Abigail Lucien
Abigail Lucien is a Haitian-American artist whose works belong to a third-culture terrain–a transnational landscape where contradictions are embraced and code meshing is the norm. From material to color to language, Lucien’s practice addresses themes of (be)longing, futurity, (im)migration, and place by exploring inherited colonial structures and systems of belief/care. During their time at Amant, Lucien will be researching within archives dedicated to the Caribbean diaspora while writing, drawing, and sculpting their first collection of science fiction stories based in a speculative future of the Republic of Haïti.

Lucien was raised in Cap-Haïtien, Haïti and the northeast coast of Florida. Their work has been exhibited at museums and institutions such as SculptureCenter (NY), MoMA PS1 (NY), MAC Panamá (Panamá), Atlanta Contemporary (Atlanta), UICA (Grand Rapids), and The Fabric Workshop and Museum (Philadelphia). Residencies include the Eugeniusz Geppert Academy of Fine Arts (Wrocław, Poland), The Luminary (St. Louis), Santa Fe Art Institute (Santa Fe), and OxBow School of Art & Artist Residency (Saugatuck). Lucien is currently based in Baltimore where they teach sculpture at the Maryland Institute College of Art.

steep, soap, hibiscus, cast iron, enamel (detail photo: Dev Hein), 2022


Meet the Residents Abigail Lucien

We spoke to Abigail Lucien on their publishing project NAN VANT SOLÈY LA, the importance of friendship in research, and the relationship between language and sculpture. Abigail also shared about their creative and pedagogical practices and the porosity between different media that informs their work.
Time remaining:

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.