The Future of Art

Vita Eruhimovitz is an Israeli artist currently living and working in New Jersey, whose work is inspired by her background in computer science and bioinformatics. Vita's concepts behind her work are based on artificial intelligence and her fascination with human-object relations. She explores these topics through different mediums such as sculpture, painting, drawing and interactive art. Each idea seems to find its own media, all of which are sure to challenge, educate, and engage her audience. 

" The Chatting Room " Installation at Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum 2015

"The Chatting Room" Installation at Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum 2015

A:  You seem to have made working across different mediums work for you, I have heard mid career artists and art educators talk about the importance of honing in on one media and perfecting your skills at it. I am wondering if you had struggled with this idea and how you made it work for you. 

V: I’m still not sure whether I made it work for me yet. I have heard the same opinion quite often, never liked it and still don’t believe it has to be true. Right now I am working to establish a sustainable cross-media practice and I hope that soon enough I’ll be able to say that working in multiple media from the very beginning worked for me. It surely is easier to focus on one medium, both in logistics of the work and when presenting myself as an artist, but this just isn't the way that I work. My art is really more idea based and every project finds its own medium and material. This way I can work on the same project in video performance and sculpture at the same time and for me, it cannot happen otherwise.

A: I am curious as to how you developed the form of the Wobbly-Bots for the Chatting Room installation. When you sketched out these forms did they stay true to your sketches or did they sort of form as you were making them?

V: It’s interesting that you are asking this! Usually my work takes form as I am making it and ends up being very different from the  initial intentions. However this project ended up very similar to my first sketches except for the foot part. The foot became much more sculptural and cartoon-like than I intended at first. Otherwise, the structures were really consistent with the way that I planned them, which is pretty unusual for me.

Wobbly-Bots are robots that resemble some sort of playful creatures. Each bot has a microphone,speaker,sensor and small computer inside. They are designed to engage in conversation with the audience and once the viewer has walked away, the Wobbly-Bot will continue to have conversations with the other Wobbly-Bots.

A: The foot part is so interesting, how did you come to that form and does it have a specific meaning behind it?

V: Yes, definitely.When I made the first Wobbly Bot with a minimalistic foot structure I felt like its form wasn't communicating enough on an emotional level. It felt almost as if I could have put a computer instead of the sculpture. I wanted to make the bots more creature-like, more of beings.  The domain of cartoons and animation was the middle ground between a cold conceptual work and representational art, which I wasn’t interested in. The feet forms resemble Mickey Mouse feet. They are just humorous enough and just likely enough to evoke sympathy in the viewer, while still remaining in a fictional domain. I imagine that one day I’ll be able to make the Wobbly Bots bounce around the room on their feet. I’d really like to see that.

A: Your Chatting Room installation seems to connect with your Human Mediated Machine Conversation performance. Did the performance happen organically while you were in the process of creating the installation?

V: Only after completing the installation I have realized that this project began four or five years ago when I was thinking about interaction between semi-organic creatures. At the time I made small sculptures of these organic-shaped worm-creatures that had box megaphones as their heads. I wanted them to use sound to conduct a nonverbal communication. At that point it wasn’t clear to me where exactly I’m going with this idea, so I sat it aside and after a while forgot about it. Much later I met Cleverbot (a computer program designed to simulate conversation with human users over the internet) and was inspired by it. The idea of multi-directional communication between entities evolved and began to grow layers of meaning. I was thinking about our relationships with smart devices and other commodities, human-algorithm society and so on. I began to plan an installation where robots would talk to people and to each other. While I was working out the technological part of the installation, I noticed how interesting the act of mediating chatbot speech is, and the performance was born as a result of my experimentation.

" Human Mediated Machine Conversation " 2014-2015  Phase 1: Each performer has an instance of a Chatbot running on their computer. They mediate a conversation between the two Chatbots by saying the chat lines out loud and typing them into the chat line. The only human input to the content of the conversation is the initial “Hi” and the occasional misspelling/mishearing mistakes.

"Human Mediated Machine Conversation" 2014-2015

Phase 1: Each performer has an instance of a Chatbot running on their computer. They mediate a conversation between the two Chatbots by saying the chat lines out loud and typing them into the chat line. The only human input to the content of the conversation is the initial “Hi” and the occasional misspelling/mishearing mistakes.

Phase 2 and 3: During phase 2, gallery visitors take the performers' places and continue mediating the Chatbot conversation. In phase 3, the Chatbots spontaneously stop accepting input from the keyboard while still speaking to one another. The participant's role is eliminated and the continuing conversation is shown on the computer screens and projected onto the walls. 

Phase 2 and 3: During phase 2, gallery visitors take the performers' places and continue mediating the Chatbot conversation. In phase 3, the Chatbots spontaneously stop accepting input from the keyboard while still speaking to one another. The participant's role is eliminated and the continuing conversation is shown on the computer screens and projected onto the walls. 

A: Do you feel like that happens a lot in your work?

V: Yes. I am constantly closing circles revisiting my past interests and ideas. I often lay ideas aside for years and then find them again through new forms, areas of expertise and gained contexts. Closing a circle this way always adds a different level of complexity and is very satisfying.

A: Did you study art in college or are you self-taught?

V: I had a long and somewhat awkward path to the point that I am at now. When I finished high school my parents insisted that I do something useful with my life. I didn’t have any strong opinion in either direction and pretty randomly enrolled in school for computer science. I ended up not liking it much: it felt too far-removed from the physical world, and so I continued with my master’s in biotechnology hoping to combine programming with biology. For my master’s thesis I was working on a simulation of genetics of a population evolving through generations. This was my first encounter with the artificial life concept. I enjoyed this kind of work, even started a PhD, but soon enough realized that this is still not the right thing for me. I quit, left Israel, travelled and worked abroad searching for my calling. It was while living in Australia when I started to make art on my own and at that point I knew that l have found it. Eventually, I went back to Israel, started art school, and after my third year there I started realizing that things that I knew about computers and biology were really influencing what I was doing on the conceptual level. My last undergraduate work: the “Ears Mouse” dealt with biology, genetics, and artificial life. I realized that not only did I want to make representational work dealing with these topics, I also wanted to actually make the artificially-alive things. I taught myself some basic electronics and started working with physical computing, so my background in computer science definitely helped. As to my background in biology, it often inspires me, but I’m not sure if it necessarily helps: I don’t use any of my knowledge in the field in practice. Still it allows me to think about my topics of interest more broadly.

"Ears Mouse" 2012-2013

"Ears Mouse" 2012-2013

A: So at some point there was definitely a learning curve?

V: It's been a lot of learning and unlearning. Gaining skills and information and then putting them aside; learning something else and then realizing that the previous thing is actually relevant;  going back and picking it up, doing new work with the old things that I have previously abandoned. I feel that I’m constantly moving on a kind of spiral that becomes more and more interesting and context-bound.

A: Did you start to work in 3-dimensional form in Australia or is that where you started to paint? 

