver, Canada. West end of Canada.
Valentina Desideri: And I’m from living in Lisbon at the moment.
Sarah Demeuse: And. Excellent. So I guess the first question that I have for you two is how did you two start working together? A doing something so precise, having your own practices, living in different places. So it would be great to kind of understand how all of that worked and maybe now is intensified in some way or another.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: I can I can start. So when we started working together or both living in Europe, I was living in London, in the U.K., and Valentino was living in France at PAF. And we met in Italy, of all places, at a Fanon, Frantz Fanon conference. And we were having dinner and Valentina was telling me about her practice of Fake Therapy and Political Therapy.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: And also she was doing some research on Charlotte on palmistry. Mm hmm. And you can continue.
Valentina Desideri: And then Denise was having a double life as an academic and a secret life as a Tarot reader and astrologer, herbal healing and Reiki and so, of course, we became friends and started to exchange really just doing readings for each other and learning. I was learning the tarot and astrology by reading with Desideri, and then we figured out that reading together was more interesting than reading alone.
Valentina Desideri: And we started to make experiments first, at PAF we started to take people, and we’re there as guinea pigs and trying to do readings.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: I think the first thing we came up with was the question. And the question was how to image ethics with and without the subject to the modern subject. And as we were doing readings, we also realized that we read we read in a particular way.
Valentina Desideri: What does the experiment was? First of all, to mix different layers, so to use different tools every time we have the reading. So one could do a Tarot reading, but then do also Reiki readings or yeah, try this or look at the astrology for a specific event. So to use more than one tool every time we read it.
Valentina Desideri: And being more than one reader, of course. So these were already the two premises when we started to. What happens if we do that? And then as we experimented, we figured out that the subject always came back. Because as we talk to people, then it’s fundamentally about what do I do with this, help?
Sarah Demeuse: Right.
Valentina Desideri: And so we tried to devise ways to revisit the subject. So first of all, we formulated this question as our question, our treatment, and we splash out the subject. And then we tried to ask people to tell us about their concerns and their issues they want to read about. We tried to formulate a question that was larger than or more abstract or figuring out whatever, let’s say the ethical dimension of the question they were asking for us so that then we could read for the question.
Sarah Demeuse: And the question basically has remained the same and is going to remain throughout this project in which you finish a set of tarot cards.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: Yes. Basically, I think the yeah, this deck is the beginning of the onset of the possibility for a new because the way we are designing it, it already it is centered by the subject and. Yeah, yes, I mean that’s all I can say it totally the sound of the eye while at the same time recognizing acknowledging that it’s that the person comes to a reading because of a crisis of some kind of social personal, and that something unravels and they come with pain.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: So the deck kind of gets to the pain and stays there, but not as so they say more individual pain, but as a as a general pain.
Sarah Demeuse: So but the subjects you invite in, in a way, they all come with a certain pain, even though that is that is it happens in the reading that that emerges. It’s not like you you are working with a specific type of person with whom you read. Yeah. We all have a pain.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: Yes. Mm hmm. But what the deck highlights is the general, the commonality of that pain. And then. But that’s what the readings did before.
Valentina Desideri: Yeah, I think it’s interesting because the question stays the same. You know, I saw the outer imagine and it without the subject, it’s the kind of permeating question. It goes through all the iteration and the modification that the practice of ever experienced. So we began with that with the poetical reading. So by reading with different tools for a political question, let’s say, or for a general, general question.
Valentina Desideri: And that was very much an intellectual exercise. We were check. We were basically producing a very complex image through the different tools about the question that was proposed, and we were using it to think together. So to be able to have a conversation about an issue while holding the complexity, as we did those readings, we realized that what was nice was the sociality that reading together implied.
Valentina Desideri: So we started to do the Sensing Salon in which we were teaching other people out of.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: Something before, because the sociality meant that even though you come with your question. Yes, by the time we finished reading, the question dissipates. You forget the pain and the question they separate in the process. And because the reading becomes a collective one. And one of the things that we emphasize is that when we read with the deck, we are reading with others who have read before, because like any practice tarot you learn from peoples people practice, and they write about it.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: Yeah. So that was the focus when I that’s why, you know, the sociality of the Sensing Salon was really like the embodiment of something.
Valentina Desideri: Clearly that was already embedded in all those tools because you learn them from somewhere and that our interpretation and already meaning attached to every symbol, to every planet, to every so yeah, every time you’re reading, you read with all of that and all of those people that have read before you and all the readings you ever done yourself before and all the study of every single person.
Valentina Desideri: So that sociality became then embodied in the Sensing Ssalon when we started to do more, longer gathering. So we told people basically how to read on how we approach reading astrology Tarot, initiating everybody to Reiki, and then doing study groups, mixing those tools to do collective exercise. And, and then, and when the pandemic hit, a few years later, then we also started to do individual readings because then the pain kind of came back.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: So people came twice asking for readings.
Valentina Desideri: And I think this one continues from that point because if at the beginning, you know, the intellectual exercise allowed us to separate the question and the pain so that we could have an intellectual speculation on what was going on. Now, through these forums and through this back. And the pain is back. The necessity to feel that pain and to bring together the thinking and the feeling of this pain is something that’s happening through death.
Sarah Demeuse: So you are sitting here and on the table in front of us is kind of a schematic as well as a longer kind of list of descriptions. This is, I imagine, a way of finding an image for a certain card. Could you walk me through it, how it works, so that I, I kind of understand your process of thinking of that image.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: Okay. So here we have one of the major arcana, the magician. And as we… So, maybe we should tell the story about how we came to this point. Yeah. So it was back the beginning of 2018, 19, it was beginning of 19.
Valentina Desideri: I think. Was it? And then oh my God.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: Yeah, to be 4 years more. Almost five years. A friend of ours, Jason Dodge.
Sarah Demeuse: Aha.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: He sent an email to both of us like I met this poet Ai Ogawa and looking through the poems and I think it has everything to do with what you do with the tarot. Yeah. And with but no he sent this the book he sent this the collected poems of Ai and we, we, we, we read the poems and we just like, wow, we are.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: So let’s do a.
Valentina Desideri: Yeah, I think we do that tarot reading to understand what, why does this feel so important and what do we need to do? And I remember from the reading were like, Oh my God, this is all tarot deck. So we decided we have to make pairings between 78 poems and 78 cards, and we did so for each card, for each of the 78 cards of the tarot deck.
Valentina Desideri: We paired them with the poem. We did a total reading, asking all to read this card, and then we did the Reiki readings. So we adopted the Reiki treatment, but asking question to the card and kind of taking note of any images or yeah, always keeping the question how to read this card in this deck. So we took notes of this is the Reiki one part is the notes of the how we read the tarot and we kept doing it for 78.
Sarah Demeuse: So this stack here is for all the poems.
Valentina Desideri: This is for the major arcana. And then this one to all the trees, you know, all the aces, all the tools. These are compensation of the all the trees, the major acana, our arcanas, their secrets, their mysteries.
Sarah Demeuse: And these were also paired with a poem and yeah, yes.
Valentina Desideri: Each of them were with a poem. So for each card, we did this process, but we have these kinds of notes only for the major arcana. Yeah. I mean, we have them recorded and we have them digitally, like digital notes, the image, the poems and the reiki. But now we’re trying to condense that. It’s a lot of information.
Sarah Demeuse: Yes. How long I mean, how long does it take to do one card? It depends. I guess.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: It depends. As it’s many hours for this class. Yeah, yeah. Many, many hours because we go back. So now, for instance, we’re doing readings for the Major Arcana during the residency. So we have 22 artists and we are reading, doing readings for them. And those readings will give us a key to one particular major arcana that we only light and which one is as we are doing the readings.
Valentina Desideri: We don’t invite people, expect, okay, can you come and be the magician. Yeah, we just invite you and if we know it makes sense.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: Given information about that.
Valentina Desideri: And then we just do a reading. But as you come with whatever concern or things that are happening in this moment, we realize, oh, that is the magician. That could be a question for the magician. So we do a reading for you, but is at the same time also reading.
Sarah Demeuse: I see. Yeah.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: And out of this process we will create the images that those feelings are doing now.
Sarah Demeuse: And how did you how did you configure those 22 or perhaps that’s still growing as you are here? Who who comes in for readings?
Denise Ferreira da Silva: We basically we thought of people. Yeah, it’s like we want we have read for them most and one person.
Sarah Demeuse: Sorry it’s always one person.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: One person for each. Yeah.
Sarah Demeuse: Yeah, yeah.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: But we don’t know which one. Yeah, yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s funny isn’t it. Because we are learning things as they happen.
Valentina Desideri: We what belie it. Yeah. For example when we applied many of the people we had been reading with them for there in New York and they been New York based artist and friends. So what we initially thought when we applied is that all we’re going to do, study group, we’re going to do readings with people just as a test reading.
Valentina Desideri: Yeah. And then by the time we arrived here through other processes, it became clear that it’s like, Oh no, we have to read for 22 women artists. And so then it became collapsing by 22 people that we know and that it’s a very you know, it’s not such an easy process to explain, you know, it’s much easier to do then and you talk about it.
Sarah Demeuse: Yeah.
Valentina Desideri: So I think it was important and it’s people that more or less know what is going on right. For somebody, you know, private to come with your question.
Sarah Demeuse: Yeah. So it’s it seems that there really is a system in place. But here, perhaps with the readings with the people who come, you said a lot of things happen. I wonder if one reading really shapes the following one. You know, how cards flow kind of into each other in that sense.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: Well, so far what we realize well, yeah, just the obvious things because we have read for what eight people. So we know that, you know, the ones coming out of the cards, we haven’t read 40, right? So yes, that’s one thing. And then if we take the major arcana, they kind of you have groupings.
Sarah Demeuse: And how are you taking notes on your process now?
Valentina Desideri: Oh, I’m taking notes. Well, it takes notes.
Sarah Demeuse: Yeah. I made.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: The maps, I put.
Valentina Desideri: The question and then I make the notes of all the you know, all the cards that came up. And then how I would read them. And then afterwards I take small notes, but also devise the kind of grammar.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: To the.
Valentina Desideri: Notes, because there’s a way of reading those positions. For example, this, this, this, this position is what is manifested. That is what is expressed. So we can say that the hangman manifests these and is expressed like this, you know, so there is a kind of construction of a sentence. Yeah. So I try to write short rather relatively short notes that keep the same grammar.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: And, and this way of reading that Valentina was describing is something that we devise, which is we created it as we’re working on this tarot deck. So it’s not. Yeah, it’s not you know the usual Celtic cross positions, but we actually divided into four and we can construct, describe the relationships in a different way.
Sarah Demeuse: And you knew this from the beginning, that you weren’t going to use the Celtic Cross like you were looking for configurations that would make work for,
Valentina Desideri: No, I mean this is also the Celtic Cross because this is the positions of the Celtic Cross.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: But they played it differently. It is as if we added a layer.
