charlie blodnieks

Photographs by Eliza Jouin 

In conversation with Yosan Alemu

Charlie Blodnieks is a Junior at Columbia College studying English. They are also on the Columbia/Barnard slam poetry team, the Editor in Chief of Quarto Magazine, and they really love the Bee Movie

What is your writing process like and how does it differ from other creative mediums, especially in relation to your visual work? So how is writing visual? 

Those are good questions. I think my writing process is sporadic. Before I became more developed as a poet, I used to just write out all of my feelings, sort of like a frantic emotional process without really editing or tending to the pieces beyond that point. And it’s not to say that’s necessarily a bad thing, but I’m glad I’m moving towards really defining and refining my craft in terms of careful editing. 

And when I’m editing, I think about the audience, about the performance of the piece—if there will be one—and I want to always be mindful about my work, for me and for the reader. I want to be responsible, and make poetry that is responsible. Being on the slam poetry team and editing for Quarto, a literature magazine, has really helped me in terms of reading, and looking at the ways in which the reading process of both author and reader is just as crucial as the writing process itself. I've been writing a lot recently on mental health and particularly writing about sexual violence and survivorship. And I am always thinking about the way those works need to be written and read about in responsible ways. I want to use writing as an artistic space for healing, but also for advocacy, and the practice of poetry and editing is one way to do this. 

How do you think writing can be visual? 

Poetry is visual! Especially in my written poetry, I care a lot about spacing and how the words look a certain way on a blank piece of paper. I want to take up space purposefully, and I want the spaces to be created in meaningful ways.

Do you edit your visual work? 

I actually don’t edit my visual work. I usually upload a visual piece to photoshop once I’ve physically made it, and I literally splice the image and rearrange it. If you consider that editing, I guess it is! The piece I submitted to Ratrock is super rearranged, and it’s sourced from three pages of random sketchbook lines. In terms of actual visual work, I care more about how I am feeling and [how I] use the visual medium as an outlet. It’s more fun. I think I take my poetry more seriously and that is why I’m editing a piece for months at a time, while my visual pieces can be completed quickly. 

Reading over the work you submitted to Ratrock, I really loved your “Psalm For God's Mother” piece [originally published in Muzzle magazine]. If you would like to share, what inspired you to write it? How did you write it? Why?

The poem was actually my individual CUPSI poem from last year. So CUPSI is the College Union's Poetry Slam Invitational that the Barnard/Columbia slam team goes to every year. That poem was initially three minutes, and I performed it with other members on the team. My best friend Taylor Thompson was singing Moses Sumney’s “Plastic” while I performed the piece. I think that poem has a lot to do with the specific moments of my transition last year, which was around this exact time actually. I had just come out to my family as trans, and I just started requesting people use my correct pronouns. That was really, for me, coming into my own moment, my own self. I was thinking a lot about space, and how to request and demand space for yourself. A large part of the poem also got me attached to Icarus imagery, of flying too close to the sun, especially in terms of space and proximity. I’m always really anxious about taking up too much space, and I felt very uncomfortable with asserting my gender identity and my transness—I had a lot of complicated feelings about it. I still do. The poem also dealt with my relationship with my family, and me announcing to them and the world that I can do these things on my own, I can transition on my own, I can do it myself. Even though there is a lot of sadness to it, there is also some power hidden within it. It might be quiet, but still deeply comforting.


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When you were talking about Icarus and flying too close to the sun, that reminded me of your other visual works that depicted flight and movement in the form of birds. Could you explain that a little more? 

I actually haven't thought deeply about the question of “Why birds?” It does come up a lot, and I do think it has to do with flight and escaping, of freely moving and not wanting to be bound by fear and by the world at large. 

You also have mentioned the slam poetry team a few times. How is that like? 

Slam poetry. Oh boy. I love the slam poetry team. That is where I met the bulk of my friends, and that is also where I met my partner. It is definitely the most loving space I have ever been in on campus, and the team means so much to me. So, so much. The team has been so formative in part for my writing but also about collaborating together as a team. I think this is the first place that I've really learned how to have loving friendships and to have loving work within those friendships. Thinking about the power of caring and caring about other people, and what that can do for us, I have found everyone on the team to be that caring and careful, of always helping and wanting the best for each other, and always deeply loving one another. 

When you’re performing a piece for the slam poetry team, how do aspects of body-ship and space production factor into the performance? 

In one of the pieces that we are performing for, it deals a lot with the body and of taking up space, of moving in and out of frames. The goal of the poem is to reckon with the fact that despite how much I want to obscure my body and imaging all I want, I am a person in a body. And then at the end of the piece, I thank all of the people who have impacted my life and my perception of life. I thank Taylor, and Asha, and others, and I feel like the end of the piece really  is rooted in this collective power of being held, and of holding others.

ivanna rodriguez-rojas

Photographs by Morgana Van Peebles

Interview by Isabella Rafky

Ivanna C. Rodríguez is a Mexican-Cuban artist that was born in Montreal, Canada and raised in Mexico City and Miami. She is a Barnard Sophomore majoring in Art History and is a poet, photographer, fiction writer, and founder of the South Florida Arts Collective. The collective is a safe space for Floridian artists of all mediums to be featured and build community.

What is your relationship with art? Any artists, spaces etc you look up to, engage with?

I consider myself very close to art since my childhood because I have two uncles and one aunt who are working artists in Mexico. Since I was a child I had the luck to be in constant contact to museums and exhibitions in many places in the world, so I feel like I'm very familiar with art. When it comes to artists, I find a lot of inspiration in photographers like Graciela Iturbide who is this Mexican photographer and is known to take a lot of street photography, specifically of mestizx and indigenous peoples-and that really influences me. As I said before, my uncles Felix Ayurnamat, Juan Barron, and my aunt Ines Barron are all sources of inspiration for me as well.

Apart from that, I look up to a lot of my friends and boyfriend who are all wonderful artists. I believe that people shy away from choosing colleagues as inspiration. I don't know if there’s this culture built around not uplifting fellow artists, or not admitting that you get inspired by people our age, but I feel like I am most inspired by young people. On top of that, I love Frida Kahlo, so much, she has shaped the way I view myself. From selfies to self-portraits or any kind of self analysis, I definitely look at it through that type of abstract lens, but I also love Bosch because he was insanely Avant-Garde for a Renaissance artist. In terms of spaces, I really enjoy visiting museums. Any museum, you can catch me there and if they’re free.. even better.

What’s your artistic process like?

My artistic process can be either spontaneous or planned– it varies usually, so I never know what to expect. Honestly, it really depends on my mood, but it usually starts with restlessness. I always write when I'm restless. I’m a very busy person so, in general, I don't have time nowadays to produce art but maybe in the past, I could actually decide to make something from my imagination. If I see something in the street that I really like I will jot it down on my phone [in] a couple of notes and then I will compose a poem. I also try to carry either one of my two cameras around whenever I go out because New York is such a powerful place for photography. But if I am not able to, I have an iPhone and even though the quality that is pretty mediocre I capture anything that catches my eye.

Are you spiritual? How has spirituality and language affected you and your writing?

I think that’s actually a really funny question because in my poetry seminar last week I just submitted a poem about my relationship to five different religions that have been close to me in my life through[out] different moments, but also continuously. I have finally come to the realization that while I am not a religious person, I’m a person full of faith. I have so much faith, and I would never consider myself an atheist. I do notice a pattern of spirituality and faith in a lot of my work whether it's photography or writing. I was raised Catholic from my mother’s side and through my father’s side, the Cuban side, some family practice Santería. As you can see, right now, I'm wearing a gold cross and a Yemaya ilde on my wrist. I don’t go to church often, but I do pray sometimes or light my candles to Yemaya and La Virgen de Guadalupe. I think there’s this powerful hybrid of religious identity within me, just as many of my other identities are hybrid, but I definitely am very spiritual. I think I just have an appreciation for faith; it’s very beautiful, and I think it’s something very powerful in art and life in general.

Which languages do you speak? What about language intrigues you? What do you associate with each language?

I speak English, hablo Español, et je parle français. I think that this year, I am able to finally say that I'm trilingual, but prior to that, I was most fluent in English and Spanish. I think what intrigues me about language is how you can convey the same things so differently, and I think a lot about how words vary from region to region - even Spanish varies so much! My Mexican Spanish is nothing like my Cuban Spanish. It’s really beautiful. I am interested in dialects, accents, colloquialisms, and any other particularities of language. My mom learned French in Canada, I always understood that type of French, but when studying French at Columbia, I was taught French from France, which is entirely different.

I feel the same way about English. English from the south is so different than English in New York. I associate languages with people and places. Spanish feels like home to me because most of my family speaks it. French feels like this powerful yet foreign thing to me. That, since I was born in Canada, from the destiny and fate of my parents’ lives, happens to be as much mine as any other language. English is just very easy to navigate and comfortable for me to communicate with in this school. Recently, I started using my photography and putting bits of my poems on top of it. I want to keep exploring that because I want to see what I link my words to visually.


Tell me about the arts collective you founded.

With the help of two of my friends– last September, we realized that not a lot was being done for artists that have not yet been established: so, young artists, artists with marginalized identity, or artists with low budgets, etc. in Miami but also in the greater south Florida area. While I'm not too fond of the name, and I might want to explore the possibility of changing it later, we realized that in order to get ourselves out there and be accessible,we had to come up with something pragmatic. We titled it South Florida Art Collective, SFAC for short. It’s easy, it's precise, and it does its job. There’s an application process to be featured, and while we accept everyone, we like to have a more business-like manner in which artists can submit a portfolio because we want to treat them as professional artists. We have over thirty five different artists on our page right now, and I am on a little hiatus with it right now because I am busy with work, my own art, and school in general. But I definitely want it to continue and for it to grow. We are about to hit two hundred followers, which is honestly more than I thought it would ever get. There's a lot of enthusiasm from friends and strangers, alike. I even received a submission from someone in Orlando, which is totally not south Florida. I think it just goes to show [that] artists from Florida, or people from the south, yearn to have a platform to show their work and meet other people. They deserve the world.

What are the distinctions between South Florida and Miami? Why do you feel like South Florida needed a space art-wise?

Miami is this very huge bubble that has more exposure to the rest of the world artistically and culturally than the rest of South Florida does. For instance Ft. Lauderdale, Palm Beach, Pompano, etc. are really big cities in the state of Florida, and they have a huge population but compared to Miami in terms of global access and recognition, they don’t have as much. It would be very selfish of me to exclude artists from Broward County, which is right next to Dade county, when the artists are just as capable and talented to be showcased. On top of that there is this mini-rivalry between the counties, and I just wanted to do something where we can all feel like we are part of this community. We are not Broward vs. Dade, we are just this huge part of the whole state of Florida that are getting together to promote each other, network with each other, and do something for the greater good of the state.

¿Cuánto afecta Miami a tu arte? ¿Cuánto extrañas a Miami?

Yo extraño a Miami con todo mi ser, es mi hogar––y pienso sobre él diariamente. No creo que mis padres entienden lo cuanto que amo a Miami! En términos de mi poesia y fotografia, pienso que aunque no todo lo que produzco está directamente vinculado con mi ciudad, de alguna manera refleja alguna parte de mi personalidad. Llevo casi catorce años viviendo en la Florida, así que aunque no quiera hacerlo intencionalmente, me influencia muchísimo. Miami, tal como yo es un lugar cálido, colorido, y lleno de vida––espero que mi arte también tenga el poder de evocar estos sentimientos tropicales y únicos de mi amada península.

Did where you grow up influence your artistic practice? How so?

Yeah, definitely. I really take into account the fact that I spent the first six and a half years of my life in Mexico City because that really influences my artistic practice and foundation. For the other thirteen to fourteen years of my life, growing up in Miami definitely made my art more... tropical isn’t the right word, but my art is very warm; I tend to lean to a warm color palette in photography. A lot of the images in my poetry are soaked with sun, and you can just feel this vibrancy that really resonates with Miami even if I’m not talking about Miami. I feel like the places I grew up in, made me be the type of person I am and that translates into all of the work I am making, whether I want it to or not.


How would you describe your poetry?

I have actually been writing poetry probably longer than I have been doing any other medium of art. I’ve kept a journal since literally the eighth grade. It is full of poems, not many of them are good, a lot of them are very angsty. Around ninth grade was when I started acknowledging that what I was doing was definitely poetry, and I started taking it more seriously. I feel like I have since departed from love poetry and more dramatic things and [started to] focus more on my identity and how I navigate spaces as the person I am, or how I view the world because of the way that I am. But I have been trying to play around with different themes that I am not super comfortable with. I just wrote a piece on religion, and I wrote a poem on my tattoos yesterday-it’s something that’s superficial. I like to reflect more in my poetry but now I'm just starting to allow myself to write about everyday things because they are just as valid. I don’t think I have a favorite poem, but I definitely am proud of the ones that I have gotten published; they are my babies. Like “La Sagrada Familia”, featured in my Ratrock portfolio, but I hope to get more of it out there.

What’s your series “La Sagrada Familia” about?

The title comes from, well “La Sagrada Familia,” the Spanish term for Jesus, Joseph, and Mary. I am obviously not Jesus, but that’s a family of three and I [was like] ‘hey, I have a family of three!’ La Sagrada Familia is also this huge basilica in Barcelona that’s unfinished. The fact that it’s unfinished is so striking to me; I have been lucky to be there before, and it’s so magnificent that I was inspired.

My poem has nothing to do with the architecture, but it gave me the title. It’s a three-part poem. The first part is “El Padre,” which talks about my relationship to Mexico where my mother was born. Since my mother is Mexican, Mexico is my father in that sense. The second part [is] “La Madre,” which is about Cuba since my father is Cuban. Cuba is my mother, and it just talks about my relationship to the island and how I have only been able to be there once in my life - despite it being a forty-five minute flight from Miami. Due to government issues and my dad having to pay to renew his passport to go... it’s just an issue. I am hoping to go there soon though.

The last part, “La Hija” is about Montreal, I am the daughter. I feel like it was probably the hardest piece to write because when I wrote it I had only been to Montreal once since my parents were deported in 1999. I still resented Montreal. I fell in love with the city– it’s a gorgeous place– but I was so mad because I felt robbed that I didn't get to grow up there. I felt the need to write about my relationship it. Since then I was able to go again. I spent my twentieth birthday there and I realized that I don't feel so angry at it anymore. So maybe I will write a part two, but who knows. It definitely is a heartfelt poem and shows how much I love my three nationalities differently, but tremendously.


How did you get started with photography? What do you prefer photographing?

I got into photography from as young as I could remember, just because my mom has always been so passionate about it. I don't know anyone else on this earth [who] has more albums of baby pictures than I do; my family loves recording our history through images. We still have all of my mom’s film negatives and there are probably five different cameras lying around in my house. I was gifted my first camera when I was ten. It was this tiny Fujifilm. It wasn’t until I got to college [that] I started to take it more seriously as an art form. One of my dearest friends loaned me their spare Sony A7 when I mentioned I wanted to improve my skills, so I shoot with that camera now. Just recently I got a film camera of my own, and I love it so much. I like capturing organic moments and candids in the street. I feel like that really immortalizes personalities and moments, and it can make even strangers feel intimate. A more constructed or curated shoot is just as fun to come up with, but is definitely more orchestrated. Telling a model how to pose doesn't feel fake at all, but I do enjoy capturing a natural moment vs a posed moment.

How has your identity influenced your artistic practice? What motivates you to keep going?

I am latinx. I feel that it’s very uplifting to get so much attention, love, and great feedback for my art because I feel like in a white-dominated space I would just be shrugged off and ignored or considered sub-par. I do feel that specifically, while I am Latinx, I am also mestizx. I am not Afro-Latinx, I am not indigenous. I feel like that specific identity branch that I belong to is also...misinterpreted, and misrepresented. A mestizx is the result of colonization and intermixing with indigenous peoples. Latin America is a massive agglomeration of different identities. While latinidad itself is not monolithic, many people wrongly interpret it as such. Accepting my ethnic/racial identity has been a long process, but now I know my place and what I am able to say and what I am not. And that has definitely facilitated my artistic practice and the thematics of my practice. My own happiness and my parents’ happiness [motivates me to keep going]. It is just so satisfying, like when my mom read my published poem she was like ‘this is really good’ (and my mom is that type of person who does not give compliments out for free). When I got into Barnard she was like, ‘okay good, now where’s the financial aid?’ and that was her response . I think that that [it] is very motivating that I can make work that will make my family proud and make me happy; it's really all I need.