V: I painted a lot as a child but around the time of high school I put painting aside under my parents’ pressure. Later, when I was in Australia I had a lot of vague ideas for art pieces. These were probably ideas of installations but I didn't even know what an installation was at that time. So I started making sculptures and learning casting and molding from the internet.  I made large, multiple part molds and poured resin in my living room (which wasn't a very smart thing to do). It was a process of self-teaching sculptural techniques and gathering materials. Some of the pieces I made worked, some failed, and then more failed but eventually I got pretty good at clay and plaster, molding, casting, working with resins, silicone, and so on. After about half a year of experimentations, I realized that I can figure most of it out technically, but I was missing the conceptual thinking which was harder to learn on my own. I went back to Israel and started art school for my undergrad again.

" In the Shower with a Missile " 2012-2013

"In the Shower with a Missile" 2012-2013

A: How and when did you decide that you wanted to create installations? 

V: I did some installation in my undergrad, not heavy duty but some things with wood, plaster and chicken wire. I’m always tempted to work large scale and fill whatever space I have. Also, my work is often narrative-based and through it I create my own fantastic worlds. Building immersive environments that become parts of such world, feels as a natural outcome.

A: Do you feel like you can express yourself and ideas more clearly through three dimensional form than two dimensional?

V: Sometimes, but I’m not willing to set boundaries for my creative process. I love painting too and although I haven't painted much in the last couple years I’m finally ready to get back to it. Meanwhile I do a lot of drawing. Drawing is very intimate to me and as a medium it satisfies the personal aspects of my practice. The combination of drawing the private and the emotional and dealing with more general ideas through sculpture and installation feels balanced to me.

A: I am curious about the “Singing Lump” piece, is it part of an installation? 

V: Yes, it is part of an installation called “Soon After”. I made this amorphous shape when I was working on a body of work that dealt with a fantastic future where people aren't present anymore and the objects and creatures that they created gained an independent existence and agency. Particularly I was thinking about bio-engineered creatures and their fate. What would happen to them after humans are no longer there to define them? Maybe they would go through an entropic process devolving into inertious amorphous lumps of living matter.  I thought: what would this lump be doing all day? In a world that no longer inhabited by humans or animals, knowledge and abilities picked up at the cultural junkyard left behind by our civilization. It could have heard a single song played by some machine, picked it up and now just lying there and singing this song over and over again.

                           Singing Lump  part of the " Soon After"  installation 

                          Singing Lump part of the "Soon After" installation 

A: There was another lump in the “Soon After” installation that was on the floor, are these lumps similar?

Installation shots from " Soon After "

Installation shots from "Soon After"

V: Yes, I made a few of these, and they were all made the same way. Initially I had some different ideas as to how to install them but that changed so the one underneath the knives isn't singing it's just lying there.

A: Was the “Soon After” installation sketched out or planned?

V: No, this installation was pretty much improvised. I had multiple sculptures that all dealt with the post-human future idea: ceramic lumps, kinetic wall pieces, dancing knives, and a homage to Alba the GFP bunny (a genetically modified glow in the dark rabbit) inside a black box. At some point I got an opportunity to compete for showing in a certain installation space and I won the competition. I had some parts, the space, and one week to install. I went into the space and again making it into my own environment and the installation started to form. I was working with the space and in the space and seeing how different elements interacted with each other and with the space. It was a lot of fun because it was much more free and fast than a pre-planned process

      "Homage to Alba"  glow in the dark rabbit as part of the  "Soon After"  installation

      "Homage to Alba" glow in the dark rabbit as part of the "Soon After" installation

A: So if your installations are part sculpture, do they stay together as one unit or do you ever break them apart and exhibit pieces separately?

V: Lately I have been thinking about how to make my practice more sustainable. I make design choices that make my installations more modular. The installations are made in pieces, they can be put together in pieces, the pieces are not necessarily dependent and can be exhibited as separate sculptures. The added value is that they can be reconstructed into different installations, so the work doesn’t need to be finalized at any time.

A: Could you talk a bit about the “A Painting Humming Itself” installation?

"A Painting Humming Itself" Installation 

"A Painting Humming Itself" Installation 

V: This piece was preconceived but went through multiple changes. For a long while I wanted to make an interactive painting that would look back at the viewer and interact. Also I was interested in reversing the roles of painting and space by creating a trompe-l'oeil: a three-dimensional illusion of a flat surface. While still exploring interactive environments I experimented with wall-embedded framed tunnels. In this work I knew I wanted the viewers to become essential to the piece. The rest followed intuitively. The final version of this installation was a single wall in a black room that you could approach from both sides. In a sense it was a two dimensional work with a front and a back. Some of the ‘paintings’ in the installation were active, others were not. There was a playful and somewhat deceiving element which confused the viewer: it wasn’t quite clear what to expect from each tunnel, which are interactive and which are not. When the installation was finished the amount of viewer participation was enormous and I really enjoyed it and learned a lot from observing people interact with my work.

A: Is the whispering dialogue something specific like a message that you wanted to get through to the viewer or a story that you read that you wanted to bring into the work?

V: The whispering itself was an intervention into an appropriated text.The new text revolves around several keywords stripped from their initial context, you cannot hear it completely but you can catch some of the words. Some cultural references do come through and evoke a different association in each viewer. The whispering intrigued and lures you to come closer, which ignites a chain of reactive actions. The text is an additional layer of meaning, providing a cultural-historical context.

A: Was the idea of having people participate in your work always your intention or did that come as you were doing more installations?

Gallery Visitors interacting with " A Painting Humming Itself "

Gallery Visitors interacting with "A Painting Humming Itself"

V: It’s more of a recent thing. It started to happen around the time when I was teaching myself interactive and kinetic sculpture. When I made my first interactive work and saw people's reactions I realized how important this is for me. I want to make art that is able to develop an active dialogue with the viewer, not only reactive but also interactive. I want the communication between the work and the viewer to change something in both.

A: Do you feel that you approach your work differently now, focusing more on how you can allow the interactions from viewers?

V: I am not exclusively interested in interactive objects but working with them made me more conscious about the viewer's experience. This consciousness caused me to engage in interaction design as a part of my work. Today if I am doing something that isn't functionally interactive I still see the objects that I am making as evocative objects. I adopted and appropriated the term “Evocative Objects” from Sherry Turkle - a very interesting author and researcher in the area of human-technology relations. Evocative object is her definition is an object that affects us by evoking a change in our mind:  bringing up a memory,a feeling, developing relationship with us.

A: So interesting, thank you so much for your time Vita, it has been a great experience learning more about you and your work!

You can read more about Vita's work on her website

Raising Awareness Through Art

Michael Pittman is an artist from Newfoundland, Canada who works with multiple media to create images and objects that express his research, ideas and personal narratives sometimes associated with concepts around mental illness and addiction. He uses art to raise awareness and through his studies and direct experiences, he is able to create work that is engaging and incredibly intriguing for the viewer. 

Bear Cove . Ink, graphite, charcoal and acrylic on acid free rag board. 51cm x 76cm. 2015.

Bear Cove. Ink, graphite, charcoal and acrylic on acid free rag board. 51cm x 76cm. 2015.

AH: I read in a past interview that the inspiration behind your paintings is mental illness. Do you ever find it difficult to work with a topic that can sometimes be thought of as depressing?