Sarah Demeuse: Aha.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: So in addition to reading you know, the positions as they are traditionally we have another map of the bleed. Okay. Position that with superimposed. Yeah. And that allows us to make the connections that were launched in that way saying so we basically we can write a couple of sentences from the relationships which are the spatial. So this is how the so this about the question, right?
Valentina Desideri: We hope to finish the interpretations for the major arcana. So to complete the 22 readings and to complete the sentences about them, because of course, every time, you know, today we read for the world.
Sarah Demeuse: Yes.
Valentina Desideri: So whatever definition we had for the world is going to be inflected and changed by the reading we had. So we read, right. We read rewrite. So there is this process like forming the sentences and especially considering the structure of the sentences we are developing for each card. So I think if we are able to finish the 22.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: We will like.
Valentina Desideri: Yeah. Before this resonance it would be amazing. And then we would have element for of the image. What kind of images comes through the readings, through the Reiki and then we will have to the next step is going to be how to draw these images.
Sarah Demeuse: Mm hmm.
Valentina Desideri: And then write the interpretations, longer interpretation, explanation for each card and then the introductory text and then make a booklet and a deck for circulation.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: Right. So by I think by the end of our time here, you’ll have finished this, the major arcana and we’ll have completed these, you know, the minor arcana. They might not have gone out.
Sarah Demeuse: I wonder to what degree working here during the Reading Series differently. First of all, for example, I was impressed that you’re doing 22 readings in three months. It’s very hard to schedule, people say, around here. So maybe there’s there’s a notion of time that is different here as well. Why you do it when you do your readings. And I also feel maybe over here, I mean, I know we all are in touch with people who are all over, but perhaps there is a different sensibility, sensibility vis a vis, say, tarot or Reiki over here.
Sarah Demeuse: Maybe it’s more commercial. I don’t know. I’m just curious to hear how you’re feeling all of this questions, the contextual ones.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: Well, it’s biased because we have reading for friends what they want. Yeah. So that we have known for a while now. So yeah we, we go have you know dinner with them and that’s what we do bathing with that. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So with Camilla, when we did the first one which gave us the key the fall, we Camilla Marambio is doing.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: She is a curator from Chile and she’s doing some work with MoMA on five, I think five South American artists. And one of them is Lygia Clark. And a few months ago, Camilla wanted to do something around the Lygia Clark with us, you know, let’s do something. Yeah. And then since we were coming, she thought, okay, so we can go to the MoMA and sit there and look at the work and, you know, do and we did.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: We spent an hour before they opened the museum. We had access. We sat in front of one of Lisa Clarke’s pieces and we did a waiting for Camilla and Lygia Clark. Okay. And that was how it started, actually. Yeah.
Valentina Desideri: And given that the piece she chose was Cocoon number two, which Camilla explained to us was a transition piece from the abstract to the relational object. And we began talking about transition and as a kind of metamorphosis. And we talked about, oh, that’s how we began reading the fool. So I was clear that the reading we were doing for Camilla and for Lygia was a reading for the card on the fool.
Valentina Desideri: And that’s how we figured out we need to do this for every single major arcana.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: So that goes to your question about context. It wouldn’t have been this way had we not been here because that changed the whole thing. Yeah. That the from there was. But all we will invite to anyone that is and we’ll do readings for them. So yes, I mean this way the deck is very much a New York New Yorker.
Sarah Demeuse: Yeah, it’s very true. It’s very specific. Part of New York. Yeah. Yeah. So I, I also wonder to what degree being together here for a longer time might, might influence your work, too? It seems that you, you, you go through phases of intensity being together, and then maybe when you’re further away, you work on the notes. I’m kind of curious of these ebbs and flows between you.
Sarah Demeuse: And that also leads me to the question of what do you understand as research? Because there is a lot of active reading with people that happens that is there also other research that comes in? I mean, I know you’re an academic and there’s many other practices also that you’re involved with, Valentina. So give us a sense of that other layer around it.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: Well, I can speak to to the time, so I moved to Canada almost eight years ago. That meant that we only saw each other like for a short period of time, maybe maximum. What I think during the pandemic, we’re lucky because Valentina was in Vancouver for a long time, three months that they got stuck that she and her boyfriend.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: So we could work so and then we did most of the work via zoom before the Skype and then after the pandemic became Zoom. So being here at the same time, it’s fantastic because actually we have the time that we sit, you know, here or at my place or her place to do these. But then we also have the time.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: But it just walking and talking about about the work and yeah, just having these different moments in which we yeah, we can think, do the work, think about what we have done and come back and. Yeah, but in terms of yeah these you see when you ask your asking about research but yeah, so the readings we are doing, we are doing with these blanks, right.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: So we.
Sarah Demeuse: they’re just blank cards that have the name of the card written.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: And on it and the numbers. Yeah. So as we read it for people we like, the images are not there. Yeah. But we are doing readings. So everything that we know that I have read all the different decks they all come into these reading precisely because it’s not, you know, it’s not given to us, it’s given we have the question and we have them, you know, and we have the pieces of paper.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: So in that way, the research we have done is now coming back in the building of these decks as research while, you know, like, okay, maybe I can see our practice, our previous practice now come to the creation of this desk as research materials.
Sarah Demeuse: Right? Okay. Yeah. Because everything that you have, your experience, your research, everything in a way that you are archiving comes in it. It’s even like your bodily experiences and sensations and whatnot. No, this is a very impressive process. So iterative. Yeah, I guess. Yeah. It’s a little bit like life. Everything you do influences everything else to such an incredible degree.
Valentina Desideri: So it’s also different rendering of create even in that and it’s not up to you. So that’s the removal of the subject. Also in the process of making.
Sarah Demeuse: Having some kind of stated goal of something. Yes.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: No, we are really we are moving with where the poems have taken those and each reading takes us somewhere else and we just respond. Even the emotional process, because during the 2020 to 2020, 20 people came to us asking for readings. And then I think was this year we realized that things happened in our lives separately that prepared us to do the next step.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: You could understand now why you know why something, why to make some move. Yeah, everything.
Sarah Demeuse: So yeah, in a way it also reflects back onto you then. Yeah. Right.
Valentina Desideri: Yeah. Well, it’s not a process, you know, it comes through and we all have to live through this.
Sarah Demeuse: Yes, yes. Yeah. So you’ve explained of your process and what you’re doing here at the residency. There’s one question that I always ask people is whether you have questions for Amant. In a way, I want this conversation to come cycle through as well, so that there is kind of something that we learned through this. So I wonder if there’s anything.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: Well, I’m curious about how beyond, you know, beyond what’s what’s in the the website and other than the written things, we haven’t seen that how how this residency came about, you know, primarily because of, you know, the welcoming of process how yeah. So what’s, how it comes about in terms of what, what is the expectation from your point of view, not from the artist but from your foundation.
Sarah Demeuse: The expectations? I think they’re it’s hard to say no, because we are we are interested in supporting research, helping people do that research in whatever form it takes so that means that we don’t we don’t need objects or show objects. But in a way, at least from my perspective, it’s really thinking of what kind of conversation we can have.
Sarah Demeuse: And not only while you’re here, but later on, too, because even if if you are across the street and you may see us less than you think, there is a crossfit that happens. So that’s, I think, one of the kind of expectations or unconscious kind of motivations to have to have that. And then secondly, I think there is already so much emphasis around us on seeing things and showing, exhibiting.
Sarah Demeuse: And by that I mean finished objects that then circulate in a market. And this is kind of to do not to not participate in that kind of circulation. And that’s also why we are still trying to figure out how the residency relates or informs an exhibition program, because in that program we obviously have an exhibition space in which there are objects shown.
Sarah Demeuse: Also, how can we further think of the cross lines between them without making it all about seeing objects? Like how? How can we live with more research in that sense, something that is in, you know, in the making. So that’s that’s where it is. And I think the residency was an art or is an original point of a starting point for this whole thing.
Sarah Demeuse: There are a lot of studios around here, so it’s kind of it’s part of an ecosystem that already exists. So but yeah.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: Yeah, it’s interesting because of the nature of this process, you have other people involved in what’s happening here, like even if you don’t know where they are interactively in terms of the readings we’re doing, but we’re doing readings for people who are, you know, in the way part of this conversation, when we do our public events, that will be reflected in in.
Sarah Demeuse: Yeah. And I mean, I think it’s also, you know, how do you make these other people visible or that all of part of how you will mediate, very much so. And so to get back just to talk to the deck that you’re making here, the idea is actually to finish this deck right when you are just as I’m saying, we are not interested in the Venetian mask at your mouth, you know, but just to understand kind of the arc of your of your stay here.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: Yeah. So will have we will not have the images, the final images, funny the cards, but instead of a blank, we’ll have like we have that once we have something like this, we’re looking at blank tarot cards with handwritten sort of definitions which all these we did. When did we do? Like a year ago. Yeah. For the major arcana.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: Those are the major of. So those these is going to change because we are doing all of this new reading. So we’ll have these like printouts.
Sarah Demeuse: And these are the sentences that you were talking about. Yes. Yep.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: We’ll come up and that’s what we planned this.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: So you have these for all 78 cards basically.
Sarah Demeuse: Right.
Valentina Desideri: And then we will need to work more to do the images, still relatively a long process, but it’s coming to a realization.
Sarah Demeuse: And then you would use those cards in future Sensing Salon.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: Yeah. Yes. So the first the first draft of the cards we are going to use at the Singapore Biennial in March, right. We have an installation, and we’ll do the activation with the card, which will be something like this, right? I mean, it’s not going to be finished up.
Sarah Demeuse: Yeah.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: And yeah. So the plan is to have the deck and the book.
Sarah Demeuse: Wow, excellent. We definitely have to get some here. Practice. And well, thank you both!
Both Thank you.
Sarah Demeuse: Thanks for listening, in our next episode I talk with Ayo.
Our theme music is composed by Silas Edgar, who also recorded the conversations. Sound editing and engineering is by Isaac Silber. Finally, we’re also thankful to our residents, for letting us into their studios, their process and for finding time in their tight schedules.
Goldin+Senneby, Spring 2022
A conversation with Goldin+Senneby, about how they work, with whom, how that has changed over the years and why, and what their time at Amant mostly centers around:
“..that’s the main reason that we are here, to be able to have time to live inside of this novel-in-the-becoming. The novel has two kind of central, non-human protagonists. One is an autoimmune tree, a transgenic pine tree that has resin production, which is also the tree’s immune system.”
This is Meet the Residents, a series of interviews with Amant Studio and Research Residents, in which we speak and digress about research, the impact of context on artistic processes, serendipity, and making community. Amant is a nonprofit arts organization and residency in North Brooklyn. Our studios are at 306 Maujer, where we host four artists for three months. One cohort in fall, another one in spring.