How do you want your work to be shown or experienced?

Well, it really depends on the space [the work] would be featured [in]. I like showing my photography in print, rather than it being digital, just because I encourage people to feel the texture of the photo paper I use. I get really nervous reading my poetry out loud to this day. Today, I had to read my poem out loud in class, and I was shaking the whole time. I don't know why I shake because I know nobody's ever gonna tell me something bad or make fun of me, but I think that I have been exploring [doing a] pre-recording of me reading my work and just implementing it on top of video, so that people can experience my true voice. I love when people read my work in general, but I do want people to hear my voice: it's more powerful that way.

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Do you see yourself as an artist? Do you imagine working professionally as an artist?

I finally have come to accept that I am an artist and that I am going to take up all the space I want, as an artist. I am an art history major, and I have been planning on being an Art History major for a couple of years before I got to Barnard. I feel like I always shied away from labeling myself as an artist just because I didn't really have a solid portfolio. Now that I do, it’s good to feel like you are an artist and that you have been accepted among a community of artists. I don't know if I would imagine myself just being an artist, I do want to be a teaching artist, which is why I'm minoring in education. I hope to work in the education department at a museum, so I can teach while implementing my craft and pedagogy. I would also love to continue freelancing and creating on the low. I would just love to keep creating and selling prints if possible and make a little side money off of it– it would be very gratifying.

Why did you submit to Ratrock?

I submitted to Ratrock because Isabella Rafky told me to submit to Ratrock. No, truly it’s why I did. My boyfriend was featured in the first issue of Ratrock too! Then, I went to the Ratrock site and looked through his interview and was like wait ‘this is so cool; all these people are so cool.’ I definitely felt like I was not deserving of sharing such a cool space with such talented people, but I'm glad Ms. Isabella Rafky told me to submit because now I'm here.

natalie tischler

Photographs by Nico Lopez-Alegria

In conversation with Nigel Telman II

The private life of photographer Natalie Tischler is very important to her. Taking on her world independently, her photos offer viewers a glimpse into the beautiful and ever-changing life she leads. To Natalie these photos are a window: imperfect moments captured through her camera’s lens. On April 18th, I got a chance to experience a slice of Natalie’s academic world in the Diana Center, where we spoke on social media, the fleetingness of time and the moments that shape her.

Could you give us an introduction of yourself?

Of course. My name is Natalie Tischler. I am currently a sophomore at Barnard, majoring in Architecture, potentially minoring in Sociology if I take enough classes, and I’m from upstate New York. Woodstock.

That was a very all-encompassing intro, we got everything! What are three words you would use to describe yourself? That’s always a tough one, I know.

Just three words? Huh… I would definitely say independent as one of them - in that I know what I like and know what I don’t like. But not in an annoying way. I don’t know, I feel like any words I say are going to be kind of egotistic!

It’s definitely okay to be egoistic sometimes!

Well, if I’m being egotistic, I would say independent, straightforward and real.

Why was independent the first word you immediately thought of?

I’ve just always thought of myself that way. I think I’m independent because I just have my own way of doing things. I don’t let other people get in the way of that, and I’m just very okay with being with myself. I think that’s a thing a lot of people struggle with - especially at this age. Everyone gets wrapped up in campus and cliques and groups - they very much care what other people think.

That’s definitely something I’ve thought about too. I’ve had to have these moments of coming to terms with being happy on my own, but I felt weird about it for a long time.

It’s just something you’re pressured to feel insecure about. Especially with social media, everyone has followers and they’re posting all this stuff with their friends - no one takes the time to say ‘I’m alone and I’m okay with this.’


It’s interesting that you have this sort of anti-social-media vibe yet photography is a medium that has been well adopted by social media. How do you feel about the close relationship between photography and social media?

I was actually just thinking about this when we were talking about film earlier. I primarily shoot on film, but that gets converted digitally and then posted. I definitely go in waves of using instagram… I really only post things that I like. I wouldn’t say I’m anti social media, but I do think that the way people use it and how pervasive it is is kind of insane.

I think that’s definitely fair to say. It fits with this idea of capturing fleeting moments that you talked about in your artist statement; social media tends to cement moments and put them on display forever. Is that part of your aversion to it?

I don’t think so. I definitely post things that are like - for example, when I post a selfie I’m just like ‘what am I doing this for.’ It’s not like I want to share myself but that’s what I do when I share photos and I definitely share more photos than I do selfies. It is fleeting, instant gratification, when I take and share photos. And the reciprocity I get from people when they like it is kind of flattering.

From the pictures you take and share on instagram, both photos and selfies, which one do you feel captures more of you?

I’m not aspiring to post things that make me look a certain way to other people. I post things I think are aesthetically pleasing, or things that I’m proud of. I just posted today on my story an architecture project I worked on all night. I was like ‘yeah, I can post this.’

Obviously, physically, the selfie captures me [laughs]. But I do think that the photos I post of things I see are probably more representative of myself. I definitely put less effort into it - I craft it less. Taking a selfie takes effort, you’re constantly worried about what people think of it. I’m definitely guilty of it though. I think that the image a person creates on instagram - I mean it can be just about selfies and posts - but I think it’s more about portraying what they think. It’s kind of like my photos: it’s portraying how I see the world and what I value aesthetically.

So how long have you actually been doing photography? And what got you started?

Well my dad, he does photography. That's not his job, that’s just [what he does] on the side. And my sister used to do photography too, so I was surrounded by it. In eighth or ninth grade I took a black and white film class, but before that I was mostly doing digital. I went to some day camps for it and I think that’s when I really started getting into it. I didn’t get into doing photography for myself until I started shooting film. That started when I did a mentorship in ninth or tenth grade. I strictly shot film and I had never done that before. The mentorship was organized through my high school with this local photographer who was super big into film. That was where film started for me, and from then on I would just take photos of my friends. Since moving to the city, there’s been way more opportunities for photos.


How has photography helped you engage with the city? I know you’re from Woodstock; that’s a very different environment!

Yes, there’s no engagement [in Woodstock]. I think it makes me explore for things more. Sometimes I want to do a photoshoot at a specific site that I think is really cool, or at a concert with a little band so I can be like ‘hey, do you need a photographer?’ which isn’t something I would normally do. It definitely gives me a better appreciation for the city. I feel like I look through a lens of photography - imagining everything as being a photo - and it’s interesting. It’s subconscious at this point - I don’t notice it until I notice it - but then I’m like ‘oh that would make a good photo!’

So you’ve started observing all of life through this gaze?

I mean yes and no. It’s not like I see something and I’m like ‘oh I’m making a mental note to go back here,’ but maybe it’ll inspire me for a future shoot. Also looking at other artists’ work in the city, especially street photography, is easier to do in the city. And the people you meet! I did a project recently called “Love in Dumbo.” We had to go around and take photos of strangers and ask them ‘what does love mean to you.’ It was really interesting because I'll rarely see a stranger and ask to take their photo. It's, like, a little uncomfortable. But for that I had a purpose so it was fun.

Now you say you rarely do it but when you do ask strangers for photos how does it feel?

I think in the ideal situation I wouldn't want to ask the person because it'd change how they would act. What I see is the position I want them to be in. So if I am asking them - which I don't usually do, I'm kind of like a creep from afar - but if I do ask them it's not that weird. I don't do it that often.

Why not? What is it about the candid photo that speaks to you more?

Doing a photoshoot for Ratrock, for example, vs. just bringing my camera when I go out one night - is just a completely different mindset. If I'm taking a shoot for someone I need to have an idea for location, natural light, composition and ideas for body positions. But when I'm randomly taking photos it's a lot more fun. When you plan a shoot more the results are more like ‘okay I know this is how I framed the photo.’

It's more what you expected it to be?

Not exactly. With film it's always iffy. I think that's the better part of candids: it's totally random and I'm not taking them for any sort of value. I'm taking them to get one or two good ones that I can send to my friends and say ‘oh this is cute.’ Which is something I really like doing, sharing those photos with my friends. Because they're candid no one knows what they're going to look like.

It’s just there for a moment.

Yeah, and there's no pressure for them to be perfect. I feel like those are some of the best images I've taken. Something else I really enjoy about film over digital is taking a bunch of photos and then kind of - well I have this whole philosophy about film versus digital photography.

Oh, I'd like to hear that actually! What is your philosophy on film vs. digital photography?

When I take digital photos, depending on what I'm shooting, I take at least two hundred to three hundred. If it's an event probably more. But when I take film I use one or two rolls which is at most sixty. I think that, after going through them and selecting them, you just end up much less satisfied with the digital ones because there are so many options. Comparing two images that are so similar becomes so nitpicky. Those small details shouldn’t even matter, but I have too many options so I'm never going to be satisfied. But say you have a blurry shot on film. If I had that on digital I would immediately discard it. But if I have it on film it has the potential to be cooler and more artistic because it's just a happenstance of film.

So when you limit yourself you feel more creative?

Yeah. I mean I have to think about what I'm shooting more because I don't have the freedom of taking five hundred photos. It definitely makes me more conscious of what I'm taking. I'm also just more content with what I'm shooting. I appreciate each photo more. Because they're all so different. It's like a paradox of choice. It doesn't mean that film is better than digital; I'm just more satisfied with film. And I'm more satisfied with mess ups that can happen.

I kind of feel the same way because I feel like a lot of really great art can come from mistakes. Sometimes the weirdness is what makes it better. I want to switch gears now and talk about your composed shots a little more. What kinds of techniques do you use to capture moments and feelings?

Well for Spec [the technique I use] is limited because it's going into the newspaper. So a lot of the time it's just a portrait and a story that goes along with it, so I have to tie the two together. It's not super free, especially if it's an event. You can try and get cool angles, but that's about it. But in terms of Ratrock shoots, they're very free. You're paired with the artist, and you shoot them with their trust. Obviously you want to represent the person, but you can also have your own creative vision.

I took photos of Kosta Karakashyan, who's a dancer, for Ratrock. We had really good natural lighting, and the [body] positions [he used] were cool. There were a lot of different positions and angles to get, but I feel like that's what I try to get anyway, shooting from really low angles or really close up or kind of distorting a normal portrait because I get bored with them. There's only so much you can do.

I don't think I can truly capture the essence of a person in a photo. I think that [capturing that] is more about how you interact with the person. If they're uncomfortable it’s just going to be a very uncomfortable shoot, and they're not going to act normal. I never start a shoot with ‘you're going to do that and then you're going to do this.’ I don't go into shoots with major expectations. It definitely depends on who you're shooting; it's a huge collaboration. When I'm taking portraits it's very collaborative.

I’ve heard you currently work for Vice; that's crazy! What’s it like working for them?

Yeah! I'm working at Vice this semester in their creative ad agency. It's called Virtue. It's not something I ever thought I'd get into. You think of marketing and ad agencies and you're like ‘that's so boring,’ or at least I do. I don't think I would've applied for an advertising internship anywhere else but Vice because they're trying to change the way ads are made and broadcasted, so you actually enjoy watching them. It's been fun, and it's kept me very busy this semester, but it's ending soon.

Where do you see photography in your future?

I never really thought of photography as a job for me, so I don't ever see myself doing it as a career focus; but I would love to do photos for magazines. I have friends who do it, and there are so many magazines and opportunities. I don't want to major in visual arts because I don't want to study it; it's more of a personal thing. I don't know exactly [how], but I know it will always be with me. My camera will always be on me.

How do you want people to perceive your work?

I honestly don't know. I think there are different types of photography for different purposes: expository photography, journalistic photography, photography that's trying to make a statement. I don't think that my photos are like that but I definitely think I would like to do more things like that, that have a purpose or serve to send some sort of message of evoke something. But I think in just my regular work portraits or photos of my friends, it's just aesthetically something to look at. I don't know what that does for other people. The important part is I like it. There's no pressure on it for me, so I think it's nice that I have something I objectively value. I can keep it if I like it and discard it if I don't.

Unless they’re for something, I don't plan on taking photos. I bring my camera places but I'll only take it out if I'm in a situation I want to take photos in. In that way it's for documenting not important parts of my life but parts of my life that clearly provoked me to take a photo. And then I have a memory of that. It's like I'm carrying a journal. Photography is really just for me.

luis collado

Interview by Zöe Sottile

Photos by Pedro Damasceno

Luis Collado is a junior from Chicago studying Electrical Engineering in SEAS. He’s also the technical director for WBAR, an engineer at CU Records, and plays guitar, drums, and bass. His music mixes elements of rock, garage, punk, and psychedelic styles to engage with questions of desire and attainment.

When did you start making music?

I started by making beats around freshman year, after eighth grade. I got my first Ableton software the summer after eighth grade. I was really into dubstep [laughs]. So I entered a remix competition for a Lollapalooza artist with my friend Noah. And I had a general idea of resonance and frequency and filter control to make things sound dubstep-y. I bought Ableton for that, and I ended up forgetting about it. And then I plugged my guitar straight into my computer and started making really, really bad sounding, slimey, loose, glassy, recordings of me playing guitar over programmed drum tracks that were more like tests. And then I played in a couple bands that were very bad and classic rock-oriented. But I started getting a feel for recording and what sounded good where.

I tabled that for a bit and then I brought my interface to Columbia. I would make songs when I didn’t have anything to do at night, and I got a little better, but I still wasn’t getting the whole idea. And then I started doing CU Records, and started realizing okay, the recording experience that I have lines up with what I’ve been learning in my classes, but I’m still not really good at mixing. I downloaded a couple plug-ins and figured out how multi-band compression works, and then mixed FRET BUZZ’s album. And then I just started recording things of various levels of shittiness and hi-fi-ness and just messing around with techniques to try to make them sound better. And now I try to make at least one song a month if not more.

When did that goal start?

At the beginning of this semester. I was having a conversation with my friend Leo, and he [asked] ‘can you just make songs,’ and I was like yeah, and he said, ‘if I was you I would be nonstop making songs.’ And so I [realized] I should probably do that. I have all this time and all these people to collaborate with, so there’s no reason not to take advantage of that. Mostly because I derive a lot more purpose and happiness from producing things rather than chilling or going out. Don’t get me wrong, I love chilling and going out. But I think it’s much more lasting to make something that remains.

Do you usually make music regularly or does inspiration come spontaneously?

I get inspired and then I take it too far. I’ll sit down for a bit and really want to record something and then I’ll probably record three songs. Maybe one I’ll mix while I’m recording it; but for the most part, I’ll just be recording things and be like, ‘oh I’ll mix it later.’ And then if I’m bored doing homework I’ll be like ‘alright, study break’ and pull up the files from whenever and mix them. I’ll end up spending an hour or an hour and a half on that study break. I don’t do it like homework - it definitely ends up being spontaneous. It’s a pain in the ass to get everything set up; but once everything’s set up, I try to just get all the ideas [out]. I keep a ton of Voice Memos and all of them are waiting to be turned into a song. It’s just a question of the time.

Tell me about your involvement with CU Records.

I got involved with CU records because it was adjacent to Rare Candy, and then it really became different. I feel like people try to talk a big game about recording being difficult. Expensive recording is expensive, but that’s it. If you know your way around a limiter and reverb and compressor, then you can make something that doesn’t sound that bad. I’ve been trying to impart that framework towards recording onto other people. The [message of the] place is like: there’s mics here, record it no matter how bad it sounds. And maybe that makes you trust your band more when you have a physical product of your own demo.

How does your schoolwork intersect with your music?

There are a ton of intersections, at least with recording and mixing. You learn how to make amplifiers in the classes that I’m taking now. If I were to go to grad school, I would learn to make digital-to-analog converters and analog-to-digital converters. It really demystifies [recording] - it’s really why I treat a lot of things with disrespect, because they’re not very blackboxed. I’m like, ‘oh this thing is actually kind of cheap, it just looks big and fancy.’

The reason that I’m an engineer is that academically I like questions that are puzzles, rather than things that you yourself are trying to work through [like] an essay. Part of me being able to do things for WBAR and do things for CU Records and record stuff is directly related to the intuition built through Electrical Engineering in particular.

What was it like to transition from mostly making music alone to performing for an audience?

Dude, it’s so hard to sing and play guitar at the same time. That shit is impossible. I tried to sing a song for my girlfriend in high school, and it was so difficult to just say anything while playing the guitar. It was like walking and chewing gum at the same time. I also didn’t know how important it was to be able to hear yourself while you sang. There’s a video of me at Snock just not hitting the right notes. And everyone was very supportive, but I was really screwing up. It was tough to do the singing thing, and it was tough to be yourself on stage, because a lot of the time stage fright makes you avoid doing things that are wacky or funny or otherwise in character in favor of not messing up. So you can seem closed off and stressed out on stage. And then letting go - knowing that you’re yelling and not feeling weird about it. Those were all tough, but it’s super fun and everyone is super supportive. Once you do it once, you [see] alright cool, I can do it again.