MP: It’s not the genesis of all my work, but it has played a major role in my process in the past,   and is something that continues to inform what I do. It was difficult work to make on many   levels, but also rewarding and interesting. The source of the work was primarily the well- recorded history and philosophy of “disordered” thought and the historical diagnoses and treatment of mental illness. The images were informed by both the history of psychopathology and also from a much more personal record. Mental illness and addiction have influenced my work from a very intimate perspective. As many can attest, dealing with these issues within yourself and loved ones in an ongoing way really permeates everything you think and do -   there is no avoiding it; it is part of who you are.

AH: At what point in your career did you feel that you wanted to express this through your art?

MP: It’ s something that’s always been close to me, but I think that my academic interest was focused by reading Foucault’s "Madness and Civilization" near the end of my undergraduate studies. It remained an important topic of research for me for quite a while. Later, I also began exploring theories presented in Prinzhorn's "Artistry of the Mentally Ill" -    though the text is dated and highly problematic in many ways, I found the idea that specific psychological ailments could produce very specific patterns of  "artistic output" or "configuration" really intriguing, even if, ultimately, incorrect. There’s a lot of interesting visual material    associated with all this historical information.

Signal Fire.  Ink, graphite, charcoal, and acrylic on birch panel. 122cm x 81cm. 2015

Signal Fire. Ink, graphite, charcoal, and acrylic on birch panel. 122cm x 81cm. 2015

AH: Do you feel that your work has/is raising awareness as you had hoped it would?

MP: There was a great deal of interest in the project and it led to a solo exhibition at a large public gallery, which included several bodies of work spanning over 5 years. The images and sculptural pieces were influenced by some seemingly disparate ideas that rotated around a core of personal,psychological experience. I think there was a positive response to the work because of its introspective nature. When I make images or things, I project an accumulation of experience onto a specific subject: the result is representative of the particular way that I decode the world. Though it’s often very personal, I believe it is illuminated by a commonality in the way that we all process and internalize experience.There was some really positive press about the show – I suppose it helped a little to raise some awareness regarding a subject that people still find difficult to talk about.

AH: Can you walk me through your painting process?

MP: My painting process is as reductive as it is additive: I work in many layers of fast drying materials, then carve, scrape, sand and gouge back through to expose some areas while completely obliterating others. I’ve often said that there’s a distillation process that occurs when working this way. The superfluous stuff evaporates or disappears, and what is left behind is concentrated and deliberate. I predominately use acrylic paint and a combination of drawing materials to create my images on a wooden or paper substrate. To say that each image is representative of a specific story or narrative would be misleading. The images often begin with a core of narrative and accumulate material until they become something else. I try to make images that create a narrative sense; they tell stories and also expose themselves as such. They are neither transcriptions of fact, nor tall-tales. People, places and things overlap and intertwine with one another becoming something akin to multiple exposures in a photograph. Time dissolves the division between subject and meaning for me. Layers of memories, dreams and stories are combined without priority or differentiation. It is the stuff of early childhood memories or the blurry record of subjective experience without context. Our individual world views are essentially myths that we construct based on the facts that are most accessible, if not most relevant. We build spheres of meaning around ourselves with the material that we have on hand. I borrow heavily from areas of knowledge or phenomena that I relate to on some level. I absorb the information that I accumulate through my research, and it becomes part of my visual language or vocabulary. Once the facts are released from their context, I can manipulate them freely and use them to create personal narratives that embrace the ambiguous nature of things and the uncertainty of meaning.

Quarter Sawn.  Ink, graphite, charcoal, and acrylic on birch panel. 122cm x 81cm. 2015

Quarter Sawn. Ink, graphite, charcoal, and acrylic on birch panel. 122cm x 81cm. 2015

AH: Your paintings have a great deal of restraint to them. Do you ever find the restraint to be difficult?

MP: I find restraint very difficult- though it seems to be getting easier for me. I have always had a tendency to overwork my images, but lately I’ve been a little better at keeping things more immediate and knowing when to quit. The great thing about the materials that I use is that they can always be covered up (which happens quite a lot). Some of what might be perceived as restraint in my work may actually be the opposite- it’s the process of building up layers and removing what is unnecessary. I think what does remain is essential and purposeful...maybe that’s a form of restraint too. I don’t know…

Skein.  Ink and acrylic on acid free rag board. 51cm x 76cm. 2015

Skein. Ink and acrylic on acid free rag board. 51cm x 76cm. 2015

AH: Did you have inspiration come to you in specific ways to expand into different mediums at certain points in your career or did you always have an overall wanting to express your ideas and concepts in more than one form?

MP: The impetus to move towards sculpture was really to try to see what would happen if I actually made the things that I was painting; and would working on them simultaneously affect the outcome of both. I found moving back and forth between mediums, on pieces that had a strong relationship to one another worked really well for me, and helped me figure out what was really going on in them. At the time I was a little (ok...a lot) preoccupied with  beds… I think actually making some helped me to solidify my ideas. It was a big transition for me, and I’m still really developing a process and language for working in sculpture.

AH: I notice that the rocking chair and bed are repeated objects used in your work, what is the significance behind them?

MP: Chairs and in general figure heavily in some of my work. They’re most often representative of people, or used as a means of encapsulating complex ideas into a more singular form. A few years ago, I was following a stream of research that led me on my journey from the history of mental illness to an investigation of sleep disorders: traversing bodies of knowledge in which beds figured heavily. Eventually, my interest began to turn more specifically towards the object that had appeared so frequently in my work.

Procrustean Bed #1 . Steel, aluminum, casters and pneumatic actuators. Dimensions variable. 2012. Photo from “Michael Pittman: Haunted Half” Exhibition at the Rooms Provincial Art Gallery, St. John’s, NL, Canada.

Procrustean Bed #1. Steel, aluminum, casters and pneumatic actuators. Dimensions variable. 2012. Photo from “Michael Pittman: Haunted Half” Exhibition at the Rooms Provincial Art Gallery, St. John’s, NL, Canada.

No other piece of furniture carries with it such a weight of conflicted meaning as the bed. It is simultaneously functional, mystical, sexual and solemn. It is freedom and stasis: a nest and a prison. It is the threshold over which many of us enter and leave this world. In its proportions, it references our bodies. It provides regeneration, and waits quietly with us for death. Licentiousness, infirmity, vulgarity, and grace meet under its covers.

The image of the rocking chair represents a little bit of nostalgic longing, but has also been assigned a latent ominousness by local folklore (passed on to me by my mother). It can represent presence and absence and like the bed, it is an uncanny surrogate for the body.

Lies about the dead.  ink, graphite, charcoal and acrylic on birch panel. 31cm x 31cm. 2015

Lies about the dead. ink, graphite, charcoal and acrylic on birch panel. 31cm x 31cm. 2015

AH: The bed sculptures are almost cage like and give this feeling of both birth and death. Are they illustrating the feeling of waking up from a nightmare or some other dreamlike state?