This is our spring 2022 season. My name is Sarah Demeuse. I’m your host and Amant’s Head of Publications. Welcome. Today I’m with Simon Goldin and Jakob Senneby, who have been working together since several decades as Golden+Senneby. They’re usually based in Stockholm, Sweden. So, Simon and Jakob, thanks for joining us. Let’s jump right in.
I have a first question for you two. And it’s actually kind of basic but your name: Goldin + Senneby, where the does that idea of the plus come from? How does it speak to how you collaborate together?
The plus is actually an appropriation from another artists do. That we admired when we started working together. So we thought it was a good idea to keep keep that.
But the plus is also I think, the space between us and that, in a sense, our work is always in that space. And like, it’s neither me nor Jakob and the plusses, the other people that we involve in our practice, and there’s always, almost always other people who support and articulate and produce the kind of framework for making our practice possible. And sometimes there’s a single person who inhabits the plots more, and sometimes it’s more up for grabs.
So when you started collaborating, how did that begin? How was that idea of an additional element? Always there? Can you just unpack that a bit for us?
Because back, it’s very long, we have been working together for almost 20 years. And when we first met, we met in an art school, in the forest in the forest,
picking mushrooms or trying to pick mushrooms, but not finding any mushrooms and finding each other. And, yeah, I think our work is has been to think about people as kind of our main media, and how do we set up situations in which other people can come in? And habitat plus, and, and how can we frame situations where we allow for a kind of distribution of agency and other people can act as themselves. But I think, since the last four or five years, we’ve been in a point of having to reevaluate a lot of that to try to confront them. And we think, a lot of that work. And that’s kind of where we are at the moment. Still, in that process. Or the first time we articulated it is in the show, we did 2019 at eflux, which was supposed to be a survey show of our work. And we wanted instead to try to make a survey of work that we could have done but hadn’t done over the last 15 or 17 years. And one crucial aspect, I guess is that, you know, looking back at our work, you cannot there’s also another layer, which again is maybe more in the interpersonal space, which has to do with your condition, Jakob,
maybe you want to elaborate
a bit more on that.
I mean, the there are, there are obviously also similarities in relationship to our older work and for me, turning to the more bodily experience, it’s interesting that these notions of abstraction come up again where like, as we did in the lecture, now also talking about how language has structured the understanding of of the cell for the condition I am in so, I think a lot of these questions come come come up again, but from another end. And I think which we have also talked about, which is like, I think we are also moving towards questioning these bodily experiences not only through language, but also maybe through economics again, I mean, so we are touching similar things but from another vantage point, in a way
we inserted our bodies and in a way, your condition living with MS. And the fact that also to try to think about that, beyond the kind of individualization and singular realization of like that the medical system produces around the patient and around the language of immunity that individualizes, but also as something, which is a shared experience, obviously, it’s your bodily experience, but to also think about what that has meant for, for gold and plus Centipede,
but also us, as a community opening up from that situation.
Can you guys share a little bit of what you’re doing while here, I know you’ve done a lot of work with people in New York, but I suspect some dynamics are different now or you’re focusing on something specifically more intensively. So it would be great to hear a bit about that.
So we are working together with a fictional writer, Katie Kitamura. Around these experiences of living with and and, and relating to autoimmune autoimmunity and my condition, specifically.
Yeah, and so I think that’s the main reason that we were drawn to this residency and there are several reasons, but was to be able to have time to live inside of this novel in the becoming you could say, The novel has two kind of central non-human protagonists, one is a an autoimmune tree, or a transgenic tree, transgenic pine tree that has had its roots in productions, which is also the tree’s immune system, you could say upregulated or over activated through genetic engineering to the point that it threatens to drown itself and its own resin and a fungi, which is immunosuppressant has immunosuppressant characteristic qualities and that was used in drug developed by Novartis that Jakob was part of a trial of, so these two the autoimmune tree and immunosuppressant fungi have are kind of two other characters that structure the novel.
More concretely now, I I also live in Katie Kitamura’s basement apartment. So this also gives an opportunity for me to work us in a way to be inserted also bodily into
to inhabit her subconscious
Has that happened in the past when you work with writers that there is such a closeness physically?
Yeah, I mean, the, in the headless novel, it was like, very clear that we would not have have any bodily contact with with a writer, and I can say it, it’s a bit opposite here, because here’s much more intimate, I would say, as I said, also inserted into her house.
And it’s more about, let’s say, questions of care and the violence of care and these kinds of relationships.
And the tree is also in her living space.
That was the beginning of this project. So we, as I said, We work quite slowly. And I think that’s also something we drawn to with Amant that we feel that there’s an affinity in that. But I mean, this work, the background to it, something we started working on in 2018. And then we learned about this project that was initially funded by the US military. So the naval had patterns back around 2010 2012 for making military grade renewable jet fuel from Pine Turpin. And there was a big during the Obama years there was a big investment in in how can we use synthetic biology to produce new renewable energy sources. And the the kind of flagship project within this whole investment cycle was this pine tree, this loblolly pine in Florida. And so the idea is that if you could upregulate this, this if you could enhance the rest in production in these trees. Then you could start tapping industry again, which there had been one historically, and so they were very successful through their transgenic work, they were able to produce these pines that made four to five times the amount of resin and this research comes because the resident as I said, results of the Pines may in immune system or defense against pathogens and bark beetles. So there had been research in similar areas because of climate change the bark beetles survive the winter. So there’s an increased pathogenic pressure against these forests. So there had been research. So how can we help increase the resin production to make the trees more resistant. But this was a kind of different starting point, because here they wanted to do so much like to max out efficiency, basically. But they never got permission for field trials, they only got to have them in the, in the laboratory, the labs, there was speculation that, that it’s unclear what the long-term ecological consequences would be. And some suggested that these trees would be so high energy that they could basically become combustible, especially if we have a continuing warming. And but we became interested in the tree to think from the tree’s perspective, because it was also suggested that the tree at a certain age would would when the resin canal start to break, it would drown itself and its own resin, and so they could no longer transport water. So we thought of it in that sense as an autoimmune tree. Later, we’ve spoken to immunologists who think that that metaphor is has problems.
But that is very much also the stories that are being told. I mean, as you mentioned, the stories I was told about my condition are fictions. No one knows. So there are all these fictions that that are being told around immunity and autoimmunity. And I would imagine every condition is surrounded by these fictions in a way. So yeah,
but so just to come back to the tree, basically, between 2018 and 2020, we spent two years with the USDA and the APHIS animal and plant something–bureaucratic fictions–, yes, to be able to release one of these trees from the lab in Florida, and to see if we could have another life inside of our novel. And so after two years, we were able to get approval to set up a containment area for genetically modified organisms in the in a small windowless room in the home of Katie Kitamura. And so we gave her, gifted her this tree, I think she didn’t think it would happen when she said yes. But in Finally, after this long process, it did happen. She, her whole family had to go through this training program. They came up and inspected from North Carolina, this officer from the USDA came up unexpected inspected the house, she’s basically responsible for the tree cannot leave this one little enclosed area, or else she’s liable for $7 million, fine and a year in prison or something like that. That, again, if we go back to kind of our method, that gift and that insertion into her home. And putting her in a place of having to care for the story, according to a very specified protocol was the beginning of the novel. And it’s kind of an invitation for her to write from that position from that experience. And then from there goes, it unfolds in different directions. And we respond to things that she writes. And it’s the kind of dialogue back and forth.
So that’s a very multi layered process. And it’s such a felicitous coincidence that the tree actually made it here when you were also here because I assumed this was not clear when you actually applied for the residency. So it’s, it’s it’s a wonderful, yes, falling into place of sorts. I wonder kind of just stepping back a bit. This is a studio and research residency. Research is such a vague term and I’m really interested in how you interpret it because your actions are so you navigate such different disciplines, methods and it would be really great to to know what you understand as research and and how it moves in your practice.
Mean research for us is the process that we live. I mean, that’s how it’s always been So we don’t, usually we don’t work towards specific outcomes. We work in within this, sometimes we call it performative projects, that goes on for a long time. And that is also based on on our meetings, our communities and our relationships that are built over time and during the during this process. So I can say, just, for instance, when we’re why we are here, we have already made a few new, very interesting contacts with people that are now part of the project. But I would say that that is also part of the research. For instance, we met this fantastic researcher who has been studying MS for 20 years and have a totally different cosmologies, around how this autoimmune condition operates. And for us to meet this person and have start starting this dialogue together with him. I would say that that is our way of doing research. And that is like, Well, yeah,
I think I would just double down on what Jakob said in the beginning that for us, it’s always been finding ways to inhabit the realms that we’re exploring as a kind of lived experience, previous work of how do you inhabit legal space? How do you write inhabit the financial space? And in this case, you know, you are already your cup, obviously, inhabiting the space of your condition, but how do we also inhabit the conceptual space that frames the understanding of such a condition. And that is about drawing other people into that process and, and the relationship that happens between us the the structure of care or support that we are able to build around around a project like this?
Right. So rather than gathering an archive, you’re actually producing another fiction or setting up scenarios in which other people can enter and then,
but no, no, we have no problem in digging in archives. Yeah, we can that is also part of our of our way of working. But I would say when asked but research, I don’t think research is only about the archives. That is maybe
I think we have been I mean, so there is we’re trying to find some things in an archive now, which was something that came up while we are here, which was unexpected was through different people we’ve spoken to was to understand a bit more around the E animal model, which is the main animal model for studying MMS, but also the longest animal model for autoimmunity at all. And so similarly to how we’ve previously been looking at language and how the language of immunity and autoimmunity frames the possible imagination around these kinds of conditions, and also frames possibility of thinking about treatments and so on. In another way, also these animal models is that you have animals, that you impose a, that you you, you make them sick in a way that is reminiscent of a certain condition, and then use them for testing drugs, etc. And, of course, that’s a very violent thing, a very violent relationship to another being. But beyond being that it’s also another way of again, producing a frame for what is possible to think. So in the case of the EIA model, it somewhat is somewhat reminiscent of MS symptoms, but it seems to say very little about its cause or etiology. So again, there’s a question of like, what, what kind of treatments are you then able to develop if they have to be developed on this model? And how, what kind of answers can you get in relation to that model? So that was also this researcher, you mentioned, is at the Rockefeller University, and this was work that was done at the Rockefeller Institute in 1930s. And they were struggling to find what we’re looking for in the archives. And that’s something we that came up and we’re working on in here. So I mean, we definitely do archival search. So let’s say,
by the way, in that digging, we found this person. Yeah, that actually has totally other cosmologies that he’s introducing into the discussion. And we didn’t know about that. I mean, that was just a coincidence. But now we have, like, we have started long with a dialogue with him. And the it’s kind of continued.