Do you like performing now?

Yeah. I was super stressed about it in the beginning, I would tremble. Now I still kind of tremble, but I’m a little better. It’s no longer my first rodeo.

You mentioned the importance of knowing what you sound like. Can you expand on that?  

The expression that you’re doing, playing the notes, is so different from the expression that everybody else is picking up from the amplified sound. I wish I could clone myself at events, so I could have me doing whatever instrument I’m doing, and then one of me front row, and then one at the back of the room, and have their input. I have a certain idea in mind, and I’ve become nitpicky about it by running sound at so many events. I want to play the bass, but I also want to know how the bass sounds. You need to reconcile the two. Ultimately, what it comes down to is having a sound person as part of your band, which is difficult.

Tell me about how your EP, FRET BUZZ, came to be.

I met Ryan [Render], the drummer, at a party, and he had just gotten out of a psych[edelic rock] band. I thought that was so cool. For him it was old news, but for me it was new news. And then I ran into him at a CU Records meeting. We got assigned to be engineers together. Our first recording session together, we laid down the first track, and we kept coming back with Voice Memos. Then his roommate [Luke Kowalczyk] joined in on bass and Charlotte Force joined in on vocals. We recorded the EP over spring break [of sophomore year]. How strong we vibed ended up being the root of a lot of the songs. It was the first thing I really put out. I’m pretty proud of it. Once I had that out, I was like, ‘now I can do anything.’


What’s cool about Spotify now is artists’ playlists, because you can see the ways ideas behind the music are related across certain genres. Genre is useful, but I think understanding what the band is going for is also critical, or understanding the goals that they have: what they were trying to communicate and not just sound like. Making things just about genre can be reductive. When I try to use well-defined genres to describe the mix that I like to go for, I end up naming seven genres, none of which I incorporate strongly enough to be visible. Which is why I end up going for moods. I’ll be like ‘this song is sunglasses, foggy night.’

Tell me about your new band, Working Out.

I made solo music all of fall semester. Spring semester, I was like, ‘okay, new band time.’ I met Maddy [Tipp] freshman year, and she was super dope from the get-go because she’d already been in bands for a bit. I forget who contacted who, but Maddy and I decided to make music together and then I met Joey Recker. We had the first practice, and it was cool that we all vibed with each other; we understood the music but also got along. And then since I was so excited to expand on these ideas I just blurted out a ton of things. I gave them like fifty five percent and they filled in the rest, and Joey brought in songs. We tweaked the half-baked ideas and practiced, practiced, practiced. Now I’m pretty excited for this blend of [music that is] danceable but says something new and also [is] contemporary, in that it converses with current music. There’s high energy songs and lower energy songs. And it’s cool because I can say we’re “Working Out.”

Luis curated a playlist of his major musical inspirations just for Ratrock. Check it out below.


jazmin maco

Personal Statement by Jazmin Maco

My work is a negotiation of self - my past self, my present self, my future self. In my poems, I reflect on my experiences and put pen to paper about them. My identity as a black queer woman informs my poetry. My Caribbean heritage is also integral to my work because of the specific tension that I feel between cultures, between places, between selves. Even though I was born in America, I have never identified as African-American because I was raised, surrounded by and steeped in Jamaican culture. My poetry presents a negotiation between what is home, and between what is mine to claim and what isn’t. I use my poems as a way to work through these multiplicities and give myself the space to hear my own voice.

The selection of poems on my Ratrock featured artist page is a collection that I compiled over winter break.  I have been writing poetry almost all of my life, but after high school I took a break from writing. I think I was  stuck. I kept looking at my past work and doubting myself, reluctant to return to something that had meant so much to me without the support of my high school English teachers or the structure of a class setting. But this past summer, I was living in the city with a lot of time to myself to grow and think and become an independent being. I intentionally kept a little notebook with me, in which I would write down whatever thoughts came to me as I walked through the city. I continued this pattern on my trip back to Jamaica with my family, where I also took a lot of the photos you see on my artist page. This past break, I decided that I wanted to push myself to put my work out there and engage in the creative scene on campus, so I returned to that notebook and used the fragmented  thoughts and half poems inside as inspiration to write this new collection. These poems have been born and born again - first, when they were conceived during walks through Central Park, then, when I pieced them together to create full poems, when I sat with them and tweaked lines or scrapped them completely and started anew, and finally, when I shared them with the world.

Though I haven’t given this collection a name, it does have a specific order in which it is meant to be read:

  1. In the Cite of the Body

  2. Witness

  3. Lesson in Living

  4. Frida’s Footprints: Burning

  5. CRACK

  6. Aching by god

  7. What the Women Know

  8. Frieda

  9. The Red Dirt in Our Lungs

  10. Jam-ai-ca

Through these poems, I incorporate various themes that are born out of my identities and experiences. If read in the intended order, you will move from ideas of introspection to memory to trauma to the body to blackness to womanhood to history to death to adolescence to family to home to space and place.

In writing about myself and my past, I make a concerted effort to bear witness to my many selves. As you read my poems, I hope that you can feel my words, that you can feel what I have felt, and that you can be a part of this visceral experience. Beyond this invitation, my poems are very distinctly for me. I am talking to and about myself and my life. By directing the conversation within myself, I am able to own my narrative and access traumatic experiences without feeling like I am on display for everyone. My poems are not for anyone else. They are about me, from me, and I am the one who has the power to invite you to be a part of them. I am proud of this collection because it has taken me a long time to get to a place where I could confront my past traumas within myself, let alone write about them. Through my poems, I see myself and I give myself the space to truly feel and heal. By allowing myself to hear my own voice, I affirm that I am still able to move forward.

My poetry is an exploration of and conversation with my past and present selves. Through my poems, I give myself the space to openly and loudly express the emotions and experiences that typify my everyday. I find influence and inspiration to explore personal conversations of identity, trauma, resilience, and sense of place in the books I read, in the conversations I have with the women in my life, in the places I call home, and in the moments I spend in communion with myself. For me, learning to love, accept, and hold myself has been a journey - a long and hard journey, a journey for which I am forever grateful, a journey without which my poems would not and could not exist. My work is a representation of myself in all of my multiplicities.

tuesday smith

Photographs by Emily Sures

Interview by Louise Sandback

Tuesday Smith is a sophomore at Barnard College from Seattle, Washington, studying Chemistry and Art History. In addition to her own art practice of drawing and painting, Tuesday is interested in art conservation and works as a scientific research assistant at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

What has been your experience with art conservation thus far?

I’m working at the Met this year as a scientific research assistant in their conservation lab. We have been working with polyurethane samples from American fabrics collections from the nineteen sixties to eighties. So anything that’s a plasticy fabric—faux leather, for example. Since polyurethane is relatively new (compared to a lot of other materials) in the collection, they’ve only recently started to degrade and no one knows how to prevent that. So I’m working with those and figuring out how we might conserve them.

Has the opportunity to do that, and your work in art conservation, informed your artwork at all?

It hasn’t so much yet. I’ve found myself incorporating geometric shapes and doing more drawings of things reflecting because I have to do that for chemistry. I’ve gotten more interested in using those kinds of ideas in my art, but I haven’t had much time to make art recently. I’m hoping to make my own paint this summer. I love oil paints but I’m hesitant of the cost and time commitment, so I think making my own would be really fun and would motivate me to actually use the paints because it’s easy to just leave paints in the corner and not break them out and annoy your roommate.

RATROCK - i feel pink.jpg

Do you identify as an artist? If so, when did you first begin to?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot, because I don’t know if I ever really thought of myself as an artist. I always thought of myself as being artistic but artist felt too professional, and like I had to do that for a living. I also just didn’t feel intentioned enough because artmaking is kind of more spontaneous for me and I kind of doing it just to process things happening around me. So I never really felt like an artist even though that’s what an artist is. I didn’t think of myself as one until I stopped drawing last year which made me realize that making art is a huge part of my identity.

What has been your process of self-teaching?

When I was really little I was obsessed with drawing books like ‘How to draw cats in three steps.’ I’d just be like ‘okay!’ and I’d just practice that and draw the same thing over, and over, and over again. It was all about realism when I was younger. So I eventually got good at that. Then I got really into cartoons, so I started copying from graphic novels like “Coraline” and, “Smile” by Raina Telgemeier. As a kid I just made copies of work by other artists. That’s kind of where I got started drawing and ever since then I haven’t really stopped.

What purpose does your artwork serve for you personally?

I think since coming to college most of my art has been tied to journaling, so it’s all very personal. It’s like self-therapy. When you journal with writing it makes you think about different things in your life and realize what’s bothering you and what’s making you feel off at certain times. So that’s kind of what art does for me. A lot of my art I can’t share because it’s just, like, personal ramblings. It also helps me because chemistry can be very analytical, and I’m now taking a lot of quantitative classes which is not how my brain works usually. So it makes me loosen up a little bit and feel like myself again.

Can you describe your artistic process?

I didn’t know how I’d describe this, so I got my friends to give me some words: spontaneous and melty were two. I’m also methodical once I get started because I get kind of consumed by [my art]. It takes me awhile to get started, but once I do everything falls into place. I like melty because I don’t use erasers and work in pen so every mistake gets incorporated. That’s why I make so many distorted faces. It’s part style part laziness.

What would you say is your main medium?

I use brush pens the most. I’ve been using paper more—just collaging a little bit. My favorite mediums are probably pastels or drypoint etchings—I really like drypoint etchings, but I don’t have the materials for that. I want to get more into printmaking more.

What do you find yourself representing the most?

I think I usually represent people and bodies. In high school I did a lot with public transportation and how people relate in public spaces. Thinking about times when you’re alone but [are] still around other people, and how that changes how you position yourself in space. I’ve always thought [a lot] about touch without touching.

Do you do your preliminary sketches while you’re on public transportation?

I still do that sometimes because I think it’s fun, but I think it’s a little more obvious when you’re sketching people on the subways so it can get weird fast. So I take a lot of photos—not of people, but of angles and objects. I have a lot of photos in my phone that I like to go back to and mush together.

I like drawing in parks too. If you go to those rocks in Central Park, those big ones you can sit down on, I like drawing from there a lot.

Do you ever think of yourself and how you relate in those spaces?

I think about it a little bit. I like watching how other people interact more, especially in a city like New York where so many people are packed into such a small place. I mostly think about how other people are interacting. When I draw in public I think more about who I am inside and how that differs from the person I am presenting.

How would you describe your artistic practice in one sentence?

I feel like ‘spacey with a purpose’ is pretty good. I don’t really know how to describe my art because it varies so much. That’s something I’m insecure about in my art—just that I’m all over the place and I don’t really have a set style or a set medium because I’m just making it for whatever I have going on in my life right then and with whatever materials I have. I don’t really feel that it’s very focused ever, so it’s kind of hard to describe in a sentence.

What’s one work that you’re particularly proud of or particularly enjoyed the process of making?

I made a piece called “Green Arrow” during my junior year of high school. It focused on public transportation, and it’s of some people getting onto a bus and paying their fares and then starting to walk back. It was such an exciting piece for me because I just got really in the zone when making it; I was listening to new music, and I was using a new medium—well it was color pencil, so it wasn’t a new medium, but it was on black paper. I didn’t really do a preliminary sketch for it, which is something I don’t do anymore at all, but I used to do it a lot back then. That was also the first time I stopped making myself do preliminary sketches and just let myself go. I entered the piece into the Congressional Art Competition ended up going to DC as the winner for my district in Seattle. So it was a big turning point for my art in so many ways.

Have you been involved in the Columbia arts community at all?

Not really. I feel like I haven’t been involved in it at all which is kind of why I wanted to apply to Ratrock. I like going to galleries and museums in my free time, so I feel like I’m more involved with the art scene outside of Columbia.

That’s actually what I hear from a lot of people. Would you say that your being a STEM major has contributed to this?

Yeah, it’s kind of heartbreaking. I feel like—as you said, a lot of [STEM majors] have that same struggle, but there’s not really a way to connect people unless you go out of your way to try to get involved. I have my art account on instagram, and I posted on my story one day that I want to talk to other people who are STEM majors and doing art. I got so many responses from STEM majors [who] felt isolated in a similar way from this part of their identity, and it made me more committed to finding a better way to find a balance between the two and a support system for people who are confused about where they stand between them.

Art and science are not mutually exclusive and even at a liberal arts college I feel like they’re treated as such. I think you suffer if you neglect either side of that divide and I’m really interested in talking to more people about this and organizing ways to allow for better interaction between different disciplines here.

Are there any other significant sources of inspiration for you?

Yes, Alice Neel. I really like how she represents people in their interactions with each other because it’s like that distance but closeness at the same time. So they’re both so distorted that they could kind of be in their own world, and I really enjoy that about it, and it’s something that I like to represent in my own work too.

Have you done any other design/illustration work?

[I made] a few little things [for] a gallery I interned at in Seattle over the summer. Other than that, illustrating for newspapers—like my high school newspaper and ones here. I designed a couple tattoos. That was fun. I did one for my mom’s friend but don’t know if they ever used it, and then small things for other friends.

You do tattoos? Just having looked at your art—they would make sick tattoos.

You want a tattoo?

I would literally commission a tattoo.

I would love to do more tattoos. That could be really fun.

I feel like you could have a real audience for that here. It would be a good dorm hustle.

Yeah. I could dye hair, learn to do stick-and-pokes. My parents are going to love this.

If you could only artistically represent one subject for the rest of your life what would it be?

I think it would be touch. I feel like that’s broad enough that I wouldn’t get bored. Because that could be—I don’t know... I feel like [for] a lot of [humans] navigating public transportation is [about] trying not to touch, or moments before touch, or rebounding when you’re forced into it. I think that art that overlays images of movement is really interesting, like Jenny Saville. She’s like a big inspiration, and her’s are all about motherhood, femininity, bodies, and gender and a lot of things about touch and relationships. I think that’s something that I really enjoy representing and I enjoy looking at. Just people. And distortion.

naomi chang

Photographs by Margaret Maguire

Interview by Morgan Becker

Introduce yourself and your art.

I’m Naomi, I’m an artist working in 2D and digital media like drawing, painting, and photo/collage; I also like to build sculptures and ceramic objects. I’m a sophomore at Barnard, majoring in art history with a concentration in visual arts.

In my work, I explore how artifacts, images, symbols and the body can be vehicles for expressing and exploring aspects and levels of identity. I also think about things like the nature of physical, mental, spiritual and divine energy and how they function eternally, and in our own experiences of [an] inner and [an] outer universe. That stuff is pretty incomprehensible, but it keeps me grounded to explore questions I have about it through art.

Tell me about the bigger components of your identity. Where did you grow up? Who are the most important people in your life?

I was born in New York and my family moved to London when I was in primary school, and then to New Haven, Connecticut, which has been home for me since high school. Throughout growing up, moving around, and finding my place and sense of identity as a first-generation American, I’ve always been able to come back to my family. The cultures of my South Korean mother and Jamaican father ground and support me in a sense of community and belonging. I’m so grateful for my family, both gifted and chosen, especially the powerful and nurturing female and femme forces that inspire me and guide me. It’s like a tribe—that’s been really important to me.


You talk about art’s ability to heal—has it always been a restorative practice for you, or did you come to realize those effects as time has progressed?

Art has been something that has been really helpful for me to come back to, and use as a healing practice, to deal with mental, emotional, and spiritual issues in my life. I’ve been realizing that a lot of the questions or hurt I might encounter when dealing with those things comes in cycles. My relationship with art has evolved with me and continued to teach me throughout those cycles, so I know that this practice will be part of my life for a while. Often I’ll return to a piece after making it and learn things about myself and parts of my mind that I wasn’t consciously exploring while making it.

For me, creating art and building things helps me to make sense of this current experience I’m having—existing in this body, in this life, I mean. It helps me to recognize, appreciate, and understand the encounters, desires, fears, and traumas that make me who I am, and cause me to feel and act a certain way. It’s really interesting to me to recognize patterns of symbols and ideas that sneak out of my subconscious and manifest in my work. I’m realizing how effective the visual language that I’m developing is as a means of expressing my ideas about the world, and existence as a whole—as well as my personal place in the context of everything.