MP: The idea was to explore beds themselves as both physical objects and as signifiers for (sometimes) conflicting ideas (i.e. birth/death). It started out as preoccupation with the idea of a “procrustean bed” : a device from Greek mythology, employed by a bandit from Attica, to inflict suffering on unsuspecting travelers. With the offer of accommodation, Procrustes would lure victims to an iron bed that would stretch them or dismember them to fit its unscrupulously adjusted dimensions, forcing the body to fit its shifting length. The term has come to connote any “arbitrary standard to which exact conformity is forced.” It was Procrustes’ rather macabre “one size fits all” solution, which led experimentation with pneumatic automation. and to also explore contrary ideas of hyper-specificity of function. I endeavored to create representations of beds for very specific uses, or that relate to very specific ideas- I imagined a bed only for dying, a bed for the depressed, a bed inspired by childish fears associated with sleep.

Trap-bed . Steel, casters and reclaimed Douglas fir. 142cm x 58.5cm x 142cm. 2012. Photo from “Michael Pittman: Haunted Half” Exhibition at the Rooms Provincial Art Gallery, St. John’s, NL, Canada.

Trap-bed. Steel, casters and reclaimed Douglas fir. 142cm x 58.5cm x 142cm. 2012. Photo from “Michael Pittman: Haunted Half” Exhibition at the Rooms Provincial Art Gallery, St. John’s, NL, Canada.

AH: What was the process like behind the nightlights prop projection? Did it take a series of trial and error to execute it the way you envisioned it? Had you done something similar in the past that had helped you with the execution?

MP: The projection pieces represent a lot of experimentation and trial and error- I worked with the individual elements clamped to roughly made armatures on a workbench for almost a year before I figured out what lenses and light sources worked best. The pieces look quite simple, but there are so many fine adjustments that can completely compromise the image if they’re not exactly right. I had been working on another type of rotating projection piece when I stumbled upon the idea for these latest pieces. I call all my experiments with projection, nightlights.

The Nightlights were a departure from what I had been doing, and I really hadn’t come across anything like it before. I knew roughly what I wanted the pieces to “do” and I had some idea of what I wanted them to look like. Ultimately though, the process of developing them took over and the end results are a product of their function- they look like they do because of how I need them to operate. The development process was pretty arduous and the fine-tuning was equally as time consuming. With the engineering done, however, image development became quite fun.

Pittman refers to these projection devices as  Nightlights.  They are handmade, multi-slide projectors, which produce simple moving pictures.  

Pittman refers to these projection devices as Nightlights. They are handmade, multi-slide projectors, which produce simple moving pictures. 

The repetitive motion in this  Nightlight  work is of Pittman chopping at a  frozen brook with an axe.

The repetitive motion in this Nightlight work is of Pittman chopping at a  frozen brook with an axe.

You can see more photos of the  Nightlight  work   here

You can see more photos of the Nightlight work here

AH: Are the proto sequence projections executions of your own dreams or is the idea to make the viewer feel as if they are in a dream?

MP: The images that are featured in the sequence are mostly visual experiments with my first prototype projection device to see what sort of complexity was achievable with moving patterns in these simple devices. The Moth sequence is the only “finished” piece to come from this yet (I’ve only recently gotten back to these experiments). Very early on, I began working with images and ideas surrounding common clothes moths, phototaxis (the movement of an organism toward or away from a source of light) and light traps (devices used by entomologists to study phototaxic insects). Moth imagery had begun to appear in my work more and more over a period of about two years, having suffered through a moth infestation after acquiring some egg-laden second hand clothing. The idea of infestation and of an unwanted presence resonated with me and linked serendipitously with another element of my research.

The  Moths  light trap is a preview of a moving image created with a prototype of a rotating projector, based on the idea of a children's nightlight. You can read more about it   here

The Moths light trap is a preview of a moving image created with a prototype of a rotating projector, based on the idea of a children's nightlight. You can read more about it here

I had been investigating spiritualism, psychical research and mediumship for much of the previous year, and found myself drawing comparisons in all things to aspects of the “paranormal”. The comparison of moths to ghosts came about quite organically when working through some text on the surface of painting.

AH: What is next for you? What future projects have you started working on?

MP: All of the projection pieces are still works in progress, and I’ve recently applied for some funding to continue to develop them. I’ve exhibited some of the pieces while others are still tucked away in the dark. I’m looking for exhibition opportunities for the existing work and will be continuing to send out more proposals over the next few months. I’ll be undertaking some new but related research later this year that I’m excited about, and I’m hoping it will turn into some new two and three- dimensional pieces. Some of the work will be destined for a solo show in Toronto in 2016.

You can learn more about Michael Pittman and his work by visiting his website










The Nature of Shapes

Rebecca Norton is a Brooklyn-based artist whose work ranges from paintings to sculpture and video. Rebecca's work shows complex movement through color and space, drawing inspiration from geometry. She uses equations specifically from affine geometry (parallel projection from one plane to the other) which add a sense of dimension and creates a world where objects seem to appear suspended in space, leaving the viewer in a state of wonder. In the variety of ways that Rebecca uses to express herself, each serves as an inspirational work of art. 

Enclosed Operetta,  oil on linen, tryptic (3 canvases), 64" x 27" each, 2014

Enclosed Operetta, oil on linen, tryptic (3 canvases), 64" x 27" each, 2014

AH: I know that you have lived in LA and now NYC, do you find the art world to be much different to navigate in one place than the other?

RN: I do not think the worlds of art are much different coast to coast. In both cities, emerging artists are creating spaces to gather and share work while established galleries, with their national and international art stars, keep an eye on the emerging scenes to see who may hold promise for their standards of artistic professionalism. During my time in Los Angeles I felt that, for the most part, the art scene was not ready or willing to embrace the kind of work I do. This has not been the case in New York. It took hardly any time or effort to find people who are genuinely interested in my practice. Additionally, in New York, I have found myself engaged in more critical discussions and theories that are beyond questions concerning the art market and academic art history. Perhaps I’ve just met a larger number writers living here than on the west coast, or maybe their publications are easier to come by than those who are living and working in LA. This has been important in the evolution of my studio and writing projects. Additionally, being in conversation with individuals whose interests overlap mine has provided me with some validation as to what I do. My worries about becoming some estranged thinker tinkering with zany obsessions in perspectival geometries has, in the last few years, subsided, at least a bit. I don’t think I have a large audience, but given the depth of interest from the contacts I’ve made, I’ve come to respect the idea of being a niche artist. It’s a position that I liken to an author or illustrator of a weird genre, rather than a professional visual arts exhibitor in the broader art world. I occasionally go out to openings and museums, and I keep up with articles published in art journals and magazines, but, overall, I don’t concern myself too much with what's happening in the markets or with artists dominating the contemporary scene. It takes up time that I would rather spend with my work and the work of like-minded people. That being said, I should like to point out that many of my contacts have not come by way of being present in this city or LA. They are people whose writings I find while researching and whom I’ve reached out to via email. But, as for living in New York, it just so happens that they either live here, or visit more often than they do Los Angeles, providing me with opportunities to meet face to face.

AH: In what ways does your work represent the times we are living in?