This researcher’s name is Rashid Woolmer, an instructor in clinical investigation at the Rockefeller University.
In that way, is there a difference when you’re working outside of your own context, say, while you’re while you’re doing this here versus your normal base in Stockholm,
we’ve always worked outside of our own contexts. I think the differences between these two years of the pandemic that have gets this work that we are working on here was, we really were started, you know, about a year before the pandemic, and we had this show at efflux in 2019, which was very much centered on this. Fungi, which is going to be the second part of the novel, which is these immunosuppressant fungi that was used in this drug that you had in the medical trial. And we then started also, a first draft of the first chapter of the novel was presented Triple Canopy in January 31 of January 2020. And at that event, or the day after that event, we met our friend Ross, who’s a biologist to help us with the fungi. He just been to China for the, for the Chinese New Year, and came back and he was like, oh, there’s this virus like, yeah, yeah. And so that’s, that’s kind of and then. Yeah, so then things have, in one way, as you were saying, there has been an increased interest in these questions that we were dealing with. But on a practical level, it’s also been difficult to move forward with a novel because especially everyone who will be working with here in New York have been under such severe lockdowns, which we didn’t have in the same way in Sweden. But we felt, for the first time very local for two years, when we traveled very little. And we got a studio for the first time, we’ve never had a studio before, we’ve always worked from cafes. And, and so and we were forced to have a studio. And so that was a big change.
I have one last question. And that is a bit more related to what we are doing here there. We have study lines that kind of hover over our program, and one of the study lines is called hearing voices. Now that covers a lot of different angles, it can be about unheard voices that are you know, coming to the foreground in a certain artistic practice, or it can also be something more unconscious, say, inspiration, or some some kind of voice that is coming out of a place that you don’t know, but that somehow influences what you’re doing. I wonder if you are hearing any voices? I feel from your presentation. It was a lot about seeing and visual metaphors. So maybe maybe you’re more seeing things than hearing voices, just the thought that I had.
That’s a tricky question. I mean, I’m, you know, we we might be hearing voices in these gaps that we’re trying to, to find that has to do with what is has not been said, What does what have been made impossible, because of how we have framed language and cosmologies around this condition that I have not only my condition, I mean, in a way the broader sense of the immunity and so on. But by limiting what has been able to hear, through these models that seamen described, that are limiting the scope of where we can look, or the language of war and defense that is limiting our understanding of like what is happening outside of the fortress, so to speak. And I think that in a way I can hear those voices that are not have not been allowed into unconsciousness somehow. That I think is important.
What are the voices that modern medicine do not allow us to hear that’s something which we’ve spoken a lot with with Ed Cohen about writes about this a lot and was another close collaborator who we’ve had the pleasure of spending more time with while we’re here.
Our theme music is composed by Silas, who also recorded the conversations. Sound Editing and engineering is by Isaac Silber, Finally, we’re thankful to our artists for letting us into their studios and thought processes and for finding time in their busy schedules. In our next episode, I talk with Natalia La. Same audio. Thanks for listening.
Natalia Lassalle-Morillo, Spring 2022
Unknown Speaker 0:03
This is Meet the Residents, a series of interviews with Amant’s studio and research residents in which we speak and digress about research, impact of context on artistic processes, serendipity and making community. Amant is a nonprofit arts organization and residency in North Brooklyn. Our studios are at 306 Major, where we host four artists for three months, one cohort in fall, another one in spring. This is our spring 2022 season. My name is Sarah Demeuse. I’m your host and Amant’s head of publications: welcome. Today I’m in Natalia Lassalle Morillo’s studio. Natalia has been with us for a little over two months already. So Natalia, thanks for letting us into your studio. This conversation was originally recorded on June 22 2022. When we edited the piece with Natalia in September 2022, Hurricane Fiona had made landfall on Puerto Rico. Natalia was in Washington DC when it happened, but she was still feeling the resonance of this storm and it’s complicated aftermath from a distance. Many people describe Fiona as a deja vu of hurricane Maria, and anticipated a repetition of the same governmental incompetency in the distribution of emergency aid. While Puerto Rico endured historic floods and island-wide blackouts, leaving 1000s without electricity or access to drinking water. At the date of publishing this interview, it is clear the devastation is enormous once again, and that the damage is immeasurable. Many insights shared by Natalia about how her practice had been shaped by hurricane Maria, its aftermath, and the accumulation of political and economic tragedies that followed, are now again very raw, and a cause for new questions, as she foresees, how this event might bring about a new cycle of displacement and migration, showing how the past is never a closed category.
Let’s jump right in before coming to Amant. Where did you spend your time?
My name is Natalia Lassalle Morillo and I am joining you from Bayamon Puerto Rico. Great.
When you’re here at Amant, Natalia, what are you working on, maybe you can share what you planned out to do when you came here and what you’re doing now. Because there’s always a time lag between ideation and then arriving here. So it’d be great to hear how all of that is going.
So I mean, the project I set out to do here, it’s called “En parabola”. And it’s a project that I’ve actually been developing since 2018. And I think the root of the project is to, to this rewriting, redirecting of the myth of Antigone in collaboration with Puerto Ricans who reside in the diaspora of Puerto Rico, in the United States, and in Puerto Rico. And the original idea was for it to be, you know, thinking a lot about this original conception of the tragedy in ancient Greece as this forum of communal catharsis, but also communal dialogue and discourse kind of thinking of how, using that same system, and creating a meeting place between, you know, between these different experiences of being from this place, and also as a way to process the accumulation of, and phenomena of environmental, political, economic, and spiritual tragedies that have accumulated over the last 200 years in Puerto Rico, particularly the last time that I think has been a concentration. That was my original idea. And I’ve been working on it since 2010. But then at arriving here, I have, you know, I used to live in New York. But I think now, seeing and experiencing New York through this project, and through the lens of a lot of what I’ve been thinking has really shifted the anchor for me in the project, because one thing that I realize, you know, in the research, because my research is both historical and archival, mostly searching for what’s not in the archive, quite honestly. I’m thinking about what’s not in the archive, but then I’m also talking to, so it’s a lot of personal resource, I think, research, like I talked to a lot of people and it’s very social, and I spend a lot of time with people. And I realized that, you know, when thinking of tragedies in the context of Puerto Rico, one of the biggest tragedies was actually the great migration.
Sarah: What do you understand as the great migration?
Natalia: The great migration of Puerto Ricans to the United States, you know, the great migration of Puerto Ricans that you that migrated. When Operation Bootstrap happens. This is your motto. But I was this government agenda to industrialize the country to change from an agrarian economy to an industrial economy. And when that whole project failed, that’s when a lot of people had to migrate, because there were no jobs. And this is something that I’ve started thinking about being here. Mostly, they the first governor, elected Governor of Puerto Rico attributes. One of it, he says that if it wasn’t for the great migration, he doesn’t know what would have happened to the country in the 50s. It was also a whole, his whole agenda was also thinking about progress in a very, sort of Western way, or thinking about how to bring progress to this place to this island that has just inherited this colonial history. So being here, I’ve just been thinking a lot of that migration, I’ve been thinking about broken memory, and how one of the biggest wholesale gaps in Puerto Rican history is the fact that all of these people left. And there’s this in between space that is empty.
And talking to people knowing that they know and they have ideas of this place. And but there’s all of these missing links. So I’ve been really thinking about that a lot. When I’m here. I’ve also been thinking about how, of course, these communities reimagine Puerto Rico from a distance, how they recreate that unformed, transform into, transform their idea of this place into a totally new thing. And, you know, I think you’re going but also I’ve been thinking about that there’s a huge gap between the Puerto Ricans that reside on the archipelago, and the people that migrated in terms of what it means to be from this place. But also in Puerto Rico growing up, what I realized being here is that I never I have family in the Bronx, and I have family in different parts of the United States. And they were seen as like, they’re, they’re not Puerto Rican like they, they’re from over there, you know, there’s a gap. And I’m thinking of how communities came, you know, communities were formed here, Puerto Ricans moved here, mostly many coastal communities, because I’m looking at Brooklyn, so South Williamsburg Red Hook, and faced their own set of tragedies here and how they’re not understood as part of Puerto Rican history. They’re seen as something different. There’s a separation. So I’ve been also thinking about how, how do I comprehend these mythologies and the stories that happened here as part of this other history as missing links of this other history, and then seeing how Antigone falls into all of that?
Wow. So kind of recomposing that history. It’s done both for say people who live in Puerto Rico and the communities here like how where where do the direction go? Or is it? Or is the emphasis mainly in the process of doing the research and engaging in that conversation with with participants? Maybe it’s everything.
I think it’s everything that I’ve been thinking about originally, I was really I am still am very much interested in bringing these bringing people together that come from very different ideas of, of what it is to be from this place. But for me, the act of of thinking about Antigone, as a group is much more of like having a meeting place like having a meeting place like the we’re going to we’re going to try to rewrite this text, we’re going to try to really think about this stuff. But there, it’s just sort of an excuse to have all these other conversations. So I don’t know that answers your question.
Yeah, in a way. I mean, you’re creating a common ground for all of these different contexts. Exactly. Working together. I do want to backtrack a little bit, because we’re sitting in your studio now. And on the floor, there is kind of a big map of Brooklyn. And on the one hand, it seems you have a lot of, you know, one-on-one conversations that I imagine can go on, can unfold over a long period of time. But I also wonder how the historical document feeds into that and how you share that with your, with your conversation partners,
I mean, it’s, you know, two different things. I think it’s fascinating, too, because what I have found, you know, many of these conversations that I’m having one-on-one, what I’m really trying to do is bring everything, you know, bring people together, but it starts as a very intimate process. Like I think there is a process. I think my process functions in an inverse way where I’m. I don’t do a casting call. And I’m like, everybody wants to show up, show up. It’s more like I go to people and have these conversations. And then I bring information. You know, like I learned, I read this the other day, or I’ve been reading, you know, I’ve been reading particularly about the Bronx fires, so, and then I bring it up. And they, they have another wealth of knowledge that I don’t know about, you know, and they give me more more information that actually could ever give them
During the 1970s, 80% of housing in the Bronx was lost to fires. Around 250,000 people were displaced, mostly of Puerto Rican, Caribbean, and African American descent. Many people believe these fires, now known as the Bronx fires, were the result of landlords burning their own buildings for profit. Still, the blame for these fires was placed on African American and Puerto Rican people who lived in the neighborhood.