In your artist statement, you bring up dreams as an influence in your work. It seems like you also draw from the natural world and its tangible, living aspects. Do you feel like there’s a tension to navigate between the subconscious and reality?

The process of making art, for me, is similar to dreaming because I’m taking elements of my experience in real life—interactions with the natural, physical world, and with people around me—and repurposing them. A lot of the time, going into creating work, I’m not really thinking about what I want to do specifically. Sometimes different symbols or scenes will come to mind, and I’ll arrange them in a way that makes sense to me. Or I’ll base the way that those elements interact on my observations of how things work in real life, if that makes sense. I feel like that is a similar process to how my dreams take shape. So the process of making art isn’t really a conscious thing for me. I can see and understand how my mind works after I’ve made something, go back to it, and try to make sense of it.


Is it difficult for you to do commissioned work then, when someone already has an idea of what they want you to create?

It’s definitely a different experience, making my own work and doing commissioned work, because my art deals with very personal themes. With commissions, I focus more on making work that is appropriate for the context of the space and the goals of who I’m making the work for.

Recently, I did a commissioned piece for an office space in San Diego, and I definitely needed to alter my style. With that project I had a lot of creative freedom, and that was awesome, but it didn’t mean I was going to, like, paint a giant mural of a naked earth lady on their wall, because that might have been confusing to have in a professional office space—even though I would have loved to do that.

For that piece, I ended up doing something on the surface of three canvases using textured acrylic paint, paper, and fabric. I included elements of my personal collage style to make three separate pieces that can stand alone but work and move together in a way that is characteristic of my style. I really enjoyed working on it, and I think that I made something that makes sense for the space and speaks to everyone.

Do you still feel the same connection to those pieces?

Yes, even in exploring techniques or content that I don’t usually work with in order to create something that other people can appreciate in their own personal way, I don’t feel like I’m going against my style. It’s a fun challenge to push a style that I might not usually use, and I’m always learning more through practice. I connect with myself and my work through the process of creating and building things, even if the content of a piece doesn’t explicitly communicate something that is very personal.

Is color important to you, and to your work?

Different colors, symbols, textures and forms hold different vibrations. In different contexts and states of interaction with each other, this vibration or energy that they hold can communicate so much meaning and emotion, at least to me. These things are central to the visual language that I’m trying to build in order to express myself, and emotions that might be hard to deal with or communicate in words or in other ways.

Do different colors have different set associations for you?

Yes, I think so. I know that there are some colors that I identify with more—maybe they’re part of my aura. I haven’t had my aura read like in a photo or anything, but for some reason I identify quite deeply with deep purples and indigos, and orange as well. Or indigo-y purple and golden-yellow, because they’re complimentary. It’s really nice and calming for me to explore the balance between different colors to create a harmony. And then lately, especially in my ‘snake-nom’ self portraits, it really only made sense for me to use a lot of green. Maybe that’s because, when reflecting on those pieces, they speak to me about nurturing energy and emotional self-preservation—and those things are connected to the some shades of green. To me, green communicates growth and health, and I associate it with the heart.

How does your work grapple with femininity? Sexuality? Spirituality? Do you associate certain colors with these abstract terms?

When I depict or talk about things like femininity, spirituality, or sexuality in my work, it’s a personal exploration of my experience with those things. I’m not trying to universally define what it means to be feminine, or how to practice spirituality and sexuality, or how to deal with trauma. A lot of the time, my art is just an inward exploration of what different things I encounter in my experience of life mean to me. I do associate different colors with, like, different energy centers in the body—as well as themes in my mind. So that [association] is useful in helping me to figure out where I need to direct my focus and energy in order to learn and to heal. But that is more of a personal device than something I’m trying to use formally in my art.

Specifically, how does your interpretation of the female form manifest in your 2D work?

I really enjoy creating wonky proportions and mangled looking positions in the bodies that I draw. I see it as a way of trying to break out of some kind of box, or challenge a set of ideas about what bodies are supposed to look like and how they are supposed to function. Identity is a super expansive concept that goes past our physical vessels, and even manifestations of our personal expression of gender. I think it’s interesting to push what that means visually.

Rather than interpreting the female form specifically, I’m exploring the function of bodies as containers for our spiritual selves and how they can feel confining at times. I draw female forms often [because] I think that they are very beautiful—and also, a body’s potential to support and birth a whole person is so incredible. Thinking about that helps me to comprehend how we are all connected at some level as parts of one constantly and eternally-evolving organism that we probably won’t ever understand.

A lot of your 3D art incorporates different textiles and textures. What’s the value in creating an object that appeals to touch, over, say, a flat drawing or photograph?

I definitely want people to interact with and respond to my work in ways that feel right for them. I’m okay with people touching things; and if you feel like a piece is asking you to explore it through touch, then I’m cool with that as long as you ask.

In ceramics, it’s really interesting to experiment with texture because it’s an index of movement, like a trace of a physical thing being there and imprinting itself in the clay with the force of the energy it was holding at the time. And then once that piece is fired, that index is there forever-  or for a really long time, and can be returned to in different contexts, like a memory.

When did you start working with digital art? How has it changed your perspective or practice?

I started working with Photoshop a while ago, and it was awesome to learn how to use all of the tools to make things look [as] wild as I wanted. But I think I actually learned the most when my computer crashed, and I lost all of those programs that I used to make digital work. Because instead of re-downloading the programs again immediately, I took a little time to try and recreate certain effects through physical media. When I started exploring the how different materials could be utilized and manipulated in order to make an image to look like it had been Photoshopped, I discovered so many [material] techniques that I use all the time now.

You work within so many different mediums. What makes you decide to photograph something, rather than incorporate it into painting or ceramics? Or vice versa.

Sometimes I start with inspiration to make or communicate something specific, and if I have different options for the medium, it's about deciding which would be most effective in making that happen. But sometimes I just start with a certain material, and through working with it and exploring its visual and tactile qualities, and the different ways that it can function and speak... that’s how some things end up being produced. It really just depends, and it’s nice to not tie myself down to one technique or material. I would be pretty sad if I had to do that.

Is art more about self-expression or invoking something within the viewer?

I really love when people resonate with my art and respond to it. I make art as part of my own personal journey of self-exploration, and it’s so nice to know that others can also feel something when they experience it. It reminds me that although our experiences and ways of dealing with life are different, there is so much room for—and benefit from—us connecting with and learning from each other, our surroundings, and the universe.

How do you see your artistic style developing from where you are now?

I’m not sure, but I’m excited to see where it goes! I definitely want to work with sculpture more as well as wearable things that can be used in performance. I interested in creating work that is an immersive experience, that engages different senses as well.

Closing remarks?

I’m showing work in a group show in May, more information about that will be out later. It’s in Greenpoint on May 3rd. I post updates and things on Instagram, so people can follow if they are interested. Also, if anyone wants buy original work or commission something, they can find my portfolio and information on how to get in touch with me on either Instagram (@naomoart) or my website. And thanks to Ratrock for giving me the space to show and talk about my art!

taelor scott

Taelor Scott in conversation with Yosan Alemu

Photographs by Cameron Downey

Taelor Scott is a senior at Barnard College, studying anthropology. Her artistic focus centers on photography, film, and visual arts more generally as they relate to culture and its respective production.

YA: What is your photo making process like? What feelings do you get when looking at an image?

TS: That's [a] good one. I think that I started making photos, or rather, the reason why I wanted to start making photos is because I would see images and would think to myself, “This needs to be captured.” But also, I would see these same images, and felt as if something was missing, as if other images and stories were missing. There are a lot of people who I live around who I didn’t see represented in photography that I admired. And it occurred to me, that if I wasn’t going to see these images created by others, I would have to start making photos myself. What else was I to do?

I started by taking obnoxious pictures of my family all of the time—taking and taking and taking pictures. In retrospect, despite my early picture-taking habits being fairly annoying and in-your-face, taking pictures of people I cared about, like my family, helped me develop a sense of caring and intimacy when taking pictures of strangers, or people I have hardly talked to. It’s really quite hard to take a picture of someone [you don’t know] and portray it as if they are someone you deeply care about; and capturing that sweet spot of care, of loving someone without knowing them, has become so integral to my work now. Every time I take a picture I want [to] also create a story for that subject in the frame.

YA: Combing back to your last note on creating a story for every subject you capture; what is the narrative you are trying to tell? Is it a humanizing process?

TS: Storytelling has been one of my biggest interests since I was very small, and I found that I could combine my passions with visual art, like drawing (but it didn’t take me long to figure out that I could not draw for the life of me). With photo work, the camera, for me, helped me capture and create images that were always stuck in my head. Using the camera has been an ongoing learning process, and I really admire the discipline that comes with it. There is always so much more to learn. I don’t know everything there is to know about digital photography, or analog, or large format. I rather enjoy my position as a student of photography, because I always get to be learning, improving, and changing.

YA: Student of photography, rather than photographer—I like that. And so, when you create images, how do you want people to feel or react when viewing them? Is there an affective response to your work that you're trying to capture? Are you trying to create a dialogue with your visual work?


TS: When I’m taking a picture of someone, it usually involves a sort of conversation between me and them, because in that conversation I’m trying to find a little piece of them that I can capture within the inner workings of the image. In taking a good image of someone, you do end up capturing a little piece of them. And even if you’re taking pictures that don’t involve people, you still have to work to create or find that moment that makes the image feel special, makes the photographer, subject, and viewer feel close and connected.

For me, when I’m sitting down, selecting and editing my shots, I am always consciously choosing the photos that display the humanity of the people within them. So that, even if I don’t necessarily know the person in the photo, I still feel like I do know them, am connected to them by this simple photograph.

YA: Do you ever create images that will intentionally make the viewer feel uneasy or uncomfortable?

TS: You know, I’ve actually been thinking a lot about uneasiness and of the different registers of response that are created in an image. I always try to keep the audience in mind when I’m making photos, but I think my next project will solely be about the audience. How can I make them feel certain things, react in a certain way?

Right now, the project I’m working on deals with me finding all of the boys I’ve had crushes on since I was four years old. Basically, I find them, and we tell each other our experiences of love and infatuation. So with this project, I’m not concerned with the audience, but rather, I’m concerned with myself and the subjects. In a way, this project is asking myself and the subject to get uncomfortable and uneasy. I really do think there is something amazing in trying to understand someone’s discomfort, and trying to capture those moments. It’s like being disoriented from yourself in order to really understand or comprehend the image or moment at all.

YA: You’ve mentioned finding instances that matter to you most, or instances that can be developed to have meaning. Who are your biggest inspirations when it comes to photography and what are you inspired by?

TS: My Biggest inspiration—so much packed in that. Helen Levitt, Gordon Parks, Roy DeCarava. Oh god, DeCarava. There was this copy of “the sweet flypaper of life” that I first saw in a bookstore, and I was completely speechless. I also feel as if the youth art community here in New York can be very exclusive at times, and I’m really appreciative that I’ve been able to find some older mentors who have taught me quite literally everything I know, especially artistic integrity.

For instance, Patrice Helmer graduated from the MFA program here, in photography, and she has taught me so much. Knowing people like you, or are around your age in close proximity is so meaningful when it comes to tending to your craft. And even more so, knowing and being influenced by people that are close to you, in my opinion, makes making art all the better.

Like right now, I’m really interested by the notion of girlhood, of my own girlhood, and of others around me. Flushing out this interest has brought be back to my days as a sixteen and seventeen year old where everything around me felt impossible and possible all at once—typical teen angst. But I so clearly remember being that anxious and awkward teenager, and having the camera be a direct extension of how I could see and make sense of the world.

I’m also working with the Black Motherhood Project, and in our work, I’ve really been confronted by the idea that as black girls you are either being looked at, or you are being ignored, [or] made to be invisible. And for me, when I’m shooting, I am always trying to find the moments where I can make these black girls feel seen, not necessarily being looked at, but seen.

YA: This is a great segway into the next question. I’ve noticed that a lot of your work deals with moments of intimacy and care, of liminality, space and instances of waiting. What do they mean to you? Why are they important to you and your work?

TS: I actually have a good answer for this one. The spaces of liminality and waiting are two concepts that have become very important to me, because I used to see them as somewhere I was trying to get to. I didn’t like being in moments of waiting or spaces of insecurity and unknowing, of things not being at the right time. But the spaces of liminality and waiting is where the living and the inspiration for living comes from. That when you’re at an impasse: you really have to appreciate being stuck; or maybe not appreciate, but come to terms with that stuckness as a means of understanding and living through being stuck.


YA: So perhaps in the acknowledging of being stuck and in impasse, that can create for the potentiality to move, to escape?

TS: Maybe. But also, I think that even when you are in an impasse, you are still moving. That your thinking and imagining can become a form of movement. It might be slow, but you’re still moving!

YA: Still moving while being stuck reminds me of Lauren Berlant’s understanding of the precarious present, and her own theorizations of impasse. Does your academic background in anthropology influence your work? Do you think of photography and imaging as an academic practice?

TS: I’ve actually written my thesis about a combination of photography and anthropology, and I think the starting point for my interest in taking pictures is related to my interest in the ethnographic, in that I talk to my subjects a lot even when I don’t know them very well. To me, when I’m taking someone’s picture, it’s like creating a mini ethnography.

And I do think I look at photographs somewhat academically because academics has really influenced my desire to be hyper-ethical in the work that I produce; because at the end of the day, if you’re only making images that benefit you at the expense of someone or something, that is simply wrong, and very cheap. Also, the idea of radical sameness is very important to me and my photographs, of trying to capture the moments that are universal.

YA: Radical sameness as opposed to radical difference?

TS: Yes. Radical sameness in that I’m always trying to capture moments that are universal, where people can connect to my images, even if they do not know who I am, or who the subject is.

YA: So you’re graduating! How was the Columbia/Barnard art scene experience? Would you change anything, would you have wanted things to be different?

TS: So Controversial! Well, I do have a lot of thoughts. I would say I am grateful for Columbia’s darkroom—it’s incredible. I’m also grateful for learning and refining my photography practice at Columbia. I’m very much convinced every sixth grader should learn how to process and make photos, because it requires so much patience. When you’re in the darkroom developing your images, any small mishap and an image can totally be ruined, so patience and care are essential to the work being done. And at the end, the image, and all of the labor that was done in achieving it, becomes so meaningful.

YA: Every sixth grader! Okay, last question. Give me three words you want for the future, or the world, or even new worlds to look like. Just three words.

TS: Contextualized, illuminated, and responsible.

nathan farrell

Photographs by Sabine Jean-Baptiste

Interview by Noa Levy-Baron

Nathan Farrell is a sophomore at CC, singer-songwriter and saxophone player. He is thinking about majoring in Public Health and Economics. Nathan primarily defines himself as a jazz musician, but other genres constantly inform and influence his work in his bands Farrose and Glass Room and as solo artist.  

Favorite artist currently.

Right now I would say my favorite artist is probably H.E.R. She is fantastic! I really appreciate the music that she makes because usually, in a lot of mainstream pop, artists are reduced to a crafted image they are projecting on themselves. With H.E.R, it just feels very genuine. I also really like the fact that she writes most of her music is also a musician: she sings and she plays guitar, bass and piano. The writing is also very soulful, very raw. I've been really enjoying her these last two months. I’m listening to her albums on repeat.

Favorite song currently.

A song that I've been listening to a lot and that I really like is actually Yo No Se Mañana by Luis Enrique. It’s latin pop and has a little salsa to it. I like to think a lot about versatility within music. For example, right now my favorite artist is very different from my favorite song. I think it is really important to keep an open mind with music taste because that also makes you more versatile with the music you are creating.

How did music first enter your life? How has your relationship to it evolved since then?

I think my first real experience with music was because I really enjoyed Spongebob as kid and as I watched Squidward playing the clarinet I always thought I could do better than this! So I picked up clarinet and then I moved to flute and saxophone. As I started to move through woodwinds instruments I also figured out that I could kind of sing too. So I trained in different instruments and that gave me a basis in a lot of the music theory and the basic knowledge in music to then be able to create with. From there I let my own personal tastes and preferences dictate where I wanted to take the music that I make specifically.

I am a jazz musician. I play saxophone, and I try to incorporate that into my music a lot. But I would not say my primary musical pursuits are specifically within jazz. I like the liberties I can take in how I am creating in not restraining myself to one genre. Being able to craft  your own thing completely is something [that] is very important, and to do that, it can be beneficial to set aside conventions that bind you to specific genres.

Do you collaborate often with other musicians or do you often work alone? Can you tell me about your band Farrose?