RN: One simple answer would be to say that the technology I have been using in some of the digital pieces dates the work. The house scans used to compose the video "Wandering Through Childhood" were taken with a mobile scanner device, the Structure Sensor. I use a version that has not been updated since I received the scanner for Christmas, 2014. This piece of equipment gave me the opportunity to explore a new kind of documentation that I think will become more common as virtual reality devices make their way into our homes. The glitches in the meshes made from the Structure Sensor scans create some strange and wonderful moments wherein spaces and objects do not line up. It humors me to know that Wandering Through Childhood will look behind the times as advances in technology improve a mobile scanner’s ability to map our world in dense geometries.

Two Dogs,  digital print, 18" x 27", 2015

Two Dogs, digital print, 18" x 27", 2015

The 2-dimensional work maps perspectival geometries that, I believe, can help us imagine objects and spaces endowed with richer topologies and complex movements. I try to compose visual representations of complex systems that I read about in science and mathematical publications by contemporary thinkers, not only as a means to bridge a discussion with them but also to extend their studies into elements which can later be understood in visual terms. For example, according to the German-born French mathematician Alexander Grothendiek, by emphasizing the primacy of space over a point, a mathematical architecture for a point could be visualized in such a way that our thoughts about the meaning of a physically spatial location is expanded.  A model such as this proposes that the significance of a point depends on the geography and the maps that surround it. Through such models, we can begin to assemble a vision of an interconnected world. Such thinking may change how we consider and construct spaces of social interaction. Overall, I think this reflects a shift in how we are thinking about our presence as humans with our environments -- we want to understand the relationships between the local and global, and our impact as active beings in our communities.

Mer,  oil on canvas, 14" x 14", 2012

Mer, oil on canvas, 14" x 14", 2012

AH: How do you use the elements in your paintings to communicate a message?

RN: I am uncomfortable with the idea that my work is meant to convey a message. I work with ideas, and try to visualize complex spaces and movements to see what kinds of activities will emerge in the process. This, I think, is different from a practice imbued with symbolic elements meant to be decoded. The paintings are composed with generic elements—line, color, light and space. They are meant to be contemplative, and most refer to a subject or place that has in one way or another induced a moment’s silence in me.

The first paintings were experimentations to see what kind of compositions affine geometry produced when mapped and painted onto the surface of a canvas. These geometries, which map the “free movements” of an object, produce an asymmetrical composition. According to Gottfried Semper, in his book "Style in the Technical and Tectonic Arts" (1860-62), an asymmetrical pattern on a symmetrical object appears to force its way out of the constraints of the symmetrical border. In the paintings, the geometries were not only highly active, due the this contrast noted by Semper, but also, in some cases, appeared to distort the rectilinear frame of the object. Through the years I moved from working solely with the object as subject of optical illusion to the object in its environment to see how the object and its surface activity interact with elements in a physical location. One instance of this occurs when architectural shadows drift across the surface of a painting. Parallel lines cast by architectural shadows causes the geometries to appear as if they are moving and shifting. This caused me to wonder how the surfaces of larger solid structures would appear if their facades were painted with these abstractions. Would shadows from structures and objects in vicinity to one another cause the appearance of a solid mass to dissolve into its environment?

Each painting asks a new question. The progression of the work has been that one leads to the next and so on. I suppose you could say that I am interested in opening doors for perceptual play and insight. Also, I like to remind people that painting and mathematics, particularly geometry, never stop losing their wonder. All it takes is an investment of time, sincerity, and diligent practice.

AH: How would you describe your process of starting with your initial concept and how you navigate yourself through the work? Is your process very structured or loose?

RN: It's both structured and loose. Each piece starts with a specific generative set of rules based on its reference. For instance, while painting When Riding I was thinking about the acceleration and vibrations one feels when riding a motorcycle. To capture the sense of speed, a very small affine constellation was drawn near the center left of the painting. This was to serve as a vanishing point on an invisible horizon, the lines emanating from it creating a vectorial space that sucks a person in. Colors from the southern Californian landscapes (where the motor rides were taken)  are painted around this “point” and expand out towards the edges of the canvas. The blue abstraction on the center right is supposed to represent the seat of the bike, vibrating and somewhat solid as if it were a structure that a person could feel one’s weight on. The iridescent whites on the lower third of the composition rotate as would the wheels of a vehicle, hardly perceptible because the wheels, driving us forward on some afternoons up to 150 miles per hour, would feel as if they simply vanished beneath the seat.

When Riding,  oil on canvas, 72" x 26.5, 2011

When Riding, oil on canvas, 72" x 26.5, 2011

The piece sounds very thought-out, but I just gave you the overview of what is occurring in the finished composition. I never know what a painting will look like when I begin. I never use a computer to draw out a composition or play with color. I measure distances in a blank canvas space, abstract objects into basic geometric compositions, imagine light sources, and from there delineate the structures of lines in a way that I think may best present an interpretation of an experience. I’ve been mapping certain geometries for over five years now, and still I never know exactly where each set of parallel lines will be set until after the space is mapped out. From the very beginning I start with unpredictable arrangements. Color makes the process more capricious.

AH: Can you describe your style evolution?

RN: My style has changed over the years. As an undergrad, my interest began with still life. I enjoyed painting the studio set-ups in the classroom. My favorite still lifes included patterned fabrics, reflective surfaces and intense lighting arranged to produce dramatic effects. When given a project to work on outside of class, I would often choose to paint interiors of a room, landscapes or night scenes. I once spent a month painting a scene from the same parking spot outside a Krispy Kreme donut shop. My goal was to capture the intensity of the neon signs of the donut shop and a distant billboard lit up against the night sky. As a bonus, I treated myself to a donut every evening I worked. Another time I set up my apartment as I imagined Vermeer would. Each object, angle and distance was meticulously measured and every tiny bit of color my eyes could perceive was added to the painting.

2nd Street Apartment,  oil on canvas, 24" x 20", 2002

2nd Street Apartment, oil on canvas, 24" x 20", 2002

For my BFA thesis I decided to do something completely different. During my last two semesters of school I would meet with a woman living in an assistant care apartment once a week. Her name was Carol Cooley and she loved to draw (she passed away ten years ago). Carol suffered trauma from a car accident at the age of five. She was well in her fifties when we met, but, having suffered brain injury, her mental and physical development had severely been handicapped. I soon came to understand how her sketches reflected different narratives in her life—what her roommate did, how she liked pizza, what she hoped to do, etc. At the time, I was wanting my work to make a difference in another person’s life. For the BFA exhibition I copied Carol’s drawings onto my canvases and added my own interpretations of her representations to the compositions. The narrative was a shared one, not just about myself, but myself with this other person. There was nothing made up about it. Carol came to the opening and was able to see her original drawings displayed alongside the paintings. Her excitement was the highlight of my night.