So then it becomes, for me a process of you know, there is this, you know, and I think the archive or the idea of the archive, there’s many problematic things about the archive, but I’ve been working with the Puerto Rican studies are the Puerto Rican, the center of Puerto Rican studies archive here. And it is really a really amazing place, because this is a story that was never archived. So the fact that it’s all in this place, is actually realy incredible, and also bringing that information to people. And then also realizing that what I know maybe is, you know, how to print toward, like, sometimes I know things from a very, you know, studious way of like, Oh, I’m doing this research, and then they give me “no, no, this is actually what this is what actually happened, I was there, or my mom was.” Actually, you know, my mom actually migrated. And, you know, my grandmother took the ship with her. And this is what actually what I remember from the stories that my grandma used to tell me, so then there’s this process of this is, you know, from this is what I’m reading, and this is what I’m seeing from this other place. And then I’m being countered with the reality of what happened. So archiving. That is, I think, part of the process for me at the moment. And then in terms of, for example, this map in particular, I think, one of the questions that I’ve been having, that actually has emerged from conversations with, you know, the people that I’ve been talking to which, you know, I have, most of the people that I’ve met literally have been from asking somebody to ask somebody to ask somebody’s like an octopus, and asking people about their family members, and then I need somebody because it works that way. That when I asked them, you know, if they have been to Puerto Rico, when they were kids, like I asked them, What do you remember? Or why do you why are you connected to this place, or somebody who has never been there? They usually have these really vivid memories that are very, like usually they talk about the mountain, they talk about water, they talk about smell, they’re very sensorial memories. And I remember even spoke to somebody who told me Orchard Beach was my river. Like when I thought about rivers, and I imagined a river in Puerto Rico, I actually went to Orchard Beach, and I made these associations. So I’ve really been thinking and trying to go through the city with like, 40 goggles and really try to imagine what this place was when it was a forest like what was New York, like when there were no buildings or like, what would the space look like as indigenous land?
Orchard Beach is a man-made beach situated along the Long Island Sound in Pelham Bay Park. In the 1930s, parks commissioner Robert Moses invested 8 million to develop the area into a public beach by adding sand from the Rockaways and queens and Sandy Hook, New Jersey, Orchard Beach grew to become a haven for Puerto Ricans living in New York.
So I’ve been thinking about that a lot. While I’m here, also, because I’ve been thinking about how Puerto Ricans have taken care of land litter in a literal sense by building community gardens and saving space for community to have public space to access and how that relates to like another process of stewardship or custodianship of territory. But I think I still have to think about that more. It’s just something that has been on my mind, but I’ve been trying to mark out the where the, you know, where the people that I have met, lived or migrated to, to or where where did they first move to when they got here just to kind of get a visual to because for me lands and the relationship to the geography is super important when thinking about this as well.
Right, right. Right. Now, I kind of want to hear more about Antigone too because this is a very participatory experience. You also have a theatre background. So it’d be really interesting, I think, for us to understand how you landed on on tyranny beyond just being a tragedy, what is so specific about this play that you feel like you want to share with your, your research companions?
See, I mean, I think I landed, I mean, like I said, I started thinking about this actually, in 2017, I realized now, and I landed it, an epihany, in a very specific moment in time, which I mean, I sometimes become very sensitive talking about it, but I think it’s the reality it’s, it was after the hurricane, um, because I wasn’t in Puerto Rico, when the hurricane happened. For me, it was one of the first experience of chaos, chaos in terms of like, I wasn’t physically present there, you know, because I left a couple of months before, but my family was and my friends were. And from the exterior, you couldn’t really understand what was going on, there was no way to contact people, I was able to contact my family fairly quickly. But there was, it was a really bizarre experience of having this really catastrophic event happen to me without being physically present there. You know, like, it was happening to me, like I couldn’t do anything, but think about this. And try to find ways to help knowing that I couldn’t go there. Because if I wasn’t there, I’m just picking up resources for people that actually need them. So during that time, I actually started reading a lot about the Greeks and reading a lot of tragedies. And it was the one thing that I remember I was in, I was in grad school, and it couldn’t, nothing entered my head, like nothing, I couldn’t nothing. I was so out of it. And then I found I read Antigone. And I was like, Oh, this somehow makes sense to me. Because I think it aligned with a moment that I started reading where I started, I had a friend who was actually working on the ground, doing photography, and she was telling me about last fall, like people had to bury people in their back yards. Because nothing was working. And then you know, people, you know, people in the hurricane, which is part of like a larger, I think commerce a sector like cacophony of events that happened after the hurricane, like there was some there were these massive protests in 2019, that took place in Puerto Rico, where the governor was ousted. This center of investigative journalism in Puerto Rico actually did this whole reportage. And it was actually over 4000 people that died, really in relationship because there’s people that died when the hurricane happened, but then people didn’t have power. So hospitals, people died because they couldn’t have access to chemotherapy. That’s the cause, you know, and the government was extremely irresponsible in terms of dealing with the aid afterwards. So I really started thinking about that about, about bodies, about ghosts, about how how do you deal with with the bodies and the ghosts that emerge from these events? And how do you actually find a proper way of finding closure with this. And it became more clear in 2019, because when the protests happened, I was there. And it was this really incredible moment in time where cycles aligned cycles of history aligned. were people that were not aligned politically, because politics is a big sport and Puerto Rico, were able to align and like literally think about one specific thing. And in the protests, which is I’ll send this guy but it wasn’t really like he honestly, like it wasn’t him. It was the fact that people on the ground like in the middle of the protests, would always talk about the dead would talk about like, no, he messed with something that sacred, he messed with my grandmother who passed and all these people who pass that they didn’t recognize and what like that, you know, that I wasn’t able to bury.
Natalia is referring to Ricardo Rocio was governor from 2017, during Hurricane Maria, until 2019, when he was ousted by the Puerto Rican people after three intensive weeks of protests.
So I really started thinking about I’m thinking in the context of that history. And that event, which for me, was has been one of the few moments of collective catharsis like that, it was totally Dionysian, in the sense that people, you know, these protests, people would go out and get it, you know, we, you know, it was there was tear gas, there’s all these things that were going on at the same time, but it was extremely subtler, celebratory, and it was kind of like a part. It was nothing like it’s gonna we’re gonna happen again. But after these, and that’s one of the reasons why I started thinking a lot about Antigone, but then when I’m now I’ve been thinking about it in a month. More extensive way. I actually had a conversation last week with a writer and scholar who’s now, who is actually was a professor still is a professor at Princeton.
Unknown Speaker 20:15
The professor’s full name is our Ricardo Diaz Quinones. Natalia refers to his 1991 essay, “Memoria, cultura,”.
Unknown Speaker 20:27
And I opened up the conversation saying, so I’m doing you know, I’m trying to do this adaptation of Antigone, and he’s like, “Oh, Antigone, that makes total sense.” Because you have to think of the cycles of disappearances and the cycles of bodies in Puerto Rican history that haven’t been accounted for from since, you know, before Puerto Rico became a US colony. But also in terms of afterwards, you have all of the people that have gone to war that don’t ever return that go to war to fight for the United States. And he was telling me about his first encounter with death was his uncle that died. I think his uncle, I think, was that who died in the Korean War. And he’s like, we never, he never returned, he never returned. So and then you have women, you know, there was in Puerto Rico and also in the community here, birth control pills were first tested on Puerto Rican women. And there was massive sterilization of Puerto Rican women or to control the population. So he was saying, like, what that’s also part of that. So is the cycle of interferences and disappearances. That makes me think, well, he said, that makes me think also of Antigone. So I think all of it is interrelated for me, with the play, but I’ve also been thinking mostly recently, as Antigone, not even as a character, but as like a state of being. Because in one of the translations that I’ve read, Antigone says, “I’m a strange new kind of in between thing, I’m not aligned with the dead nor with the living.” And it really makes me think of that as a state of mind, for a Puerto Rican consciousness where you don’t really belong anywhere. You’re just in this in between space. Not here. Neither there. You know. So I’ve been thinking also about how does that translate into into this process?
Why is the project called “En parabola”? I never really asked you.
Yeah, to be honest, I didn’t, I think I’m trying to remember. When did that happen? Was in 2018, I remember I did. So as I mentioned, I’ve been working on this project for since 20… 2017. And actually started working on it in various stages since 2018. And the first iteration of it was actually with my mom, because I worked with my mother. For many years, she’s been a collaborator in many different forms. And when I started working on this project, I mean, to be honest, I realized later that one of the reasons why I even got to the Greeks was because of her. Because she really like I honestly, at that point in time, couldn’t care less about classics ever. And I still my relationship to it is very much about like, how do I deconstruct this thing that is seen as canonical? And how do we enter this from a different place, but my mom was loved has always had a relationship to history and the Greeks and we were working on this piece together. And I did a performance with my mom that literally is us talk, reading Antigone and talking about Antigone, over a month. But in that process, I started thinking really about literally like this, the parabola like to figure like the figure, because at that point in time, she made a comment about how her and I were like, parabolic. I’m like, we’re, this parabola is like moving in this motion. And then I started thinking much more about that in relationship to like Puerto Rico, like Puerto Rico, like the archipelago of Puerto Rico being this node. And this larger Atlas of different sort of parabolic relationships to these other these other countries that exists outside of Puerto Rico, because there’s, I think, I mean, I honestly don’t know that that like the actual statistics, but there’s more Puerto Ricans and descendants of Puerto Ricans outside than inside. So I just been thinking about what is that exchange? What is that, you know, what is this relationship? What is this movement between these multiple territories on lands that connect back?
We typically ask people what it means for them to work outside of their contexts because you’re in a residency, but in a way it seems that, for you, context is always already something diasporic. So I don’t know how the experience of a residency and working from a different position matters to you. I, it feels like it’s really an intrinsic part of this project, how would you say it?
Oh, for me, I mean, I think from the beginning that I thought of applying here I was, I already was kind of clear that, okay, this is a great opportunity for me to like, just go deep, and just be there and do research with my body, you know, like, be physically here and physically talk to people and show up to places. But for me, context is everything. Because I think I’m always thinking about the land that I’m standing on, you know, and how being there affects how I see how being there affects how I talk to people, how I how I think to so even though I’m here, and the project is very much related, you know, the context is very much related to a lot of what I’m thinking about. It’s very different to be here for a specific moment of time in a temporary way, too, because I’m not from here, you know, so it’s, it functions, I think, both ways that we spoken
It’s a lot about talking to people, archives. You have this beautiful metaphor of research being like an octopus. What does research mean to you? Like, what is artistic research for you?