Lately I've been focusing a lot on the collaborative aspect because, I mean, it's fun! Farrose is a band that I had in High School. We still play together sometimes, but it's only when we get back on breaks as the members are all in different parts of the country right now. It was a project we started because a friend wanted to dabble in production; eventually we began getting together to jam and write songs every week.

That experience was really important for me to grow as an individual artist. I then brought what I learnt to other musical groups that I am a part of. I have another band right now with college friends and some of my High School friends who go to Julliard, which is in the city as well. We get together once a week, and we try to perform, write songs and do gigs. Right now, our name is Glass Room. It's really hard to find a name for a band because it has to fit so perfectly, but I’m quite comfortable with this one.

Is there a difference between your solo work and work with Farrose and Glass Room? Is there any crossover?

Definitely! And I think it’s because when you are just coming together and making music with other people, you have everyone's voices coming into play even if they are not writing it. If I am bringing a song that I wrote by myself completely, fully charted, and I give it to all of the musicians; it is going to sound completely different depending on the band or even the musician I’m giving it to. This is not the case in every way, but there will be nuances and I really like that. I think with a band, you'll definitely hear more voices coming through. I try to keep that in mind while I write  for specific cases: I would probably not write the same things for Midnight Blue than for Farrose or for just myself.

I have always been fascinated by the way musicians combine lyrics and melodies and create something very pleasant and enjoyable to listen to. How would you describe your creative process? Which part do you start with? Are you first composing the melody, creating the lyrics or focusing on the instrumental part?

I am also super fascinated by that, and I'm still obviously trying to figure everything out and get better in all those things. I think what has been more successful for me though is to build everything “down-up.” It's quite intuitive, but it is not always clear what part of it is the down and what part is the up. For me at least, the “up” tends to be the lyrics, because this is what you see on the surface at first - especially for someone who is not necessarily as well versed in musical intricacies or in the theory working behind all the chords. So usually, lyrics will be the last thing I do.

I like to start with chord progressions and see what it is evoking in me. Then I'll play with the melody and when I find something catchy, I record that melody and I listen to it again and think about what could the song be about. Then, I'll come up with a lyric to match it. It usually functions that way, and it is what I find I consistently do most, but it is not set and stone. I've done it the opposite way, I've also done mixes. Sometimes I want to write specifically about something, I'll have one lyric in mind, I'll put it on the table and think about a chord progression.

When, where and how do you prefer to listen to music?

I definitely prefer to listen to music while I'm chilling, especially in my bed. For me, listening to music is almost like reading a book. I'm not necessarily doing an analysis; but I'm usually trying to figure out how all of the pieces are coming together, where the artists are coming from and what they are trying to convey. I break apart the melody, the lyrics, the chorus and that is really interesting and fun to do. This is hard if you are not sitting, chilling out in a space where you are comfortable and just listening.

NATHAN 6.jpg

Would you describe yourself as a performer? What do you feel like when you perform?

I would definitely describe myself as a performer because that is most often the medium in which I will be relaying my art. I think music composition and performance are two distinct art forms. A lot of performing is learning to be you in the most authentic way. It is about putting it all out there and that is something that I do a lot in general. So for me, performing is something that I have a little bit of an inclination for, but it's also something that I am still developing when I perform on or off campus.

I found that I'm best at performing when I don't really view it as being on a stage, on an elevated platform. I perform better when I am literally not on a stage because it's almost as if I was talking to others in a different way. I think it is very hard to perform on huge stages, like stadiums, in a way that a lot of very big stars will do because you cannot connect to your audience as well.

It is interesting what you describe about authenticity because when we think about people on stage, we often think of them as playing a role, as being something else other than themselves…

That's also a part of it because sometimes your performance does not have to necessarily correspond to how you feel in the moment. If I am feeling sad one day, I don't necessarily want to be performing something sad and make everyone sad. A performance can be performative. If I'm sad and performing at a party, I have to draw on other feelings. But, even if it's performative, I think there is always something genuine about it because to successfully do it, you have to draw on a genuine part of you. There is a little bit of a tension there, but I think it is still ultimately authentic.

Are there music genres you are particularly attached to ?

I'm definitely very attached to Jazz and R&B, and I think this is mostly out of personal preferences. But, ultimately it's all the same. You're putting a combination of sound and silence together, and you're saying something on top of it. I know this view is not popular, but I wish more people did see it that way because it would make for a lot more collaboration, a lot more open-mindedness and community in the music community itself.

I think I view it that way because of my experience in many different pools: I'm a trained Jazz musician, I also like to do R&B, I used to play classical, and I have a lot of friends that are really into Indie/Rock - so I have a little experience in everything. I realized that ultimately all music genres are the same thing. It's the same foundation of chords; you're putting a melody over it, and sometimes you're putting words over it. Sometimes I'll find in Jazz the baseline of chord progressions that might have a bit more harmonic and melodic complexity, but you could bring that anywhere. There are a lot of different pop songs that have a lot of different chords moving, especially musicians like Stevie Wonder. This is also why a lot of Jazz musicians will say they like Stevie Wonder even if they don't like pop, but Stevie Wonder is a pop musician, he is funk, R&B, soul but also pop ultimately.

Do you have any people, musicians or artists who particularly inspire you?

I don't like to idolize specific artists. To me, the most important things that musicians can pick up come from more than just listening to recorded music- interacting with peers, and people who aren’t so much like you at all, is a defining aspect of the musical experience too. For inspiration I look more at people that I've met and interacted with musically, notably because I’ve had a lot of musical mentors. A big influence for me was my saxophone teacher because he really taught me to put forward the voice and the sound that was true to me. And this is something that I've not just carried with me in music but in my everyday interactions. So the most influential sources of inspiration are truly people that I know and meet.

NATHAN 3.jpg

Is there another medium of art you work in?

I wouldn't say that I am actively working on it; but - as I'm half Puerto Rican - salsa and latin music has been a huge part of my life. Unfortunately, I can't really dance that well, but I took Afro-Cuban dance here for my PE requirement. So I got to hone a lot of those skills and make my family proud. In that [class] I learned that dance is also sort of structured similarly, with foundation and aspects of a solo or group voice. The foundation is still the chord and the rhythm, but rather than a melody it's the technique that you employ or where you're gonna move. And then rather than the lyrics, it's how you're gonna move. So I just find it's just essentially the same: you're putting different combinations of different things on top of each other in order to express something that is true to you. So that's a fun thing that I've learned also through getting a little bit of dancing experience in there. And that also informed the way I think of other arts too. I don't think it is different for painting for instance.

What words would you use to describe yourself and your work?

I would only give one word, which is really important to me: open-mindedness. It's everything that I am approaching everything with. You can't dismiss something because you don't have experience with it or because you have bad experiences with it; it’s always going to be more complex than that. This is how I approach the music that I make, the music that I listen to, and how I perform.

How does your art relate to your identity? How has your life influenced your work?

I am from New Jersey and growing up with New York City as something that was there for me to use as a resource to see music, learn about music, and become a better musician definitely had an impact. I think it is impossible to separate your work from who you are, even if you try really hard because ultimately, it's your voice. It's still hard for me to fully answer that question though because I still feel I'm in that big-artist-development ramp that I have to get over to really establish myself.  

On another note, has making music changed anything in your life? If so what?

Music has definitely made me reflect on a lot of things because it provided me with a different perspective. In the same way that you talk to your friend about your issues: when you hear it coming out of your mouth and when you hear them trying to conceptualize what is going on, you sometimes will think about it differently than you do in you. I think it is really important. In the same that going to therapy is really important Having another way to see what you are feeling and experiencing is very important for your own development because when you are just in your head, it is a lot. So if I'm just writing a song about it or drawing a certain experience or emotion in a song, I think that can definitely provide another perspective to what is going on. It can give you a broader lens to what you are actually feeling and experiencing.

Do you view yourself as a musician? Has making music changed the way you relate to or see yourself?

It's also a hard question. I mean, of course I am thinking of myself as a musician, but then I am thinking about how do you define a musician?! I personally think anyone can be a musician at any point. There are definitely varying levels of skill within being a musician, but perfectly mastering the technique is not absolutely essential. A lot of people will feel pretentious about being a musician because it becomes a huge part of their lives. They want to to take ownership over this because they feel it belongs to them. But it also belongs to everyone else!

Being a musician has been a huge thing socially, I've met some of my closest friends through music. I find that over time friendships shift and change,. But even if externally the friendships I have within music change, I always feel a connection to the musicians I worked with. It is a kind of vulnerability and connection that doesn't just go away. In making music together, you're really seeing another aspect of others and their stories. I almost think of it as a different social currency. My friendships might change with other musicians externally, but I'll ultimately feel close to them just because of the music we made together. The music is still there. It still exists, we could reproduce it if we wanted to. Music [has] definitely informed the way I socially interact all the time.

Has being at Columbia changed anything in the way you create and feature your work?

Columbia has definitely changed it. College in general is a very introspective experience where you are meeting people from a lot of different experiences and backgrounds, and you are learning the things that you value and why you value them. I also think Columbia is very good with the Core [Curriculum]. I know this is going to sound so “Columbia cliché,” but I do think that it brings light to your inner tensions. My toolbox of how I want to express myself and the ways that I understand the world have gotten better, I feel that my art has also gone up.

Specifically, not that where I grew up wasn't a diverse place; but as someone who is mixed-race, it was not something that was really prevalent where I am from. There were a lot of white and black people; but as I am asian and latino, they were not many of those communities where I was from growing up. I saw diversity but not necessarily me and that was something that was hard. Coming to Columbia definitely allowed me to better consolidate my identity and that also informed the way that I make music because it is about bringing your story [and putting it] out there.

Are you working on anything currently? Do you have plans for future projects?

Yes! Here we go. I'm really trying to get a solo release under my own name out there. I've got to a point where I definitely consolidated my identity and the message and story I want to tell. I got more comfortable in my own skin, navigating the world. I'd like to have a place where I can have a "progress report." I am currently trying to get by the end of the semester, a concrete release of a song that is mine. Hopefully before may.

Are there any lyrics from one of your song particularly meaningful to you that you would like to share as a conclusion?

Actually, I wrote a line last night: "All I need is to see that view, and I'm on my feet, I hope tonight brings something new." I feel it embodies the experience of putting things into perspective: “all I need is to see the view,”' to broaden my perspective. And that is what I do with music; all I need is to see the bigger picture. I think we all need to take a step back when we get into trouble in order to decide what to do next. I’m glad I wrote that because I think it encompasses that experience well, and it’s also about Manhattan, where you can always find opportunities to broaden your point of view.

Anything else?

Be ready because more is always coming!

calvin liang

Photographs by Santiago Peuser

Interview by Morgan Becker

Introduce yourself, and your art.

My name is Calvin Liang. I am a senior in Columbia College, majoring in architecture, also studying sustainable development and civil engineering. Most of my art is architectural photography and some portraiture photography, which is done both digitally and on thirty-five millimeter film. I also do sculptural work and casting, which is tied into the architectural work that I do.

Are there specific facets of your identity that you consider essential, or particularly influential, in your work?

In terms of my family, I was always kind of the oddball in the sense that I was doing my own thing, and they had a very different mentality. I’ve always looked at things differently than a lot of my peers growing up. I’m from Arizona, from a pretty conservative high school and town. I think that growing up with that kind of cookie-cutter community, and my weekly routine being so mundane, I tried to find some way to let my inner expression speak for itself.

Tell me about some of your inspirations. Who introduced you to art, and who pushes you to continue today?

My family background is not so artistic. My parents both work in very much the STEM, science fields, but from a very early age I had a creative side. Whether that was in a school art class or music class, I always tried to find a way to have some form of self-expression, that was never really within the stereotypically ‘academic’ fields. So I was always kind of looking for ways to express myself. And that is kind of what’s continued to inspire me till now: is finding an outlet for creativity outside of my academic responsibilities.

Photograph by Calvin Liang

Photograph by Calvin Liang

What has influenced your gravitation toward architecture as an art form?

My inspiration for architecture actually came from a lot of traveling that I did. I’m a fencer, and I fence for Columbia. But before college, I was competing for the US team, and it took me to a lot of interesting places around the world; going to Asia, South America, and Europe, and seeing all these different buildings and different ways of living that were so foreign to me—both in a literal sense and a metaphorical sense. Seeing how those communities operated, how those cultures operated, was the first push for me to think about expressing my artistic tastes in this kind of practical construction that is architecture. And the dialogue between art and architecture is something that I’m always working with in my artistic and academic work.

Would you say there’s one place that has influenced you most in terms of architecture?

I think Japan was the big place [of influence] for me. I have family there, but I never really thought about Japanese architecture until I started studying it as a discipline. I ended up working in Japan last summer at an architectural firm and realized that its architecture manifests itself in so many different ways. It literally has completely re-informed how their social lives work, and how they operate, both on an infrastructure level and on a socio-familial level. You see Japanese architects kind of going in the same direction of taking architecture, not necessarily as an academic discipline, but as more of an artistic discipline—expressing artistic moves or going for radical interpretations of what space can be.

What’s your creative process like? Do you know what a piece might end up looking like before you begin?

Whenever I do architecture photography, I’m always thinking about detail. It’s not too often that I try to take a picture of the whole building on its own, or a whole scene on its own. A lot of times the focus is on either some material detail, or lighting detail, or architectural form that I find in a structure or building that makes you think. And that always is something that I strive to do. I want people to really think about the spaces that we occupy. Similar to sculptural work and casting where I don’t necessarily have a direction, it’s a lot about trying to create new language with materials, for example. Whether that means making something solid, like concrete, or wood, look fluid; or making something fluid, like water, feel solid. But I never have like, a hard idea in my mind.

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How much planning goes into the architectural projects that require more technical attention?

In that ‘academic’ work, there’s a very formal process that always ends up happening. Whether that’s going through actual structural diagramming, or thinking about basic logistics that are fundamental to any architectural project. A lot of times, especially in more conceptual architectural work, you don’t actually have to think too much about that structural detailing. It’s actually more about your creative expression and developing your concept. And that closely ties into what we call ‘visual arts,’ where it’s a lot more self-expression, or trying to express some kind of idea through form. Those questions of technicality get answered later on [in the process].

Do you have an audience in mind when you work? If yes, does it ever change?

In architecture, there’s always an audience, whether it’s a client or someone else I’m designing for. In terms of photography or sculpture, my content is for everyone. It’s a lot about showing people a side of architecture, or a side of their daily lives even, that they may not notice at first glance—or making them think about the relationships that exist in our daily lives that we take for granted.

Photograph by Calvin Liang

Photograph by Calvin Liang

You say you want to make people think in new ways. Do you have an example of a piece you’ve done that embodies that desire?

A lot of the photography that I’ve done, particularly in Japan and the West Coast of the United States, was about discovering the substitutions for things that occur in nature with [a] man-made structure. Whether hills were being replaced by circular buildings, or in the case of a place I visited in San Francisco, where the beach was replaced by this sloped concrete sidewalk that sloped into the water [with] the waves crashing on it; I took a picture of it, just to take a picture of the wave. But when I looked back at it later, it became a picture of a beach, the sand replaced by concrete. These relationships between man made materials and natural materials were some things that I tried to highlight when I went back to the West Coast over the last two breaks.

Do you find yourself working with certain materials more than others? Are there any that you see a big future with in architecture?

Throughout all my work, wood has been the most pervasive. And that’s just because, over generations and cultures, everyone has used wood as a form of housing or as a form of construction. I think there is a reason for that. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that it comes from the Earth and that it can go back into the Earth; whereas, with concrete or metal, there isn’t that same longevity. It doesn’t have a positive impact on the environment. Now I think people are trying to find ways that we can push the use of wood. In the artistic sense, thinking about how we can express something like a wooden house in a way that is inspiring, that isn’t boring—that’s the challenge that we’re faced with now.

What are the merits of sculpture and architecture over two-dimensional arts, like photography or drawing? Or vice-versa.

Architecture, for me, is art that’s trying to solve a problem. With other [artistic] mediums, I don’t believe that problem-solving is necessarily the goal. I can posit questions, or bring attention to details, but I don’t necessarily have to have a solution. I think the beauty of art is that you get people to think about issues, or even just things that exist in their natural state. Different issues and different problems have different mediums. I don’t necessarily have a bias over material or representation. It does come kind of case-by-case for me, really. My sculptures are mostly castings, or types of ‘outside-of-a-scale’ studies of construction. So the result of that is they answer very abstract thoughts, or attempt to resolve very abstract notions or concepts. And so I don’t see myself ever really working with a sculpture that would just be the ‘solution.’ For me, that would be kind of antithetical to my thought process.