Journals , collaboration with Carol Cooley, BFA exhibition, Allen R. Hite Gallery, University of Louisville, KY, 2004

Journals, collaboration with Carol Cooley, BFA exhibition, Allen R. Hite Gallery, University of Louisville, KY, 2004

I moved to Los Angeles after I received my BFA from the University of Louisville, Kentucky. For a year I painted porcelain horses against red and gold backgrounds. I was attempting to capture fragility and power in an image. After a few months I met an Armenian painter named Vahe Barbarian. He lived on the next block and invited me over to paint with him in his studio. Vahe works in an expressionistic, poetic style akin to Arshile Gorky. For over a year I explored gestural and bodily movement, abstraction and poetic expression. By the time I started Art Center, fall 2007, I was again painting interiors and landscapes, but this time less traditionally and more abstractly. As I delved into abstraction, I came to learn that what I was looking for was not a representation of a thing, per se, but a painting that evokes sensation.

In 2009 I began studying a geometry that I still work with today. It fulfilled my need to organize complex perspectival spaces with which to explore basic elements of painting—color, light, surface, space, movement. The geometry diagrams affine translations. The word affine is used in reference to a woman in a philosophical text, and it was in that text that I first came across this term. I wanted to know why the authors chose to define a woman—mother—an affine, but could not find a satisfying answer in mathematics and philosophy alone. Studying its visual expression was a way for me to contemplate its literary use. As in my undergrad, I was again investigating the expression of another woman—only this time she was much more abstract and distant.

Big Horse,  oil on canvas, 12" x 15", 2005

Big Horse, oil on canvas, 12" x 15", 2005

I do not think it difficult to trace a trajectory through my various styles and interests. Landscapes, architecture, patterns and light always served as focal points in my work. Palettes of pristine whites and blues—similar to porcelain horses—have dominated the geometric compositions for some time. The asymmetrical compositions exert a force-like power against constraints, whilst the intricate color arrangement feel as if they may break at any moment. I spend a lot of time researching mathematics and spatial concepts. When exploring the body in painting today, I think more about the mathematical architecture of gestural movements and how our actions are expressions of a web of connections—memory, reflex, environment, thoughts, etc. I am also very interested in Jean Piaget’s studies of spatial intelligence and its development in children. As I read his work I recalled my own experiences working with Carol in undergrad. Through the years, my research has helped me construct a comprehensive understanding of affine geometry, including its properties and place in our perceptions of space. Through this I am able to consider the significance of these perceptual spaces within the evolution of my work.

AH: Are the shadow skulpt sculptures recent work? Did you come to a point where you felt like you could express yourself differently in 3 dimensional form versus 2 dimensional?

RN: I experiment with sculpture when I can. Painting is great, but nothing pleases me more than a day spent working with power tools. Since I was a child I have asked for a tool belt for christmas. I don’t think any family member takes me seriously when I say this, even today.

The Shadow Skulpts are new. I began designing these pieces in November 2014. The shadow play I witnessed on my painting in the summer of 2014 led me to want to work further with the idea of shadows—the history of shadows in art, the orthogonal geometry of shadows, their representation of environment and, as in the case of the sun, their representation of time. Not only has painting’s origins been attributed to tracing shadows, but the origins of sculpture have been attributed to a shadow as well. According to Pliny the Elder, the first sculpture was made as a relief of a shadow drawn on a wall. After working with rules of parallelism and affine geometry in the paintings, it felt like a natural step to extend my experiments with orthogonal projection by producing relief sculptures of shadows. The piece originated with a silly idea I had, inspired by the Billy character in the Family Circus cartoons. In some comic frames, Billy is illustrated as moving through a space—hopping and moving somewhat randomly through a house or landscape. It occurred to me that the dash marks of his trajectory represent moments in time, but they are all the same length. The time it takes to get from the beginning of his wander to the end would be measured in speed, but, as I interpreted it, the dashes represent the velocity of his body moving in space because they are consistent in size and indicate the shortest distance between two more narrowly measured points. Shadows too are cast at a constant speed, the speed of light, and also project velocity. I began to think, what would the cartoon look like if the dashes were replaced with shadows, and how would it change our reading of the place Billy wanders through? For one, the shadows would indicate the lights surrounding him. They would also tell us the expression of his body as he moved through space, conjuring up relations between him and his immediate environment. If drawn in the cartoon, these body projections would produce a strange, continuous amorphous substrate made of dark colors, and without mass.

The Shadow Sculpts are a tiny step towards thinking the continuous “Billy Shadow” in a three-dimensional form. I wanted to visualize this shadow as a chimera that potentially extends infinitely yet in integrals. Lengths of its appearance would depend on the time of day and/or the amount of time spent in an environment lit with alternative light sources. However, I first needed to create a basic model of a still object, rather than a moving one, to limit the conditions and begin with a very basic idea. I chose to start with differences in an object’s projected shadows based only on the migration of the sun in one day. The object used for the Shadow Sculpts is a crude three-dimensional model of an affine sculpture that I have yet to fabricate. The model was sculpted in Sketch-up, and in this program I was able set a sun path and trace the shadows of my object.

Shadow Skulpts , plexiglass, 28" x 21" x 20", 2015

Shadow Skulpts, plexiglass, 28" x 21" x 20", 2015

The digital affine sculpture is tied to the geometry of the paintings. I had been wanting to realize these spaces in a solid form, as either pure abstract space or an object translating infinitely through affine spaces, but still I am unsure just how I would like to do this. The shadow castings propose a new problem for tracing an object moving through infinity. Painting, for me, is limited due to the constraints of the flat plane. Sculpture allows for more free reign in this project.

AH: I see sculptural elements in your videos, do the videos influence the sculptures or vice versa? Do you feel the videos will impact the paintings?

RN: The videos are the latest work. They’ve come after the sculptures but, in many ways, will be useful as for future shadow tracings. In Sketch-up I traced shadows of a still object, but in the virtual model of a world, such as the ones constructed for the videos, I can lay out a trajectory of a body and change its gestures as it wanders through a space. The tracing of its shadows will indicate the lighting arrangements and sun paths of the virtual environment. In this way, I may begin on that messier chimera imagined initially as a Billy making Billy paths in the Family Circus cartoon.

As for the paintings, one can see aesthetic similarities between them and the virtual environment assembled from scanned room captures. In the past, I had talked about the sensibility of the vectoring geometric patterns as one that imitates movements in digital imagery and animations. Part of this revelation has come from conversations with programmers, though for the most part this has been part of my thoughts concerning my affine mapping since late 2009. The very first gouache studies looked to me like digitized transformers.  

I am not certain how the videos will impact the paintings. I’m only just now getting back to working on canvas. Some elements of the video and room captures will surely enter the work. The paintings have not directly influenced the video except, maybe, in the play of color. I am a colorist and work to intensify activity of the painted spaces with complex color arrangements. Color theory is definitely considered when composing light in the virtual environments.

Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches,  gouache on paper, 12" x 10", 2013

Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches, gouache on paper, 12" x 10", 2013

AH: Do you have any sort of unrealized projects that haven’t yet been brought to light?

RN: I have a few. I’ve mentioned the sculptural shadow chimera already. Another is a large installation of paintings in an architectural space that would maximize the play of shadow lines  drifting across surfaces throughout a day. This would allow the paintings to work as sites, wherein they could function as open sets for environmental interactions.

AH: Do you currently have any shows going on or anything coming up in the near future?

RN: I have some paintings and prints exhibiting in the group show Urban Lawns at MIM Gallery in Los Angeles, CA. The show will be up until October 8. For anyone interested, please visit for location details.