See, I mean, for me, it’s interesting now, because I’m doing so much of research, but for me research gets so you know, it becomes it becomes a cloud sometimes. But for me everything, research to be honest, like I, there is, you know, especially because at the end of the day, what I’m really trying to do is bring people together. My process has all of these layers where for me research is every process that I am physically implied in, you know, if I’m physically, you know, I’ve been, like I said, doing historical research and reading and going to these archives, but that, for me is very physical, it’s very much about literally digging through and trying to find things that I that that have just been hiding in these archives that maybe nobody has seen in years or decades. It’s also about talking to people and really kind of getting a sense to, to find myself also implied in the fact that maybe I don’t know, things, you know, maybe everything that I have in my head is totally a creation of or, you know, a projection. So it’s also about how do I find myself implied in these situations that attainments are actually not comfortable to. So for me research spans in different layers from you know, reading and, and having more intimate processes of thinking and conceptualizing. But also spending a lot of time with people. And sharing space with people is really important, because I think that’s when the most of the research whatever that means actually happens. It’s also a lot of the research happens in companionship, like sharing space, allowing them to take me places, allowing them to show me places allowing them to introduce me to people. So right now my research is really geared and verbatim or like, yeah, immerse myself in, in, in the experience of migration here, so that I can also, you know, I there, they can tell the story better than I can. So how can I, how can I be a facilitator also, in that process, or when I bring it back into into the creative process,
we have a study line at Amant that is called “hearing voices”. And it seems that a lot of what you do is listening to specific anecdotes, I wonder if there’s also an element that is maybe more transhuman that has to do with kind of picking up on something that is, you know, not as rational, you were talking about an in-between stage, which I find quite interesting and productive to think about too. So I wonder, are there certain voices that you’re hearing as you’re undertaking all of this?
For sure. I think it’s sort of spirits and ghosts for sure. Many ghosts, so many ghosts, personal and not personal. But even you know, the person I was referring to, the writer and scholar referring to earlier, wrote it in a very beautiful way where he was saying when bodies migrated here spirits also came with them and how to find their way here in this land. And also I’ve been thinking about similarly those ghosts and and sort of is ghosts, but it’s just more of these entities that don’t have form, you know, these energies that don’t have form in the context of a have, you know of the ancestors of those migrants that you know, that their ancestors that actually grew up in that land? And also my own? I’ve been thinking a lot about my, my grandparents and my great grandparents because I could have very easily been born here. You know, like, it was so common to leave. My family didn’t leave, but it could have I could have been born here, I could have had a totally different existence to if they had made that decision, but they did it. So those are, you know, that’s very present, I think. Or accompany me as I as I think. Yeah.
Do you have any questions for Amant?
I think I have two questions. Actually. They just came up, I think the first one that I have is, I’m really curious as to how, you know, because, you know, I’ve been here for two months. And I know, you know, there’s a crew of residents that is here now that, you know, some of the research intersect some of it don’t. But I’m really interested like, from the other side, like, what, how am I it relates to, to the somatic and the work that the residents are doing and what, what is like, if anything is learned from the other side, or in that learned is the word that I want to utilize. Because somebody picked the people, you know, somebody made the decision, somebody curated, that these, you know, these particular folks were going to be here during this moment in time. So that is one my one of my questions. And I think the other question has to do more with land, and like this building being in this particular place, and like how, you know, there’s tensions in that too, you know, the fact that this building is in this very particular street in this very particular neighborhood. And it’s the reality of it. So I’ve also been thinking about how, how you are seeing it from that other point of view, like, how are you comprehending the institution, from that other point of view from the fact that, that the community that was here doesn’t exist anymore? Really, you know, it’s part of a cycle in a wave, so So displacements that have been going on, so I’m also really, and it’s not what you know, it’s just part of the reality of the space. So I’m also curious about how from the other side that is being thought about
Right, and we in a way we inherit this new site. Those of us who work here, we didn’t decide that this was going to be the place but we make a program within it knowing that there is this history, you know, whatever came first is no longer here. But I think also what you’re saying about us learning from the residents, it goes over a very slow time period.
We are incredibly thankful to Natalia, who during a tragic and chaotic moments still found time to reflect and work with us. She also shared the following list of organizations that are doing great work on the ground, the Maria fund, Tierra Salud. Casa Pueblo, Brigada Solidaria de Losaida, el departamento de la comida. Find the links to these organizations, as well as more references on our website. Our theme music is composed by Silas, who also recorded a conversation, sound editing and engineering is by Isaac Silber. Finally, we’re thankful to our artists for letting us into their studios and thought processes and for finding time in their busy schedules. In our next episode, I talk with Rianna Jade Parker. Thanks for listening
Rianna Jade Parker, Spring 2022
00;00;03;08 - 00;00;47;13 Sarah Demeuse This is Meet the Residents, a series of interviews with Amant Studio & Research residents, in which we speak and digress about research, impact of context on artistic processes, serendipity, and making community. Amant is a nonprofit arts organization and residency in North Brooklyn. Our studios are at 306 Maujer, where we host four artists for three months. One cohort in fall, another one in spring. This is our Spring 2022 season. My name is Sarah Demeuse. I’m your host and Amant’s Head of Publications. Welcome.
00;00;47;13 - 00;01;00;18 Sarah Demeuse Today I’m with Rianna Jade Parker, our first curator and writer in residence. Rianna, thanks so much for making time. Let’s jump right in. Before coming to Amant, where were you spending your time?
00;01;01;29 - 00;01;10;08 Rianna Jade Parker I was residing in Jamaica, Kingston in particular. And then left from London, where I’m actually going to come here in the space of maybe a week.
00;01;12;03 - 00;01;37;21 Sarah Demeuse So, Rianna, as you’re here, we’re now nearing the end of your residency. It would be great to hear what you’re working on. I know you submitted a proposal, and I wonder how that has morphed, transformed into maybe different types of work as you are here, meeting people, finding other things, perhaps in archives.
00;01;39;18 - 00;03;48;03 Rianna Jade Parker Well, the Schomburg was really the main source for myself whilst I was here, and the public libraries at large. There was a significant amount on the Marcus Garvey personal papers, as well as the UNIA papers, which is good. There wasn’t as much work on Amy [Ashwood Garvey] as with Garvey, who was– who my research is pinned to, co-founder of these early race movements in the 1920s with Marcus Garvey as his first wife. But her papers are sitting in Duke University, which is, I found out, erm, maybe halfway through, which means there’s another level of access I need to consider and adjust, because what has been documented has been the men in that movement and their wives who [were] involved in their particular ways, but the individual women who spread off into their own movements and sectors around the world are a bit less– a whole lot more fragmented. And I’m choosing to look at Caribbean women in particular who moved in and throughout the region, that was the crux of it. What has changed is the angle towards the Caribbean, again, particularly the Anglophone. Looking at Jamaica itself and its own site of colonial, contemporous, kinds of actions that have been going on for over 100 years now. We are celebrating our 60th year of Independence in August. What that looks like, a true democracy, we don’t actually know. A conversation around every public which were the ideals that Marcus Garvey actually was speaking about in the 1920s are what we’re still discussing today but with a lot less vim and urgency because you know the woes of the world seem a bit grander than those things. I’m interested in individual improvement, self-assessment, self-regard–the essay I had to write was speaking from that position. What kind of self-regard and self-love can I show to myself as an individual but also within my community? Whoever, whoever that is.
00;03;48;24 - 00;04;09;14 Sarah Demeuse So how do you how do you connect your own positionality with the matter that you’re researching? Because it seems that it’s so close and some of the points of interest are particularly of relevance because it seems like you really want to apply them also. So it would be really great to hear about that back and forth between you and the subjects that your research.
00;04;09;18 - 00;06;15;07 Rianna Jade Parker The back and forth… is felt more like a natural progression. Let’s say of maybe 16 or so, I was very happy to assume the position of a Black feminist based on tidbits I had picked up off the internet by read in very particular Black literature and consuming what I could of moving images and media, but what was less apparent were visual arts, at that time anyway, as a 16 year old in London right before the financial crash and we were told that we’re not going to have lives that our parents all had. And I still chose to not do what was required of me and to figure out something by myself. I was independent, leaving much younger than what people would like to be. So I’ve allowed myself to be authored by all of these women and what they have already done. My life feels like it’s been authored by them already. So it does feel like a natural progression. I am first generation born Jamaican woman with my parents who are migrants who came at very different times, two very different experiences of England. We, of course, are meant to be the difference. We were supposed to be the British ones finally, but as I continued to push against that culture, Mum wasn’t too happy with my lack of willingness to assimilate as best as she thought was possible for us in the nineties. [Sighs] We authored our own versions of civil rights movements of my time, definitely concurrent to the wider Black Lives Matter movement that has required radical rethinking around the world, which typically is what happens. Again, a continuation of the work that they were doing. Still, I wish it wasn’t the case a hundred years later I’m talking about the same triumphs and trials, but we are here, so I’m trying not to avoid it. So my research is aiding my capacity to continue that work and it’s aiding my inspiration to continue this work, and it’s allowing me to think of, erm, a close but also distant future and that’s what I’m writing. I’m writing about that in-between space where I am now, and where I’d like to inject going forward.
00;06;16;23 - 00;06;42;26 Sarah Demeuse Your presentation with Jessica Lynne was called “Research as Practice”. What does that mean? (On June 2nd, Rianna invited New York based writer Jessica Lynne to have a public conversation as part of a man series called For Your Reference. This was also an occasion to present Rianna’s recent book A Brief History of Black British Art, published a few months earlier.)
00;06;42;26 - 00;07;08;21 Rianna Jade Parker Most basically… So, as a… OK, I could be considered a library scientist. I could be considered an archivist in a very traditional way. Definitely a humble title like Librarian, I love and appreciate. I’ve been around books since I was 15 in a professional way. So standard primary research, etc. is normal and fine. My intention to apply it to something or simplify it in a physical way.
00;07;09;03 - 00;07;44;10 Rianna Jade Parker It’s what makes it a practice for myself as I choose particular subject, let’s say Black Caribbean writers. And so I come across Sylvia Wynter, Una Marson, and the ones who work in England in particular. You know, I could’ve just sat with this, and done nothing of it. But choosing to have lectures and print media, maybe make a film, maybe source from anywhere and put together a public presentation is what switches it from my very didactic research compared to what I do with artists, with myself, and my collective for the past five years, so.
00;07;44;19 - 00;07;48;21 Sarah Demeuse Can you talk a bit more about the collectives, too?
00;07;49;14 - 00;08;16;01 Rianna Jade Parker Ooh, I have been through a couple, but two major ones the Lonely Londoners, I think we established ourselves in 2011 or 12. We shouldn’t […] actually, it might be our anniversary soon. These are two friends I met on Tumblr when we were 18. We were starting university… obviously, again there’s music and community online, because our England was a very different England at that time.
00;08;18;08 - 00;08;41;06 Rianna Jade Parker We were using the website to build virtual databanks based on our own personal interests. We were very particular about citations, who we were pulling from and why. It was easy to make connections based on content and not the person because we weren’t able to see profile pictures very large. You couldn’t see formal accounts and as many things. To follow each other meant: I’m invested in what you are presenting.