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Would you consider architecture to be representative sculpture?

You’ve hit it on the head. Architecture is the final product—the final model that’s a cumulation of these sculptures and castings and material studies and fabrications that you do. It's the summation of all those questions you’ve asked. Architecture is always toeing the line of art and science, academic and artistic, and that’s what I think is really beautiful about incorporating art into the process.

What constitutes a successful photograph?

A successful photograph isn’t just taking a photo of an object. I think there should always be something that you’re trying to bring attention to that takes more that, maybe, a quick glance. That might mean that you have to circle back to the photo in a week, or a day, even. What I want a photograph to do is bring attention—or even evoke a feeling. That doesn’t have to be super serious, but even just getting people to be like, “Oh, that’s really cool.” Bringing [up] an emotion, basically, should be the goal of a photograph.

When you say ‘circle back,’ do you mean that you can come back to a photo and realize that it evokes something? Or do you know prior to taking it that it’s going to have a desired effect?

I think the former is what I was going for. That’s a very technical thing that I’m not the authority to speak on; but for me, what’s great about photographs is that you have a slice of time that you’ve frozen there. And you might be able to circle back and say, “On this day, the light that filtered through this window was super beautiful;” but when you took it, maybe you weren’t focused on that, maybe you were focused on something completely different. And what’s nice about photographs is that you get to look back on moments and really think about what that day was like. It’s a lot of reflection, and I think that is the beauty of it.

Outside of the visual arts community, what are some of your biggest influences?

In general, having a separate space within architecture has been really interesting and eye-opening for me, to think about what kinds of questions I ask. That mainly stems from first coming here, and not really knowing what I was going to do and doing photography and sculptural art without really any direction. The great thing about Barnard’s architecture department is that all the other students are also working in other disciplines. The richness of that is you get to draw from their walks of life, and see how they’ve interpreted types of architecture. From that, you can circle back to other constructs and notions. That’s definitely a community that I treasure a lot. Also, music has always played a role in terms of evoking a feeling that I want to emulate in my work. Figuring out where the music starts in something visual or tangible is a fun thing to play around with.

Are you working on anything currently?

Currently, I am working on a small, independent architectural project [in] which my friends and I have decided to let loose of the reigns of convention. We’re designing houses for extreme situations, like, what does a house for just two cats look like? Or, how do we fit three generations of family in a forty foot by twenty foot New York apartment? It’s just pushing the extreme questions of architecture [so] that people would be like, “Oh, that’ll never happen.” But the reality is that sometimes these are cases that exist. It’s this exquisite corpse of absurd questions that people don’t think about when we think about the space that we live in. That’s kind of the move that I’m always trying to go for.

Photograph by Calvin Liang

Photograph by Calvin Liang

Anything else that you’d like to add? Closing remarks?

If students are interested in submitting architectural work, or commentary on architecture, the Columbia Barnard Architecture Society does do a publication at the end of the year that they can submit to. And that’s at Other than that, people can find me on Instagram.

Sarah Courville

Photographs by Pedro Damasceno

Interview by Uma Halsted


Introduce yourself.

I'm Sarah. I grew up in South Carolina. I study urban studies and public health as a senior at Barnard. I have a big family. I have a pet python -- not here, unfortunately. I love to bake, and I like mid-twentieth century country music, like anything from Hank Williams to Patsy Cline to Kitty Wells. I do a 30s and 40s country music show for WKCR. And I make collages.


What are you a part of on campus and in New York?

I'm really not a part of many things on campus per se. I've been programming for WKCR since my first year, and that’s been consistent, but I like to get away from the bubble of Morningside Heights. I'm a bit separated from campus, I left for my whole junior year to study at Freie Universität Berlin and came back this year.

Outside of campus, I'm involved in the harm reduction community of New York. I work at the Lower East Side Harm Reduction Center, which is a needle exchange downtown in the Lower East Side/Chinatown. Same with Berlin, I was working in a needle exchange van there, with this group Fixpunkt, so I would say that larger sphere of harm reduction is what I'm a part of.


How did your time in Berlin shape your art?

I really didn't start collaging until I got to Germany. I guess the winter came, and I had to figure out a coping mechanism or a way to kind of track my mental, physical, and emotional health, channel it into something. And in Germany in the winter, the sun sets at like 3:45 pm, so everyone lives mostly in darkness, indoors.

 My collaging was totally shaped by being in Berlin. There are lots of these secondhand bookstores in the city that sell old magazines, books, newspapers, and the like. I picked up a couple things at one of these shops, just because I like images and old things. Then I began thinking about the images and texts through a different lens and found that it was a good channel to develop my creative thoughts.

Berlin for me was extremely conducive to creating. The cost of living there is relatively low, compared to New York, so the quality of life is has the potential to be higher. And the stress culture is different. There’s no living on campus; everyone commutes. University is not your entire life. So I had a lot of time to work on my art. Outside my windows was a Friedhof, a little forest-y park/ graveyard. Just having windows not blocked by other buildings and actual nature sounds, it's very conducive to understanding oneself and one’s creative process. So I think it entirely shaped the way I create.

I was also surrounded by other artists and creative people constantly. There’s this amazing queer haircutting project called Butch Cut, run by Hank Bobbitt, who does donation-based haircuts for queers in Berlin. I was baking for their events while living in Germany and participating in the larger community of queer artists and performers who flocked to Butch Cut. And I worked at a record store/ cafe/ performance space called Rita Records, where I was also a baker, and constantly meeting exceptional people who inspired my work.


Describe an early moment of creating when you were young. What did you produce?

The earliest one that I can remember is from my house in Florida. I was born in Florida, but I always say I grew up in South Carolina because I moved there when I was six. I don't necessarily remember Florida all that much. But one of my first memories of creating is from there.

My parents' house was this small, one-story house. It was basically just a big square, and the rooms were reflected in that as well. And one side of the house had all of these sliding glass doors, because the house used to be an indoor pool. And so we would paint on the sliding glass doors and wash them off when we were done. Thinking about it now, it's very interesting because I love transparent things and negative space and light.

Have any specific life experiences shaped your personal view of or the way you want to create your work?

I try to channel my disability and queerness through my art, and I guess it's been interesting to think about because it was never my initial intention to focus on the body. But it subconsciously becomes nearly every single piece of art that I create.

As someone who's chronically ill, it feels like my body is violating me constantly. I've had chronic intractable migraine for a decade now, and that's the way I know how to function. I realize that it's this constant process of feeling like I'm not in control of my body, but there's a way to sort of channel that through ascribing these futures to the body and projecting myself onto the work that I'm doing. This violation has forced me to think about flesh in other ways and investigate the body as a site of potentiality.

And also with queerness. Growing up in the South as a queer person was not the most comfortable, so that also created a feeling for a long time of another violation of the self. And so I sort of subconsciously try to channel those things. I think it's just that the images that I end of creating are focused on the body. But being chronically ill and queer have shaped sort of how I create, definitely.

Do you think that exploring the body in your work is an act of giving yourself back control of the body?

Totally. It’s the same reason I like having tattoos on my body. When you exist in a body that you can't control -- and me it's like ninety percent of the time I can't control it -- you are forced to seek agency in other ways. And I'm attracted to images of the body. So a lot of the magazines and things that I've collected over years have to do with the body in some way. I have old Playboy magazines, and I have amazing German magazines on Freikörperkultur [free body culture], books on body language, anatomy.


Are you drawn to other subjects?

Besides bodies I'm drawn to shapes and architecture. The other thing I have a lot of is old German architecture magazines from the 60s. There's this sort of order and disorder playing with each other in my work, and it's a way of being able to give myself calculated control and calculated loss of control in some way.

When I'm doing a piece, it's not really planned out. I'm like a collector of images. I have these clippings all over, hundreds of hundreds of things. I have an entire miniature bookshelf of magazines I use. There's just images everywhere. And if I see something that I like, whether it's the texture of it or the color of it or the image itself or a shape or angle, then I'll kind of put it on my desk. And I go through this process of reacquainting myself with all of the images that I have. So it's kind of this puzzle. And as my week or my month goes on, and I think more about the images subconsciously.

With this work of mine, I had these two images, these two eyes, for a really long time. And they were sitting on my desk, and I had no idea what to do with them. And I had this other large piece from Life Magazine 1940 with these people building a house that I wanted to do something with. I hadn't looked at the Life Magazine one for a really long time, and I kept looking at those eyes. I had a piece of cardboard, and then it just kind of came together.

I was actually really sick when I was doing the piece of work. When I'm really sick, because my body is not functional, I feel like maybe my vision will be functional, or I can do something that can translate like my bodily feeling onto a piece of art. And that actually is a big part of the process, being able to dissociate from the images that I've been looking at for a long time. So it's disconnecting myself from the image and then being able to reconstruct it in some way.

 Why collage? What is the power of repurposing text and image in the work you create?

That's a good question. We consume images constantly; that's what human beings do. I have a lot of anxiety around over-stimulation, especially in this city, and I think that translates into my work. I want to be stimulated in a way that's somewhat controlled but still allows me to give myself up to a something. I can construct something that is supported by the existence of another image, shape, or color. I do other things; I do a little bit of sculpture and stonework. But I think collaging, it's an expression either an emotion or bodily feeling. But it kind of seems like the easiest way for me to control what I'm seeing and have it make sense to me.


Your also taking from and reusing images that originally had different intentions attached to them. Do you think that gives you more agency?

Yes. The ability to pair images with other images to reconstruct meaning or reconstruct how something looks is powerful--being able to look at something and pair it with all of these other shapes and angles and texts and different geometry and things that can come together to mean something totally different.


Can you elaborate on your use of negative space in your artwork, as you discussed in your artist's statement?

In a lot of collaging, you use negative space to play on existing forms. It's a way to layer images and be able to have space between them. One of my pieces, it's this piece that's sewn together with bookbinding wax thread, and it's a bunch of these little pieces of paper, and it's sort of collapsable in your hand.


The interplay of spaces is really thrilling, and also something that I was doing a lot of in Germany. Because they have have amazing print shops there that are very cheap, and there're tons of artists, I was printing a lot of my collages on transparent paper. I gave them all away, because it was mostly just an experiment to start. But that added another element of negative space, as being able to look at something with the background of whatever's in front of you - and also how it plays with light and movement. I like to make hanging things and things that move, like this piece used to be up on my wall near my window in my bedroom in Germany. And it would just sort of sway constantly.



What space do words hold in your collages?

Less now, but when I was living in Germany, words played a huge role in my work because my life was in this constant state of translation and moving between languages. I was studying at the university solely in German, working solely in German. But then I would come home to my partner, who I was speaking English with, and with some of my German friends or friends who spoke German, we would speak what they call “Denglisch,” this mixture of English and German.

In German the nouns are really amazing, and in English, you have better adjectives. Certain German words would stick out to me when I was there. You ascribe meaning to words when you're learning a language or getting better at communicating in a language. I went to Germany already speaking a good amount of German, but never having lived in a German-speaking country for more than a month. So I didn't know how to function in German yet.

Also a lot of the collaging materials I was getting were in German. One of the first pieces that I did there- it was this really small little piece with a woman in two planes, and it said "isoliert" (isolated), and it had an exclamation point, and it was from some advertisement. But I really liked the text.

Language occurs in this weird kind of liminal space, when you're living somewhere that people aren't speaking your native language, and you're communicating sort of half of your life in German and half in English. It kind of lends itself to language being important. I probably used about half and half English words and German words in my art. In the beginning, I wasn't sure if I wanted to incorporate words or if I felt that need to at all. But there were so many interesting words in German that I had some attachment to, or that I or people around me would use frequently. So it kind of lent itself to this interesting combination. The pieces I produce now tend to have less words.


Which artists are you most inspired by?

One of my favorite artists is an Austrian artist whose name is Valie Export. She's in her seventies now, but she was big in this movement called Viennese Actionism. She makes these amazing films where it's like constant image manipulation. She has this one, and I think the English title of it is "Invisible Adversaries." It's similar to Sci-Fi; it's very experimental. But I just love consuming her images.

There's this collective in Berlin that I'm very inspired by called the Objects of Desire Collective. It's a sex worker-led collective, and I became really close with the curators of this big project, when I was baking for Butch Cut. They're putting on a really big show at the Schwules Museum in Berlin, which is the first gay museum in the world . They collect objects from sex workers and stories from sex workers themselves, so it's like archival work and narrative work, and it's really powerful.


Some of my other favorite artists are David Henry Nobody Jr., Emma Kohlmann, Milf City (formerly Lance Romance), and dollargenderstore.


What's the last song you listened to?

I actually listened to a great song this morning. It's called "Marry the State" by this Berlin band called Gesture. And it's a really amazing synth-punk song. Super good.


Do you have a favorite movie or book?

That changes all the time. I do have a favorite book; it's Near to the Wild Heart by Clarice Lispector. She's maybe my favorite author. My favorite film changes constantly. But one that's stayed pretty consistent is by this artist Valie Export. Invisible Adversaries is the film.


Describe yourself in three words. Describe your work in three words.

Empathetic, deliberate, unstructured.  Bodily, communicative, reflective.

Myles Zhang

Photographed by Eliza Jouin

Written by Elizabeth Meyer

There is movement in cities that creates a spontaneity, a grittiness, and an identity that many artists have attempted to capture. In his project, Ten Days Walking in Manhattan, Myles Zhang, a senior at Columbia college majoring in the History and Theory of Architecture, creates a collage of representations through watercolors, photography, and large-scale maps.

His artwork reflects the movement of the inhabitants of Manhattan as well as the flow of the city from one unique neighborhood to the next. Myles walked from Chinatown to Harlem and captured what he saw in spontaneous watercolors while painting on the sidewalk or sitting on benches, as well as vast, intricately detailed maps created in his studio. The project, though titled Ten Days Walking in Manhattan, took Myles three years on and off.

Myles prefers the experience of walking through a city because, according to him, “We usually look at cities from an aerial perspective of maps, but the way we experience architecture and cities is from a human level of around five or six feet. Walking around New York City on the street gives a different perspective than looking at maps.”

Myles brought me back to each area of Manhattan that he explored in his project. In each neighborhood we visited, Myles relived how his perception of it has shifted as he has grown up living in proximity and now within the city: from as a child in Newark, NJ to a student at Columbia University. Myles detailed how the art created for Ten Days Walking in Manhattan has become a part of his personal archive. For each of his “days” in the city, Myles explained what he saw and the art that the neighborhood inspired.

Photograph by Eliza Jouin

Photograph by Eliza Jouin

Day One: Chinatown


I feel I have a close affinity to Chinatown. I have a Chinese last name and a Chinese father. As a child I would do grocery shopping in Chinatown with my parents. It is an intimate neighborhood, and though I cannot speak the language, I feel deeply associated to it.

I wanted to communicate a sense of separation between the foreground and background in this image because the short buildings of Chinatown are surrounded by large skyscrapers that physically tower over the small neighborhood of structures.

As I child, I would walk down the streets and look at the individual signs on the stores, so I copied these sign fronts onto the map. The map is an exact representation from above, and I could get from one location to another by looking at it.


Day Two: SoHo

SoHo is a neighborhood that I associate with my childhood experiences on scooter and bike, touring NYC with my parents. I think SoHo, more than any other neighborhood, has a beautiful chiaroscuro - play of light and darkness - when you walk down the street. Lower Manhattan has all of these big skyscrapers -- they’re flat, like boxes -- but SoHo has extruded forms of arches and columns. A lot of classical architecture in SoHo is inspired from buildings in Rome and Renaissance Italy as well as ancient Greece. There is a visual language that references Greek and Roman architecture in the arches, Palladian windows, and Corinthian columns. When I walk around, I try to play a guessing game - identifying specific buildings with their ancient sources of inspiration. The old architecture has a kind of permanence for me.


Day Three: The East & West Villages

I pick the spots I paint in based on whatever interests me on that day, the size of the paper I’m going to work with, how fast I can complete the painting, and the weather. I prefer to paint in watercolors because they convey a sense of spontaneity that I am trying to capture in the city. You have five or ten minutes to complete the painting, so the process is more dynamic than if you were sitting in a studio.

This image of Washington Square Park arch might be the same dimension of the image of SoHo or Chinatown, but they each took different lengths of time to paint and the process of creating them was different. Doing a painting on the sidewalk like the image of Washington Square Park is very different from painting it in the studio like I did for the map of Chinatown.