During the month of October and mid-through November, visitors to The Yard’s new location at Herald Square in Manhattan will have the opportunity to interact with Sticks, a digital piece made in collaboration with Eddie Elliot. This opens in conjunction with the ADAPT Conference being held at The Yard, October 1-3, Work at the Yard. Sticks originated from a desire to observe the pragmatic nature of affine geometry through the constraints of a mathematical program. The interactive site projected at The Yard allows users to see and direct various translations of a geometric diagram following the rules of parallelism that apply to affine geometry. In addition to interacting with the diagram, there is also the option to send one’s favorite composition to a file that will be arranged with other saved files into a complex composite of digital mappings. This extends the collaborative aspect of Sticks to a larger audience.

In November or December, Network Ecologies, a Duke University digital humanities project, will be beta testing a collaborative “Networked Publication” that I’ve contributed to. In addition to my essay and annotations on other contributor’s writing, Network Ecologies will also be publishing my digital video documentary of their Arts at the Edge exhibition (showcasing works by myself and artists Shane and Karin Denson). Readers can follow Network Ecologies at for updates and information.

To see more of Norton's work, check out her website

Art Can Save Lives

Billy Hahn is a New Jersey based artist whose work ranges from paintings, to three dimensional stuffed creatures, masks, collages and insanely cool installations. He is living proof that art has the power to heal even in the darkest of times. He spent his early 20's in Brooklyn doing some crazy things and has one hell of a story to tell that will inspire us all to stay true to ourselves and keep it real. 

Some of Billy's collages

Some of Billy's collages

A: What is the inspiration behind your work?

B: What inspires me most is having an idea and being able to execute it. Whenever I see something that really grabs my attention whether it be in nature, from other people, or just the revolving of life itself, knowing that I can make that idea a reality is what inspires me. The overall meaning behind my work is my heart. Every emotion inside of me that people generally don't get to see is what my work is all about, the rawness of emotions that no one wants to convey, the things you can't really say out loud. Art is not separate from my life, I look and see everything as a whole. I create art for myself, it is the only thing that keeps me level. 

My art is based off of my deep imagination, my dreams and desires. It's my world from A to Z. It all started in college when I started making masks out of paper mache. The first mask that I ever created was a character called Bush Monster for an exhibition that I was in around that time. The whole concept of creating characters came from that time. I started creating more masks, each one a different character with a different name. After college I moved to Bushwick and started to make masks and put costumes together for the band that I was in. I would customize the whole setup. I would also wear the masks and sell my art on the street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.  

You can see Billy's new masks in next months spread of  Buffet Magazine

You can see Billy's new masks in next months spread of Buffet Magazine

It evolved into making settings to evoke feeling and that's exactly what I created for the show entitled "Into My Brain We Go". It allowed people to connect with my imaginative level. The feeling of the fog, the cave, the sound, and the smell allowed people to connect with an alternate reality. 

Installation shots 

Installation shots 

A: What life experiences have you gone through that are reflected in your art?

B: I've loved, I've hated, I forgave, I've lived in a city and I've lived in the South. I have camped out in Miami Beach, I've been to rooftop orgy's, I've seen my peers pass away, and have almost lost my own life. I've been assaulted more than once, I've seen people held up at gun point, and I've skinny dipped in the East River. I've watched my apartment burn in flames, I've been pampered, and I've been broke. I have struggled, I have helped, I've done good, I've done bad. I'm the yin and yang, the black and white, the DIRTY DUNDEE and the Laughing Lemon Legs.

A: So would you say that art has helped you through difficult times? 

B: Of course, art is the only thing that I can turn to, to let my emotions out instead of keeping them bottled up inside. Art is basically what is keeping me alive right now as we speak. If I did not have art in my life I would be dead, which is an intense statement and sad to say but art is really that powerful. 

"Art has saved my life" 

I say this because I was addicted to drugs and art has been the only thing that has helped me get through the darkness. Art is the only thing that I feel such real passion for and that gives me something back in return. When I am making art nothing else in the world is the only thing that truly makes me happy. Being addicted to drugs was swallowing my life. If I didn't have art to turn to it would have swallowed me, the drugs would have killed me. 

Art is definitely the only thing keeping me sober, if I didn't have art I would be lost. When I feel like I am going to use, I ask myself, would you rather be high or making art? Being high is short lived and art has a lasting effect. It helps me stay focused and empowers me to stay sober and serve as a constant reminder that I don't need drugs. The drugs were what was holding me back. It took me a while to realize that. The whole time I was using drugs I was aware that I was ruining my life, but that's the worst part about addiction, you just don't care about anything. 

Some of Billy's watercolor and ink drawings

Some of Billy's watercolor and ink drawings

A: What does it feel like to be addicted?

B: It feels completely helpless. Truly sickening and awful. Being truly addicted to drugs is possibly the worst thing you can feel. It's like being in your own jail and not being able to live while it is slowly killing you. You are stuck in this tunnel vision and can't think about or see anything else and you don't even like the way you are is slowly killing you and you don't even give a shit. 

A: Did you find that the art you were creating while you were using was different than the art you create when you're sober?

B: I have tried to look at my art that way but my art never changes. It was a little darker when I was using, but I always make art that has a dark side. You look at my work and you see the darkness, it's creepy but colorful and exciting at the same time. I had been on drugs for so long that I'm not even sure how to separate the two to make a comparison. I truly don't know if I can see a difference from the art I created when I was using versus when I am sober because now that I'm sober, I am still making the same things. My ideas are always there no matter if I am high or not. 

The thing is, the mindset when I'm on drugs doesn't seem different, it's the internal feelings that are different when I am using. It could depend on the type of drugs you are taking because some people who take hallucinogens have come up with different, crazy ideas they might not have if they were sober but the drugs that I was using were not like that. My ideas and inspiration have always come from within. I can trace that back to when I was a little kid. I was always being clever and creating. 

A: How did you get sober?

B: My parents have supported me and helped me get sober. I truly have the most magical loving family and was able to go to them and tell them that I really needed help and we devised a plan together. Part of that plan has been for me to use my hard earned money in a way that benefits me to have a brighter future versus pissing it away on drugs and putting things in my body that have no purpose. I want things out of life, and the longer I stay sober the stronger I get. As I started to get back to my true self again, back to that mindset of focus and awareness, I started to ask myself, "do I really want that kind of life for myself?" 

I know what I want and I am going for it. The past few months that I have been sober, I've had this fire in me and it would crush my soul if I went back to what I was doing before. 

A: What is the message that you want to send out to the world through your art?

B: That life is worth living. Be happy, laugh more, and judge less. Express yourself truly from within and find what you love to do because you feel it so much it makes you shiver. Don't waste your energy on negativity, take a deep breath, daydream, eat an extra cookie, and smile at a stranger. Be strong and work hard, always stay focused, and find your candy store. 

Billy working in his studio at  Art Space NJ

Billy working in his studio at Art Space NJ

You can learn more about Billy and his work at 

Subtle Shifts in Behavior and Identity

Iviva Olenick is a Brooklyn-based artist and poet whose work intersects text, textiles, and technology. Iviva creates narrative and sculptural embroidery inspired by her surroundings, subway sightings, and other artists. Olenick's work explores how we adjust and adapt to external change in urban environments and our awareness of these subtle shifts in behavior and identity. 