00;08;41;22 - 00;09;07;20 Rianna Jade Parker So it made some very organic relationships. And one day we met up when everyone was away, or back from the city–sorry– from university. We went to yoga. Pelin’s mum made us Turkish snacks. She’s Turkish. Kareem’s also Jamaican. After stretching for 2 hours, we just decided to start a collective. So we have some, you know, some artists […] who we are, yeah, 21, 20 and 21 between the two of us.
00;09;08;18 - 00;10;07;24 Rianna Jade Parker We had an exhibition in London, we had an exhibition in New York. And that was when, after getting a fair bit of press that people in the UK acknowledged my practice as something significant in that way. It’s my first time working the Tate. So as per usual, we had to do something outside of that space, outside of the space to come back to the space, which is typical. Think about minds also run the whole collective with three of my other colleagues, three my father and Loretta. We started really out of multiple conversations that we is without any real orientation. We just met up to share books and discuss. Try to go to art shows when they were very infrequent at that time. So when Simone Leigh was visiting London during the era of Black Lives– Black Woman Artists for Black Lives Matter, and she enstated the London chapter, it was then we were encouraged to consider what we were doing and implement it as artistic work.
00;10;08;07 - 00;10;40;27 Rianna Jade Parker We chose to exemplify these networks we had built by a map referencing the same map from 2011, and we used design and print in a particular way. We got a residency at Tate Modern after that, stage of the show was known as very quick and hasting. You know this is like a very natural flow of a river and all of a sudden we had these crashing waves to address that we were this artist collective now, known that’s what we were doing all of this time. It really threw Simone the encouragement to get in on the show as an actual form.
00;10;41;21 - 00;10;52;06 Sarah Demeuse During Simone Leigh’s Psychic Friends Network Workshop at Tate Modern in November 2016, the London chapter of Black Women Artists for Black Lives Matter was formed.
00;10;53;09 - 00;11;11;16 Rianna Jade Parker So we are still… the three of us are alive and healthy, thankfully, and we are not a– all of our practices […], I’d imagine. I’m not as concrete to the idea of a collective lasting forever in the same way. It may have served its purpose already. We will know that soon enough.
00;11;13;10 - 00;11;42;20 Sarah Demeuse Right. So it seems that research is intimately tied to working together with people, reacting to what someone does. It’s not, you go into the Schomburg in Harlem and finding some documents and writing up a report, it seems to be very much and connected to conversation. And then also establishing maybe more connections through visualizing it in space.
00;11;43;17 - 00;12;19;16 Rianna Jade Parker Exactly. It made a big difference. You know, we could have made this graphic map and uploaded it, people reacted very well. Online, we might have get in and zoom… it was very different to be printed out, large scale at a wall in Tate Modern that people could literally touch and then print it and give it away actual printed maps– That’s a very different experience. To do that for six weeks and have that space for us to convene, people did all kinds of events just because we were in residence, we were happy to provide that space, and it was an intentional one. So we all played different roles and did what we could. We didn’t think we would be able to exhibit it somewhere, but now we did, so that was the truth.
00;12;19;26 - 00;12;51;24 Sarah Demeuse Rianna is talking specifically about “We Apologize For the Delay In Your Journey,” a project by the interdisciplinary research collective Thick/er Black Lines, of which Rianna is a founding member. The project centers on a map that identifies connections and networks between Black British women and femme cultural workers. It was presented at Tate between August and September 2017, together with an open co-working space, and it prompted exchanges in print and conversation.
00;12;51;24 - 00;13;34;21 Sarah Demeuse It’s also a very significant move from the digital to the spatial, which in our more traditional environments of museums and whatnot, it’s the other way around. But you’re really native to a different format of discursivity. So that’s that’s really, I think, very, very calling as well. Now, given that we’re talking about also being in residence, the Tate residence was crucial to you. Over here you are as an individual resident. And I wonder what that means for you and to what degree is it important to be working outside of your, say, normal context, whatever that may mean? How do you how do you understand those dynamics?
00;13;35;27 - 00;14;14;26 Rianna Jade Parker Well, this my first residency or really any appointment I’ve gotten in my now 30 years, at least ten years of thinking in and around culture, and mostly for lack of not trying or thinking that it was necessary, since this is a nice residency for it to be a first application to make. What I haven’t been able to do it before, which I’m doing explicitly now, is firstly center myself, as wild as that sounds, everything I do is fairly communal, or at least to a duo which becomes the much bigger and the collective automatically and then we get to think about what I solely want to do, and enjoy everything I do.
00;14;15;07 - 00;15;25;14 Rianna Jade Parker What would I choose to do if I was given that time? And yes, and sitting and thinking and being around some of these people, going to the places they would they would be walking to and in are important. And there were some factors and steps I could never justify in another residency. I just need to sit and think, need to be a bit of a flâneur right now and destroy the window. But with the deepest intention, because it’s something I want to do. So I’m taking it to a different level of seriousness, this is quite a […] in that way. It’s basically super personal and then I go, I’m actually doing this inside of a new but still formal institution. It is deeply personal work. So I’ve been traveling back and forth about my transparency, how much I can share when. So even though I know I’ve formally had nothing to hand over to prove what I’ve done, I know it will be coming out in a long text-form way, but still it continues to change, which I’m okay with. I know I’m going to leave here doing as much as I could, but I could always be more to be done. I’ve removed the pressure from myself. I don’t have anyone to account to apart from myself.
00;15;25;14 - 00;15;31;08 Sarah Demeuse No, you don’t, because also our residency is really not product oriented–
00;15;31;08 - 00;15;31;14 Rianna Jade Parker Exactly.
00;15;31;14 - 00;16;07;05 Sarah Demeuse –say, so whatever happens, happens. Now, there is kind of study line running in parallel at Amant, this theme of “Hearing Voices”. And it’s it’s something that informs the public programs and exhibitions. It has to do with maybe inspiration, some kind of like more supernatural element that might be guiding someone, voices from the archive… I wonder if there are certain voices that you are hearing as you work? There’s clearly inspiration.
00;16;09;09 - 00;16;33;17 Rianna Jade Parker Am I hearing voices? No, not immediately. I mean, I don’t work in a quiet environment. I always have music playing very loudly, and again, being very particular about playing a lot of dub and roots reggae in particular. So that takes over the sonic space for me. I’m hearing a lot of bass. It’s bass, and that’s what I’m feeling in my chest.
00;16;34;16 - 00;16;51;06 Rianna Jade Parker Otherwise, do I read? No. I think I do most things with a lot of noise in the background. When I read, I guess I can hear some of these voices, and they speak to me. But when I’m in the archives, it’s most like I’m standing in an empty room, and I speak to myself, if anything, but with a very heavy soundtrack behind me.
00;16;51;14 - 00;16;56;26 Sarah Demeuse Yeah. Do you? So you actually put on music as well as you’re in the archive.
00;16;57;13 - 00;16;59;05 Rianna Jade Parker Yeah, happily. I don’t think that I’d be able to do it without it.
00;16;59;11 - 00;17;01;01 Sarah Demeuse Are you sometimes dancing in the archive?
00;17;01;06 - 00;17;13;08 Rianna Jade Parker In the archi-(Laughs) Of my home, yes. Maybe there are no other archives I feel that comfortable in. Maybe we’ll see if I start dancing at the National Gallery of Jamaica when I go back this summer, maybe I’ll get that comfortable.
00;17;13;15 - 00;17;40;07 Sarah Demeuse You’ll have to let us know. But lastly, I have a more open-ended invitation, and that is, do you have any questions for Amant? We are, we are a young program learning a lot from our residents. And I just wonder if there’s anything that you feel like you want to ask us. We may not have an answer, but…
00;17;40;08 - 00;18;22;01 Rianna Jade Parker Yeah, there are questions. The answers are fine, not having them, I guess, yeah. It’s nice to hear some of the questions in the meantime. Hmm. I think I’m still– I mostly understand what the […] orientation was to make a very particular institution like this work in a very particular way, but with flexibility. There is only so much you can gauge going forward. And I think transparency is nice going forward, about exactly what this is doing and developing these needs that are quite thorough. And if people do want to know a lot, they can. I feel like the people are far more receptive than a much bigger place could or would be. And that level of openness, I would like to say, shouldn’t change, and that freeness.
00;18;22;09 - 00;18;23;24 Sarah Demeuse Okay.
00;18;23;24 - 00;18;41;24 Rianna Jade Parker This is down to communications, but communications are important. As for the literal aspirations of the places, artists, institutions, I don’t know. I think you’re going to have to– well not have to, but hopefully–but know to adapt as you go along. I don’t know what submissions are going to be in a year or two, but what they should then start to look like.
00;18;42;05 - 00;18;48;05 Rianna Jade Parker So as long as there’s always room for adaption and starting again and starting again.
00;18;48;05 - 00;18;49;03 Sarah Demeuse Yeah, okay.
00;18;49;03 - 00;18;52;13 Rianna Jade Parker There’s nothing wrong with having a burp, but being adaptable.
00;18;52;13 - 00;19;05;09 Sarah Demeuse Being nimble. Don’t forget to stretch! (Rianna laughs) I love that image of you and your two colleagues or friends stretching and then coming up with the idea of a collective.
00;19;05;09 - 00;19;05;21 Rianna Jade Parker Yes.
00;19;06;02 - 00;19;16;27 Rianna Jade Parker At least you went to yoga and had– you really made such learning for us. We were all just chatting. We were like let’s just stretch ourselves and take a walk now around Soho. We just decided in that time.
00;19;18;07 - 00;19;24;04 Sarah Demeuse Great. Keep our bodies present. Something that’s easily forgotten.
00;19;24;04 - 00;19;25;22 Sarah Demeuse Yeah.
00;19;25;22 - 00;19;48;21 Sarah Demeuse Our theme music is composed by Silas, who also recorded the conversations. Sound editing and engineering is by Isaac Silber. Finally, we’re thankful to our artists for letting us into their studios and thought processes and for finding time in your busy schedules. In our next episode, I talk with Isshaq Albarbary. Thanks for listening.
Isshaq Albarbary, Spring 2022
Sarah Demeuse This is Meet the Residents, a series of interviews with Amant Studio & Research residents in which we speak and digress about research, impact of context on artistic processes, serendipity and making community Amant is a nonprofit arts organization and residency in North Brooklyn. Our studios are at 306 Maujer, where we host four artists for three months. One cohort involved, another one in spring.
This is our spring 2022 season. My name is Sarah Demeuse. I’m your host and a man’s head of publications. Welcome Today, I’m in Isshaq Albarbary’s studio. Spring is finally springing, and Isshaq has been with us for almost five months. So Isshaq, thanks for letting me into your studio. Let’s jump right in, shall we? Before coming to our month, where were you spending time?
Isshaq Albarbary Well, I was born and raised in Beit Jibrin, a refugee camp in Bethlehem, in Palestine. But currently I am based in Amsterdam.