Day Four: The High Line

I think the High Line is a distinctly New York phenomenon. It’s called a park, but it’s a strip of concrete elevated above the ground. I think the High Line is a victim of its own success. Due to gentrification, a lot of what makes the High Line unique and interesting is being lost. The industrial edge, the grittiness, the taxi cab rental services and car garages are being taken over by fashion stores and multinational organizations. I don’t think I succeed in representing this dichotomy of grittiness and gentrification in my art. I think a lot of the spontaneity of New York City is difficult to capture in art - particularly two-dimensional art that is static on the page. I think the quality of my work done in the studio is lower; I am more intrigued with my work that is done spontaneously on the sidewalk.


Day Five: Madison Square

The Flatiron building is at the intersection of Broadway and 23rd street. It almost looks like a cartoon of a building because it takes all of the qualities that we associate with a skyscraper like narrowness, thinness, and height, and exaggerates them. For me, the Flatiron building is like the prow of a ship that plows down the street. I don’t know if I succeeded in representing this idea in my painting. As I painted the Flatiron building I thought about how the two streets on the side of the building, Broadway and Fifth avenue, diverge like parting waves.


Day Six: Midtown

Midtown is one one of my least favorite neighborhoods in Manhattan because it embodies the worst qualities that we associate with Manhattan: it’s busy, dense, crowded, overwhelming. It is not as comfortable of a place to draw or paint as Chinatown or the Village because it’s busier; it’s hard to find a place to sit or stand. The kinds of people you are going to meet are very different from those neighborhoods as well. There are a lot of religious missionaries in Midtown. I took a photo of a Korean lady closing her eyes and handing out flyers about the salvation of Jesus and of a Muslim man reading from the Quar’an. I don’t associate Midtown with a neighborhood people live in, more a neighborhood people pass through.

Day Seven: Central Park

Central Park is beautiful; there are nice people there; it is pleasant, but it doesn’t have that sense of grittiness or fast paced-ness that I associate with many other New York City neighborhoods. I personally prefer the small pocket parks like Washington Square Park because the city is always there.


Day Eight: Riverside Drive

That watercolor was done around 69th street on Riverside Drive. There is an old industrial area adjacent to Midtown with rusted derricks that were used for ships. In this image of the Hudson River, there is an old derrick [industrial crane] in the foreground. Before there were tunnels for trains beneath the river, ships carrying freight cars would unload onto the derricks. The train cars would roll onto the tracks, and the tracks would deliver the trains into Manhattan. The derrick that I painted is not in use anymore, but it’s preserved there as a monument.

Day Nine: Morningside Heights

At each stage of my life and at each place that I’ve visited, I want to have some kind of souvenir. I made architectural models of every school that I’ve attended, my high school, my university, the university I studied abroad at. My hope is that twenty or thirty years from now, I’ll look back and have a model or a drawing of the place to remind me of it. This detailed drawing that I’ve made of Columbia University is a very personal thing. The drawing is so scrupulously detailed, it is like a map that I can look at in twenty years and remember: where my dorm was, where I went to class, where I met trouble.


Day Ten: Harlem

This is an image of the 125th street viaduct [bridge-like structure that carries a road or railroad across a valley]. The composition is based on the spiraling arc of the Golden Rectangle, a rectangle whose side lengths are in the golden ratio of 1:phi. On the top of the image, I have painted the viaduct itself. I painted the viaduct from two different perspectives in this piece, from beneath the viaduct and from above it. I’ve always been interested in engineering projects. When we look at a bridge like the 125th street viaduct, we see something structurally pure, something that is not cloaked by plaster, cardboard, and concrete the way a building is. When we look at the viaduct, we see all of the lines of tension in the structure - the engineering of it.

MYLES 5.jpg

As Myles took me through his ten days in Manhattan, I gained insight on how the city has influenced both his creative process and his artistic growth. Myles makes the vastness and remoteness of the city intimate through his art and memories. The beauty of Ten Days in Manhattan is that the project tells the story of Manhattan through the individuality of Myles’ experience, allowing the viewer to feel as if they are on close terms with the impersonal city.

Aside from Ten Days Walking in Manhattan, Myles uses his art to become involved with community activism. He is currently designing an exhibit about a vacant former jail in his hometown of Newark, New Jersey. Another project Myles is working on involves using data to visualize distribution of lead in water pipelines in Newark.

Myles has also utilized data to create a visual representation of the New York City subway ridership over the course of 24 hours. The project combines the sound of a human heartbeat with the pulsing of human activity on MTA train lines over the course of a week and can be watched here.

Kosta Karakashyan

Photographed by Natalie Tischler

Interviewed by Zoe Sottile

Hi! Can you introduce yourself?

I’m Kosta Karakashyan. I am a senior in CC majoring in Dance, and I’m from Bulgaria. I’m half-Bulgarian, half-Armenian. I’ve been dancing since I was five.

What made you want to pursue dance?

When I was five, I had a girlfriend in kindergarten, and she was going to start dance lessons. My parents signed me up because of her, and then she never made it to the first class. But I went, and I liked it, so I stayed.

When I was in high school, I got an offer to join Dancing with the Stars in Vietnam as one of the pro dancers. I was 18 and had no clue what I was doing. I was the youngest ever pro on the show there. We had to work with a team to pick the music and choreograph and work with the lighting designer and that’s when I started liking this whole production side of [dance]. And now I’m not done with performing, but I’m more interested in creating something on stage that other people with more virtuosic bodies can express.

What was the first piece of art that really inspired you?

The thing that I respond most to is books and reading and storytelling. A lot of the dance work I do now is more narrative-based. Of course, I loved Harry Potter like everyone. I think I was the same age as Harry Potter when the books were coming out. There was this contest -- I made a clay dementor, and I sent it in, and I won a free book. That’s one of the first things I made. I was maybe 13.

What are some artists or creators that inspire you?

In terms of film, I love Baz Luhrmann. He has a reputation that he meddles in every department of his productions, and it produces a very clear visual style in his work.

Is that similar to how you work?

Yeah, I like to give my collaborators a lot of freedom but then at the end I want to shape the edges of everything so it fits the story we’re going for. There’s an Israeli choreographer that I’m super obsessed with right now. Her name is Sharon Eyal and she makes these really alien, weird, sensual, sexy, tortured movements. I just did a review of one of her pieces. I like a lot of disparate elements from different people. I think nothing is original. So I like to draw inspiration from a lot of old things and a lot of new things. Music is always a big inspiration. I like a lot of classical composers like Erik Satie.


Can you speak about the senior thesis you’re working on?

It’s a solo, but I ended up involving a lot of people. Allison Costa and I are the inaugural student artists-in-residence at the Movement Lab at Barnard. I’m using the space to develop the thesis. I want to make a piece that’s about the anxiety and the stress that we collectively face on campus, because I think dance is a good medium for sticking it into the audience’s heart a little more than just reading about it. You can feel it more when you see something visceral on stage. Movement-wise, it’s a contemporary flamenco fusion. I’m working with the flamenco professor at Barnard, Melinda Marquez. Guy DeLancey, the technical director of the Movement Lab and LaJuné, the current artist-in-residence are working with me on creating lighting that responds to my heartbeat in real time on stage. I am working with Antoine Assayas, a composer from France who I met on Instagram, and I’m trying to get another costume person -- it has all these moving parts.

Why does stress culture figure so prominently in your work?

Last semester I was reflecting and thinking about my art practice, and I realized that everything I’ve made or everything I’m planning to make revolves around anxiety. I realized this is clearly getting to me and I need to externalize it in some way. So I choreographed a piece for the Columbia Ballet Collaborative about four friends who are there for each other, but then get whisked away in their own problems. One of them has a breakdown. It jolts the others out of their own things to come together and lift her up. I think there’s a power to acknowledging [anxiety] and reclaiming it and being okay with knowing how that feels instead of trying to convince yourself that everything is fine. Of course Columbia as an institution needs to do a lot more, but the things we can control are our reactions; I’m interested in making things that give back some agency to people.


How is dance different from other media, like film and writing, that you work in?

The most important thing about a dance is a title, because that’s the one place where you can guide the audience. It’s always overlooked. I think context is really important. When I approach making art, I don’t necessarily like to be vague or confusing just for the sake of it. I like art that will take you with it so that it doesn’t exclude the audience. Dance is already a little bit underappreciated, and I think it’s because people feel scared that they don’t “get” it. You can do service to your audience and present it in a way that’s understandable.

One of your interdisciplinary projects is the music video for “Drips” by Acrilics, in which you worked both as a choreographer, director, and editor. How did that project come to be?

The way that video came to be was quite random. A friend of mine -- who I haven’t talked to in years -- randomly reached out to me and said, ‘I saw you’re directing things; do you want to make a music video for me and my friend?’ And I said, ‘yeah, sure.’ It was the Sunday before finals. I grabbed all of my class’s dance majors. It was very last minute. I found the director of photography, Xuelong Mu. I’d never worked with him, but he was down. We rented a camera, we found a makeup artist, I went to H&M at Times Square. I always style people from there because it’s open till 1 am. So I went at midnight the night before, got a bunch of clothes, and then we just made everything happen on the set. We had six hours in Diana. It was something out of nothing. The girls were so good. I had prompts or ideas for them but they improvised everything on set and they looked great.

How do you navigate between dance films like that project and live performances?

For me, if I use film for a project, it’s usually because I want it to be more shareable with people. I think film is good for sending a message or making something that serves a specific purpose.

For stage I work really collaboratively. I want to make sure that everyone who’s going to be performing it feels really comfortable with the material and that they feel invested in it. If it’s film I control a little bit more. I have a clear vision in my head; it’s more detail-oriented in a way.


You also created a film about the LGBTQ+ persecution in Chechnya, “Waiting for Color”. What inspired that piece?

I remember when news first started coming out about the situation in Chechnya, it was so horrible and I wanted to do something about it. So I joined the activist group here in NY, Voices for Chechnya, but I also wanted to make something that confronts people with the situation. It’s based on these 33 anonymous stories of people who were tortured and then released. It’s from a report published by the Russian LGBT Network. [The film has] gotten a pretty amazing reach. In the U.S. it was featured by GLAAD and by Conde Nast. Now I’m presenting it at Short Waves, a festival in Poland, in March. I did a presentation in my home country [Bulgaria], which is still pretty homophobic, but surprisingly the media was really into it. I ended up doing seven interviews in five days. Sadly, it’s still relevant: now, there’s a new wave of violence. I think now my next projects are going to be in that social realm as well.

How does it feel to speak to such a large platform?

It feels like the more and more I talk about it the more energized I get. It’s a really tough topic. Now when I watch the film I feel so distant from it. I can’t believe I actually made that. I edited it and have watched it so many times that I can’t objectively look at it anymore. I just know it’s out there. It’s not necessarily easy to talk about, but I know that publicity brings awareness to the situation. I’m thankful to be able to bring more light to what’s going on there and hopefully it helps in some way.

What is your experience like as a “working artist”?

My plans now after graduation are to move back to Europe, where there’s a lot more state funding [for art]. In New York it’s really disheartening to see successful people who already have a career still barely scraping together budgets and things. It’s a really sad reality. I don’t like that the expectation that you should love your art so much that you should have a shitty lifestyle to do it. Of course, it’s not easy everywhere. But there are places that are more accepting and more supportive.

Gisela Levy

Photography by Margaret Maguire

Interviewed by Louise Sandback

Introduce yourself.

I’m Gisela Levy, I’m a sophomore at CC. I’m studying East Asian languages and cultures, and I paper cut. Paper cuts are drawings cut out of a single sheet of paper and are a common folk art around the world. Personally, I use a variety of small knives to cut my own drawings out of white rice paper or colored light drawing paper.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in the Washington D.C. area, in Maryland, but also in Brazil when I was little, until I was 7 years old. So that was a big move for me—when I was seven I moved to the U.S and learned English, and that’s definitely influenced me as a person, though I’m not sure where it is in my art.

What is your favorite word right now?

I don’t know if it’s my favorite word, but the word that’s on my mind is brilliant. And also the phrase in sweeping motions. I don’t know, that’s been stuck in my head.

Any particular reason?

For brilliant, it was a part of a conversation I was having with someone and their choice of words really struck me, so I’ve been trying to think about why they said it and what it meant in that context. In sweeping motions is one of those things … sometimes you hear something and it feels like the first time you’ve heard it. I wrote it on my board and put it up in my room to try to incorporate it into something, but I haven’t yet. So it’s just like, there.


What is your approach to incorporating words and text into your art?

Usually my motivation for making a piece of art is that something is stuck in my head. Something about my life or about the world … it’s in there and it’s not coming out. I’m constantly thinking about it, and I have to say everything that I want to say otherwise it will be stuck in this rotation in my head. When I get it on the paper, or cut out of the paper, I feel like my head gets emptier, and I’ve processed what it is that I’m thinking.

Where do these words come from?

So a lot of the words that are physically in my pieces, they are often things people have said to me or written to me in messages, sometimes they’re captions from my instagram posts, and I just cut them out of paper. They’re how I think about the world. It’s a very particular type of language -- it’s not something that I’d be able to say to someone, and it’s not something I would be able to write into a poem. It’s so disjointed that it actually feels more visual than verbal.

When did you first start making art?

I started paper-cutting when I moved to China for a year as a study abroad [student] in high school. I had never paper-cut before then, so I think that that was probably the biggest influence on [my] artwork. But I’ve been drawing and making art my whole life, casually, not professionally. I’ve just always been in art classes and enjoyed that kind of space [and] trying on different mediums.

A lot of people didn’t like that about art class, having these constraints about what kind of materials to use or what kind of subject to draw, but I always felt that it enriched whatever I was doing. Because one way or another I always brought my style to it. So it just helped me discover what it was I was trying to do by pushing it in a different direction.


How did you come about developing your unique style?

When I was in China learning to paper cut, I was working with very traditional designs and methods. The only thing I had done with cut paper before then were snowflakes, which I still really enjoy doing. It’s a fun thing to do, to cut out really intricate snowflakes. But that was something that was completely devoid of all emotion or personality. It was more like: how complicated can I make this?

Then, when I was learning to cut with a knife and build compositions, I started thinking about space. A lot of traditional paper cuts, I think, need to have lots of different images that are separate—either because they tell a story or because there is an in-built symbolism—and they have to come together in different scales. You have to manipulate how everything comes together to fill up the space completely in an aesthetically pleasant way. That was something I was already doing in my doodles. I really enjoy filling up a whole page with a drawing, and in order to do that you have to manipulate the space so that there’s a good balance of black and white, of positive and negative [space], etc.

How has your time learning to papercut in China influenced your practice today?

I consider traditional Chinese paper-cuts and patterns to be an influence on my art, but they work mainly aesthetically and compositionally. I am not trying to lay claim on any of the cultural meaning of these designs beyond my personal experience with them as an artist and as a student in China. I hope that this comes across when I incorporate personal elements like words and faces which are totally separate from that tradition.

What was the first papercut in which you incorporated these personal elements?

The first more personal paper cut I ever made — I feel like it might have been one called Rose. That was the first time [my personal style and traditional training] came together: I added the face, and that made it personal, but I kept this kind of boundary of the themes and motifs that I had been working with before. Then it just exploded from there.

What are some projects you’re looking towards in the future?

One of the things I want to try making is mobiles which sounds really hard. I have one mobile in the submission, but that one was more of an accident, actually. I had written this sort of rambling poem. It was a disjointed piece of prose, and it wouldn’t have made sense as a poem so I was like: “I’ll cut it out of paper and then it will make sense.I was working on that in a high school art classroom, and this girl spilled a bottle of turpentine on the piece. I was about halfway done cutting it; it had taken me weeks, and she spilled a bottle of turpentine on it which ruined the paper.

So I got really upset and frustrated, and I just took my knife and I started kind of sheering these things and trying to get the pieces of turpentine off. It got very weird and I was like “well, the piece is ruined.But then I picked it up to throw it away and the way it folded — all the strips fell behind the words and I loved the way it looked. And I was like, “this is better than what I was going to do.” I really enjoyed manipulating it so that it fell exactly how I wanted it to fall, and then I spent a long time photographing it and figuring out what I was doing with the light and the closeups, and how the organic words were mixing with the turpentine strips. It’s called Ruins because my friend said it was too rude to call it Rebecca Ruined It, which is what I wanted to call it, because, well, Rebecca did ruin it.

What kinds of intentional mobiles do you foresee yourself making?