A: What exactly does narrative sculpture mean?

I: There is text embroidered directly on my sculptures. I audio record interviews with friends and acquaintances, then extract the most salient remarks to embroider. If I am particularly taken with a story, I make a stop motion animation of each letter as I embroider it. I add edited audio from the interview. 

A: When did your weaving and embroidery progress into sculpture?

I: I started experimenting with sculpture in summer 2013. After a 7-year textile design job ended, I longed to stay connected to design without taking on another corporate job. I started cutting fabric into shapes and ironing it onto thick interfacing. Interlacing the shapes by embroidering them together into neckwear (scarves and necklaces), I noticed I could stand my pieces up on a table. I realized I could use a combination of interfacing and fabric to make figures. I tried this out, making a few pieces which now look pretty preliminary. Still summer 2013, I was preparing for a 2013 winter show at Muriel Guepin Gallery. I showed her my preliminary dolls, and she liked them and wanted to exhibit them. 

Since then, my technique has gotten more sophisticated, and I've shifted the narrative to how we adjust to constant change and socioeconomic pressure while holding onto a core sense of identity in NYC. Everything in New York is compressed, which makes adjusting very hard. Time is sped up and there is a sense of urgency. While I literally share narrative through embroidered texts, I exploit body language, hairstyles and posturing to convey characteristic behaviors. My sculptures look like someone you know, even if you don't know their specific stories. My goal is to tell these stories, making us more visible to each other.   

Even though we see and walk past hundreds if not thousands of New Yorkers every week, we largely remain invisible to each other. Many upper middle class New Yorkers have no idea what it's like to live in a neighborhood where violence is commonplace, it's not safe for kids to walk home by themselves from school and parents are strapped working multiple jobs. While my sculptures won't force face to face interactions across socioeconomic lines, I hope to use them as a vehicle for empathy.

A: Do you always base your characters on people you know personally? Do you just look at people and think, I am going to turn them into a sculpture?

I: Many of my sculptures are based on friends and acquaintances, people I meet at art openings, bars and parties whom I find interesting. Occasionally, I observe strangers on the train or subway who seem particularly fascinating. I borrow from what I remember of their clothing and body language, sometimes combining qualities from two different people to create a new story. 

A: What about the people you draw inspiration from that you just pass by on the street or see in the subway? How do you choose the narrative for those subjects? 

I: So far, there are 4 sculptures from observation, all women. of the 4, 3 have text. One does not. The one without text defies description. I saw her on the subway, I think around Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn. She was potentially homeless; potentially just eccentric. It was hard to really tell what was going on with her. 

To some extent, I think we all make up stories about people we encounter once and those we see repeatedly. I couldn't quite infer this woman's story. Her mannerisms (hair twirling, repetitive hand movements) had a bit of the mania I associate with outward expression of mental illness. Her outfit didn't quite make sense, yet was bold and striking, and in some contexts would have been considered creative, bohemian and hip. She created questions for me about perception (our assumptions based on our own experiences of race, class, gender and other identifying categories). I wanted to capture what I found fascinating about her and felt it completely inappropriate to impose a narrative on her. The colors I used for her clothes are not entirely accurate. Instead of the blue in my doll, her top and skirt had a dark forest green. So I made adjustments when I made the sculpture. I retained her original sense of mixed patterns. She became a homage without literally representing the person I originally observed.


The woman described above reminds me of a homeless man I've seen in Chelsea/the 34th Street areas of Manhattan. He wears a coat made from rolled and twisted pieces of newspaper. It's ingenious and beautiful. The first time I saw him, I fantasized about bringing him to my then fashion job at a menswear company, knowing my boss would have been more than annoyed. I dreamed about having a design studio where I could hire him, teach him textile techniques (which he might already know) and have him apply the twisted newspaper look to other materials and forms. As this man is homeless and potentially ill, when I first saw him, I didn't engage him much, just gave him some money and tried not to stare too hard at his handiwork. I wonder(ed) what we lose culturally when we lose people like him from mainstream contexts. His newspaper creation was just so captivating and I still wonder about what "could be" for him. 

A: Could you expand more on the stop motion animation videos? At what point did you start to incorporate this into your process?

I: I've been making these very low-tech stop motion videos for about 9 months. I started experimenting with the medium while I was an artist in residence at IMC Lab & Gallery in Chelsea, which pairs artists with technologists to create new cross-disciplinary work. The space has incredible technical facilities, including projectors, and James Tunick, who co-runs the residency with his wife, Carrie, is a computer programmer capable of activating sound and video in new ways by programming the space. While working on my hand crafted sculptures for Native/Immigrant City, I decided to enliven some of the content from interviews by editing the audio recordings and adding excerpts to stitch by stitch or letter by letter stop motion animations of the same text appearing on fabric. 

A: Would you say that the videos are as important as the actual sculptures themselves in the work?

I: The videos still feel very raw to me and exploratory and preliminary. It is a challenge for me to work across media, incorporating digital tools to stay relevant and up to date even though my mission is to preserve traditional tactile arts like weaving, embroidery and soft sculpture.The videos distill more complex narratives into visual snapshots, and are potentially easier to absorb than reading the texts on the sculptures, which are both concealed and revealed in how they wrap around the body. 

A: What type of work were you making before you started incorporating embroidery into your art?

I: I spent a lot of my 20s writing poetry, which I think held some promise and needed some editing and emotional maturity. Some poetry finds its way into my flat embroideries (embroidered tweets). See@EmbroideryPoems on my web site, which includes my own and others' tweet length poems translated into stitch, a 2013 Brooklyn Arts Council sponsored project.

A: Where can people see some of your work in person? I am also interested to hear more about the Artists Who Write Salons you have curated, could you talk about that a bit?

I: Muriel Guepin Gallery represents my work in NYC. I've been showing with her since 2009, and she maintains an inventory. Recently, I started partnering with Brooklyn Workshop Gallery, a lovely community-oriented space run by artist, Martine Bisagni in the Carroll Gardens/Gowanus border. My sculptures were in the window there for a month during Embroidery Studio Thursday sessions, which we will resume in July. For now, the sculptures are in my studio for some promising studio visits.

In a series of events separate from yet related to my artwork, Jenny Douglas and I of the Brooklyn Cottage have co-curated two Artists Who Write Salons on consecutive Wednesdays in June. The first one took place on 6/10 and featured Yazmany Arboleda, a talented dancer, choreographer, designer, public interaction artist and memoirist; Kent Shell, a painter with a startling honest writing voice in essays and short stories; and Seldon Yuan, an artist who emphasizes and subverts linguistic and graphic design conventions, making poems visible through installations, sculptures, artist books and related objects. He is currently working on a novel. 


The next Artists Who Write Salon is THIS Wednesday, 6/17 from 7-9pm again at The Brooklyn Cottage, featuring Swati Khurana, Montana Ray and Iviva Olenick.


You can check out more of Iviva's work on her website