Sarah Demeuse Great. And Isshaq, you’ve been with us, actually, for two terms now. I’d be really curious to hear what you came to a with what your project sounded like on paper and what you’ve been working on here. In what way has this experience being here maybe changed things?
Isshaq Albarbary Well, I’ve been very lucky, actually, to stay or this time I mean, my initial proposal was to actually work on ID cards, the stateless I.D. cards, and and and it hasn’t really changed much. I think during my time here in Amant, they just went a bit more specific.
Sarah Demeuse So what are stateless ID cards? Can you just explain it?
Isshaq Albarbary So basically, if you are stateless and let’s say you live just as an example in Holland, then obviously they will get you they will give you a municipal I.D. card. Right. But certain information in regards to nationality and place of birth. The language that the U.S. Obviously, it’s supposedly supposed to be stateless. In my case, they’re not unknown at some point and they use the quote three exits.
Isshaq Albarbary So I you know, my initial proposal was to kind of like look at statecraft that was more interested in the sort of consultation that happens between the Dutch government supposedly with Israel. Right. Since, you know, I’m Palestinian then of course, most likely these are the sort of communication that happens between these political states or powers. But during my time here, I was much more interested in looking actually at the disembodied layers of them
So it’s kind of like, you know, shifted a little bit because then I was more interested in looking at the methodology that you know, for instance, the Dutch state and followed, they say looking at it from the historical expect.
Sarah Demeuse And in and in this case, you’re talking about the methodologies behind changing something from stateless to unknown.
Isshaq Albarbary Well, interestingly, actually, in my case, what they did at first is they wrote Palestine. So after one year when I actually applied for a renewal of my permanent residency, that is when they introduced these two codes, again, for nationality, they wrote and no and for place of birth, they included the three crosses or the three exits. And I think during my time here in Amant, what I was working on is trying to look at how language can conceals the complexity of our knowledge system when they see language, not necessarily just the written language, but also looking at, you know, you know, I see this embedded layers of I.D. card meaning that to look at the ethics, look at moments of silence, look at the history, the politics, subjectivities and so on and so forth, all these sort of elements.
Sarah Demeuse And how do you research those layers? Is there an archival practice? Is it interviews? How do you how do you go about it?
Isshaq Albarbary Different ways. I have to say an important and of course, an archive. So one of the one of the things that have been looking at is the Dutch database system, you know, which is pretty much like a fixed supposedly system. I also look at moments when the Dutch parliaments met to sort of, you know, response to such language because there has been cases of court as well against them because, you know, this language is not necessarily only applied on Palestinians.
Right. So in the case of the Netherlands, you have about 80,000 people who are actually referred to as unknown. And most of these people are not stateless in the first place. You know, they come from, you know, what we call nation states, of course, but they use this language in order because if you are stateless in the Netherlands, then and at some point you have rights, right?
So you know, every stateless had the right to become stateful. Right. But if you are unknown the way they conceived this this the way they define this language is that you have failed to prove what are you comfortable. So it’s kind of like a policy stuck right in place in order to prevent people from rights that states are supposed to give.
[sound of an ice cream truck in the background–they both enjoy it]
Sarah Demeuse That brings me to the question of the New York context, how it may have reshaped some of your research methods or maybe your focus. It was you know, at the beginning you said that initially you were looking at statelessness, but then it became more about your own case with the triple Xs and the unknown. Are there other factors that you feel that this environment has shaped your research.
Isshaq Albarbary And I’m thinking about basically so the way I do my research for example, you know, okay, let me put it this way. So my practice off has always been research, right? So research and art are deeply into the point. And my art generates types of materials that can be used in different ways. I use them to create an artistic format that used to create a for me.
So what matters is that is the art practice that becomes research-based but intertwined with research practice. And the reason why I’m saying this is because of my work. You know, like generally speaking, contextualization and interpretation feed into innovation, which is the narration that I would like to sort of, you know, give to myself and others and and the narration is very much dependent on how one situates or dependent on the finding of the research and how one situates and conceptualize and interpret its finding.
And they and I use this in kind of in a way I employ it in different ways, you know, in, in a publication because so far they have been just, you know, writing a lot. But also in a better display, I use it in conceiving an object I use it in to it really depends of course in the present moment in which I am engaged with and so far here in New York.
I guess one of the are the most positive things it has happened to me that is that it has brought me to different geographies and specifically learning about this whole history of I don’t know to what extent is correct to say Latin America, but the lack of the words to say Latin America. So it gave me this opportunity to communicate.
Right. And pretty much one language, but in different geographies. I come from the Middle East, right? So to look at how the X sort of and exist in Guatemala during the Civil War. Right, because the government uses also this this code and how the U.S. government uses also X in what we call now gender passport. It’s kind of like you to communicate all these sort of like language that the Dutch created, but with other different, you know, realities here in America.
Sarah Demeuse And if I’m not mistaken, there’s also a component of looking back into history quite a while ago, which also kind of connects the Americas now with the Middle East and Arabic culture.
Isshaq Albarbary You’re not mistaken at all. I mean, maybe to think of this connection and situated in my research, of course, I’m looking at that weaponization of culture, how culture is being weaponized and use as espionage as a matter of fact. And of course, the one that is has perfected. This is usually, you know, contemporary states starting from 500 years ago.
Isshaq Albarbary And for me, and specifically in my research, I’m look at I’m looking at like the present moment of what is the present moment. I mean, like the present settler colonial realities that the Palestinians live under, but also in relation to the Iberian peninsula and time. So let’s say it periods from 900 until the 1500s. And I tried to kind of like charts tension of colonialism and and yeah, I mean weaponization of culture. These are the two specific sort of geographies to a large extent that I am really focused on at the moment.
Sarah Demeuse And is there also a component where you become more aware, say, of the Americas and settler colonial dynamics within the continent through engaging and, say, with peers here or with just day to day encounters.
Isshaq Albarbary Individuals? You mean like. Oh, absolutely. I mean, New York is a such a rich place in terms of who’s actually sort of like living here. And that in itself constitutes the great opportunity for me in that like I’ve been able to speak with people and who I have been wanting to speak with in such a long time. Right.
Isshaq Albarbary People who teach in universities, but also walking by different positions in institutions and, you know, researchers, artists, curators, as a matter of fact, lots of institutional directors and stuff. All this has been very, very, very great for my research.
Sarah Demeuse There is a basic question that I always ask everyone, but in a way, we’ve been talking about it all the time: What is research for you? It seems to be all encompassing, but maybe there is there’s something else that you feel like we can add to this. Like, why is it so important that for you artistic practice, kind of that the distinction between artistic practice and research is almost no, that they that they that they are.
Isshaq Albarbary Yeah, like I just said no, you know, for me. Yeah. So that can just sit now for me. Like I’ve always understood art as research, you know, and my engaged with the research and pretty much determines the art form that comes from it. So it’s extremely intertwined you know, and I engage in, you know, trying to figure out a condition, trying to figure out a policy. And I heavily dependend on art to give it some form of, um, not necessarily just like, you know, an adequate visual, you know, but give it some form of can create the meaning and understand uh, from it. Yeah. So research-based is pretty much how I engage.
Sarah Demeuse Um, is there something about the art field that you feel is an exception that this is the place where one should do this type of research?
Isshaq Albarbary I mean, if we accept that art in if we accept that art deals with the everyday life, then that is the field that I’m sort of find myself more suitable. You know, for me, I’m very much interested in this relation between art, science and politics. And that’s why I always say I try to engage the relation between art, statelessness, and so if we say art and politics, another way to say art nerds production and I don’t know, activism, if you like, you know, another way to say art building societies and so on and so forth, you know, so so this is kind of like I feel like, you know, art really gives me the freedom to sort of engage with the conditions and constitute the an understanding of in part understand what is in the first place and then try to kind of create a respond to that and the beauty of it is that it really gives you the freedom to also sort of maneuver through different geographies. So it’s not just in it doesn’t trick me to a specific context as well.
Sarah Demeuse And in that way, is it is it is a kind of how should I say is it is it a necessary condition to kind of do residencies? Because you need to be in different contexts? Is that also part of the practice?
Isshaq Albarbary It’s not like I have done many residencies, but and I think the beauty of of I can speak, of course, about a month residency is that what it did? It truly offered me the time, you know, to set and dove in-depth into my research to try to articulate better questions and try to communicate these questions with other people as well.
So this is the most beneficiary of the residency as well. And besides, of course, it provides some form of financial support, which of course we should not also go blind on. So so in that regard, like the residency especially, that they had the full freedom to sort of like decide how I want to engage with my time. It has been extremely great Yes.
Sarah Demeuse So both context, but also very much time related to money in the end. Yeah. Now, I’m going to jump to a different topic because we we have a theme here that is kind of informing subterranean sleep. Many of the programs that we do and the scuttled hearing voices. Now, hearing voices can be related to kind of a more classical understanding of inspiration, but it’s also about kind of unearthing voices that might be there and not be really in the ether yet. And I wonder if you are hearing any voices, might be irrational ones, might be suppressed ones. I am curious how you how you see it well.
Isshaq Albarbary I’m driven toward the work I do because of I mean, voices is quite interesting word to use, I would say, of course, because of I find myself in in conditions of anger, sadness, pain constantly. But also between all of these conditions, there’s always a human, which is an extremely powerful tool of resistance. Right. So unfortunately, this is the realities in which we live. We live by and basically, but also these voices, of course, they are not just mean because we inherited these voices, but also, you know, we we are born to inherent oppression unfortunately, history and so on and so forth. So at the moment, I say history, fiction, and dark humor is the many voices that I’m dealing with. Did I respond?
Sarah Demeuse No, no, no, it does. And I actually I really appreciate the humor element in it, too. It is. It is it is such an it’s essentially human interaction and and that really.
Isshaq Albarbary It’s very delicate. Yeah. You know, it kind of surface up disrupts and then it leaves. Mm hmm. But the impact of continuing.
Sarah Demeuse My last question is actually not a question. It’s more an invitation for you to ask questions. To Amant. I wonder if you have any.
Isshaq Albarbary Oh, yeah. Extend my residency. Ha ha ha.
I mean, it’s I don’t know, I have questions, but and I looking back at how great it has been to sort of looks to residents, like, in terms of time. Mm hmm. I would definitely strongly advise that they make it, and that makes it a little bit longer, like five months at least, because. So, I mean, you know, to come to New York, you really need the time to sort of, you know, I don’t want to say subtle, but it’s kind of, you know, adjust to what is happening.
Sarah Demeuse Our theme music is composed by Silas, who also recorded the conversations. Sound Editing and engineering is by Isaac Silber, Finally, we’re thankful to our artists for letting us into their studios and thought processes and for finding time in their busy schedules. Thanks for listening.