I’m moving towards making portraits into mobiles. A lot of the portraits that I do are single line drawings, and when you pick those up the paper is very fragile and it will bend. Sometimes the hook of a nose will catch on a cheekbone or lip and that’s kind of what I want to play with. I want to figure out how to make those cuts so that they purposefully form a shape in 3D. It sounds impossible but, that’s kind of what I’m moving towards.

Is there anything else you want to add?

One of the things that I was really thinking about since being selected to be a Featured Artist is, like: am I a fraud? Am I really an artist? I haven’t been as prolific as I was in the past; I have a lot of other stuff going on here at school. [I’ve been having] these feelings of “my art isn’t done yet, it’s not ready to be shown, and is anything I’m doing even worth it for other people?” So many of my friends who are artists themselves, have been reassuring me, saying it’s okay to present your art and to be proud of it. But they’re not doing it with their own art.

So I just want people who read this interview, and who see Ratrock as a space for like only “artist” people, and who think “I’m just me, doing my own stuff over here, and that’s not the same:” it is the same. Just put your stuff out there and be proud of it, and be confident in the fact that you’re doing something at all. That’s all it takes. If you view your art as important and value the act of making it… that’s it, that’s what makes you an artist.

Anton Zhou

Photographs by Lola Lafia

Interviewed by Isabella Rafky

Tell me a little bit about yourself and your work.

I’m a sophomore [at CC] studying visual arts, and I plan on minoring in business management as well. I'm primarily an oil painter: I started oil painting when I was seven, which is a bit early for oil painting; but at the same time, I had a drawing foundation I have been working on since age four.

I’d say I come from a very artsy family, my father enjoys to paint as well and that has definitely passed on to me. My early work was representational, but slowly I feel like my style and focus have evolved. A lot of my recent pieces revolve around the human condition and the concept of ephemerality.

How do you like the visual arts major?

Quite frankly, it's very different from what I expected, it’s very theoretical: they definitely push you to organize and articulate your thoughts. Which is something I really appreciate because, before college, a lot of my classes made me feel like a machine, churning out art for the sake of a grade. Here at Columbia, professors really push you to think carefully about your work and really explore different opportunities. It doesn't matter if you fail or you don't like your work. These experiences add up, and you learn from them. That’s something I’m really enjoying so far.

How does it feel to be an artist at Columbia? What are your creative outlets on campus?

I appreciate all the student-led groups devoted to the arts on campus. Being an artist at Columbia, I’m not so focused on learning how to paint or draw, but rather learning from other individuals around me who are interested in related disciplines. I often myself collaborating with filmers or photographers. I think the collaboration between creatives is the best part of being a student artist at Columbia.

Photograph by Lola Lafia

Photograph by Lola Lafia

What’s an art piece you wish you made?

Several really. But I think one, in particular, is Monet’s Impression Sunrise. It's not the most technically amazing or astounding piece, but what he’s able to achieve with such simple yet powerful strokes is incredible. I’ve been on a mission to simplify information in references for my work and create more with less. I often find myself studying Monet’s work if I feel like my work is lacking dynamicism, or if it feels “overdone”.

If you could have coffee with anyone living or dead who would it be?

I look up to a lot of classical oil painters, my favorite being Rembrandt. I would love to talk to him about how he approaches portraits. Because I absolutely love his self-portraits and the texture he is able to achieve with paint; it’s just so tangible.

If I'm thinking of people who are alive now who I really want to meet, I’d choose J. Cole (the rapper). He is always on repeat when I paint in the studio, and I love his deep and insightful lyricism. I think I’m drawn to his music because it feels genuine. He keeps it real and always has a nice balance between pure musicality and meaning. He's not just focused on delivering a message but also [on] making it very appealing to the ears.

Where is a place you go to be alone?

Of course, my studio is a very secluded place - if you want to call my dorm a studio. But a lot of the times I will go into the city, with or without friends. I’ll have my camera with me and go around documenting city life. So I guess you could say I’m not alone if I’m out there. But mentally I'm in a zone where I can just think freely, thinking about what really appeals to me when I observe things like the colors, the contrast in the lights, and some of the often overlooked details of city life. These are observations that inspire a lot of the environments you see in my paintings. Sometimes just going out late at night is a good way to feed your artistic inspiration.


Are you into photography or do you take photos to paint?

Actually, I just recently got into photography. I am excited to experiment with my new camera. In the past, I never really relied on reference images, but now I’m starting to realize how quality photos can influence my thought process. I’m not saying you have to have the perfect image to make a painting, but your sources definitely have a huge impact on the end result. I want to gain more meaningful content and stories through photography and use this towards a larger blueprint for various projects.

What is your favorite material? Why?

I would say oil paint is my favorite medium. In terms of mixed media, charcoal and oil have always been a very fascinating combination to me because I like to sketch in charcoal first and then layer on top with the oil paint. These two mediums are very compatible, and you achieve a lot of depth and volume.

I have also been trying to experiment more with technical tools, which is where the camera comes in. I have been getting more into cinematography as well. I think learning about the technical aspects of photography and cinematography creates a better understanding of light, which is crucial to my artistic practice because I like to render form - especially for humans - in a natural way.

Three words to describe your work.

Spontaneous, juxtaposing, and layered. When I think of juxtaposing, I think about infusing classical painting approaches with contemporary elements based on color, texture, things like that. I like to say my work is layered, both in terms of meaning and the actual application of paint; I think these characteristics combined make a painting very profound. In most of my paintings, you will never see the white of the canvas showing too much. The pigment always makes its presence known.

Three words to describe yourself.

Disciplined. As an artist who has a very active lifestyle, discipline helps me get up for the day and get ideas flowing. I think it’s important that I have the drive to get up every day and paint. And I’m not too concerned about whether I like something I make immediately. I would rather make ten bad paintings and have those learning experiences help me in making one masterpiece.

I’d also say I’m extremely self-critical. Looking back at a lot of pieces I wish I’d done something different. It’s hard for me to call something finished. I wouldn’t say I’m a perfectionist in the sense that I don’t strive to render every minute detail. I feel like most of the time I find myself brooding over the composition of a piece. I might tell myself I’ll spend an hour the next day doing final touches, but then I end up spending a whole week rethinking the composition.

The third way I would describe myself [is] as a student: a student of art, a student at Columbia University, a student of many activities. I think it’s easy to become good at something, but to reach the next level requires a lot of devotion. I study masterpieces at museums a lot and read a lot of books on fundamentals as well. I never was a fan of learning how to paint or draw from videos.


How do you relax? Is making art an extension of that?

Not really. I think the process of making art amplifies whatever energy I start with. I never sit down in my studio. I am very engaged with the piece, and it lets you interact with the material much more. Sitting down gives you tunnel vision as well. When I was young, I was taught to step back and evaluate the big picture. The thing is - and I still struggle with this -  I sometimes get too caught up in one part of the piece, then realize something in the opposite corner feels off. It can be a nonstop train of thought.

Music also makes a big difference. It creates a mood for you -- different types of music push me to paint at different paces. Sometimes I’ll start [painting] a piece very rigorously because of an upbeat tempo. But when I get to the final stages of a painting, I'll slow down [and] listen to very tranquil and peaceful music to make sure every mark I put down is what I want to be on there. Sometimes, I just forget the music at this stage.

Would you say painting is more of a mental or physical activity? Is it both? How do they interact?

I think it’s definitely both. I think one aspect of painting that deserves attention, is the performance aspect of it. Not saying that I intentionally make a performance when I’m painting, but you know if I get into the music, and I move along with the rhythm; my brush is an extension of that rhythm onto the canvas. Everything is so intertwined - all these art forms - music, dance, performance art, studio art, I think it all comes together when you’re a studio artist. That’s something I really appreciate about being an artist, just being able to indulge in all these art forms and let it steer you in different directions where you never know what the end result will be, but that’s what makes art so exciting.

We already talked about this a little bit, but what is your history with art? How did you get into painting specifically?

My father worked a lot with Chinese ink and calligraphy. His passion for that passed on to me, but I found myself more interested in paint, mainly because of all the color combinations. I was learning painting and drawing at the same time. Some people would say to focus on a drawing foundation first and then move onto [working with] color. But for me I thought no, why not take an unconventional way of learning art because there is no right way to learn art. I was drawn to Monet and other impressionist artists when I was young. I think I was just fascinated by color and texture. I think my practice has matured and taken some detours towards academic training; but still, I feel like a lot of my current work is reminiscent of early inspiration.


How has your work and your perspective towards art changed over time?

My early work was impressionistic: lots of bold colors and texture on canvas. I wouldn’t say I’ve completely departed from this. I guess I’d describe my work now as impressionistic, narrative realism. People have become my primary subject matter, and I am always trying to position my subjects in an environment - sometimes it’s real and sometimes it’s ambiguous. It’s just this idea of ephemerality that I am so interested in. Painting the human condition in an immersive environment speaks to me. It’s intrinsic and conveys something natural. I’d say my work feels realistic, not through a photographic lens, but rather a tangible reality. I’m not focusing on pure realism, but rather something that you can feel in front of you.

What does style mean to you? How do drawing and painting differ? Does the genre dictate the form that you are working in?

Style is something that can’t be artificially created, you can’t force it upon yourself. That’s why there is debate about whether or not it’s helpful to actually copy old masters. You can build technical skill but not style. I think style is a reflection of experiences and observations; it’s something that doesn’t require much planning, something crude that needs to be laid out on the canvas or drawing pad; I think that’s how you preserve [your] authenticity.

How do you want your work to be seen? What do you notice? What do you want others to notice?

I want people to get up close and personal with the artwork and really see every stroke and layer of paint that went into that piece. It’s not just the overall image that’s important [or] that is what captures a viewer’s eye, but what makes you really appreciate a piece is the work that the artist puts in and the intimacy you have with the piece.


In making a piece, what’s the hardest part of the process for you?

Honestly, it’s very taxing on the body. When you devote literally three months to one painting or one drawing, your mind just becomes so clouded with just this work of art. You think, “could I pull this off?” “can I finish it?” That’s honestly the hardest part: just knowing do you have what it takes to finish a piece. I remember I did this one drawing last semester where I would stay in Dodge every night until two AM right before finals week. I wanted to make the drawing as real and tangible as possible. There have definitely been moments when I wanted to give up on a piece, but having devotion led to an end product that I really enjoyed.

When is a work finished?

For me, there are definitely moments when I feel I can close the curtains on a piece. But deciding this point can be difficult. I think different levels of finish tell different stories. I can paint a decent hand in ten strokes, or I can go on for maybe a hundred, or two hundred. When do I draw the line? It’s a decision you have to make. I think about what aesthetic and feeling I am trying to go for. I’m always cautious of overdoing something.

What are you trying to capture in a portrait? How would you describe your type of portraiture?

With every portrait, I try to leave something to be desired. I never paint a full-on portrait. I don’t think it’s the best way to capture someone’s face. Sometimes I’ll omit an ear or leave out a nose, or really develop the eyes and forget everything else. I want viewers to engage with the face and search for missing pieces.

Ellen Alt

Ellen Alt is a sophomore at Barnard College, majoring in biology and minoring in sociology. She is a visual artist and dancer.

Ellen started painting at an early age, notably from the influence and encouragement of her father. She then progressively developed her own unique style and technique: “I use impressionist themes of french culture from my childhood, sometimes using childlike colors, but always capturing my influence.“

On campus, Ellen dedicates herself to her dance practice, taking classes and performing through Barnard’s showcase at New York Live Arts. Ellen also paints for herself in her free time.

Ellen sees her artistic practices, dancing and painting, as therapeutic. She feels they allow her to connect with herself and her identity.

Ellen describes her artwork overall as “political.” In her paintings, Ellen is particularly interested in “lift[ing] women of all identities up by promoting their image and making them known.”

In the future, Ellen would like to focus on depicting other subjects and identities. She would also like to experiment with new techniques and mediums. She is currently working on a new series exploring sexuality.

Interviewed by Noa Levy-Baron

Video by Ruby Guralnik Dawes

Bernadette Bridges

Photographed by Morgana Van Peebles

Interviewed by Courtney DeVita

Introduce yourself.

I’m Bernadette Bridges. I’m a senior in CC, and I’m studying creative writing.

Can you talk a little bit about your introduction to directing?

I used to be a double major in film. I transferred to Columbia from the University of Georgia, and my freshman year there I directed two short films and also had written a play that I directed in a New Works Festival. It was supposed to be a Samuel Beckett emulation, and I’m very embarrassed about the play now. Then I came to Columbia and directed a short film with the Society for the Advancement of Unrepresented Filmmakers. It was called “What She Created” and set to a score that my brother wrote actually. It’s poetry and dance based.

I have always acted, so I knew what theatre was like, but I always wanted to direct theatre. Acting is fun, but you don’t have that much agency and it’s interpretative more than creative. I was excited about the design elements of theatre because it’s performative and whimsical and there’s more room for experimentation.

My first directing experience in theatre was “Middletown.” I worked on that last year through Columbia University Players. The play has a lot to do with mental health, which is something that I think is really important to address and talk about. I wanted to take a show that’s a comedy, and create some sort of community among audience members and the people onstage and also the process of it. That in itself is the art. Then I directed some sketches with CU Sketch Show. I’m also directing the Varsity Show.

What is the process of directing the Varsity Show like?

The Varsity Show is a very different process because it’s being written as I’m directing it. So I’m directing scenes out of context without knowing what the show is really going to look like in its final terms. I know what the plot is, but I’m missing a lot of the details that come with the revision process.

It’s a lot of fun because I really like collaborating with people. I get to work a lot with the writers, the composers, the choreographer and everyone is really involved from our creative team. It is hard, because you’re juggling edits, but also treating everything as if it’s the final draft: giving the actors direction without confusing them. But also keeping in mind that the dialogue, characters, music, choreo - it all might change.

At the end of the day, it’s very freeing to know that it’s just student theatre. It’s supposed to be fun. No one’s ever gonna look back on a Varsity Show and be like, what a masterpiece. It’s a place where we can flop if we need to, and it will still have been a worthwhile artistic process.

Photographed by Morgana Van Peebles

Photographed by Morgana Van Peebles

How do you feel like you’re going to put your own stamp on the Varsity Show, since it’s a yearly tradition at Columbia?

Traditions can sometimes feel exclusive, so I wanted the show to be as inclusive as possible. I wanted to open it up instead of closing people out. We’re really trying to get as many people involved and let the Columbia and Barnard community in on the buzz rather than letting it seem closed off.

In terms of the creative side of Varsity -- not that that’s not creative -- my biggest focus coming from a film background to theatre, is lighting and design. I think you can say a lot with the design, and it’s a cool dialogue to have with the script and actors. That’s my favorite part of directing -- creating a space you couldn’t get anywhere else. You get to create a spectacle.

Where does your creative process start when you’re developing a show?

It’s been different each time. With “Middletown” I started with a lot of visual research. From there I began to mine the script for literal images in the text that would recur and try to think about those in the context of what they mean for the characters and how they may strike the audience - visually or emotionally. I also thought about traditions in theatre - which ones I wanted to talk about. I think as a beginning director it’s helpful to use past theatre traditions as a source for discourse.

What I was trying to do with “Middletown” was push against Brechtian theatre. I don’t like the Brechtian style - Epic Theatre. It’s a call to action but it’s impersonal. With Brecht, the characters aren’t important they’re just these archetypes. “Middletown” uses this same idea in the script, because the characters are all named after their jobs, like Cop or Mechanic. It’s set up like a Brechtian show but then it disassembles because the characters all have these beautiful monologues and are granted individuality. Within the realm of mental health and then also being an American, a citizen, it’s important that people aren’t just objects. People are individuals and that in itself can be a call to action.

How do you feel like your work engages with the Columbia community?

My biggest goal is to just be someone who people want to work with. So that the other collaborators feel happy and comfortable. Feeling like you can create something together in a place that makes you happy and excited is more important than productivity.

Through transferring I’ve learned that Columbia is a very specific community, focused on goal orientation and productivity. But something that I appreciate in the projects that my friends and I’ve been doing in the arts community on campus is that we’re allowed to just be trying things and creating a community where people feel happy - where we can strip away from the idea of adding another bullet point to the resume.

Photographed by Morgana Van Peebles

Photographed by Morgana Van Peebles

What are things that have been inspiring you lately?

I really like Edgar Wright, who’s a comedic director. My brother and I watched a lot of his work over winter break. He directed “Scott Pilgrim vs the World” and also “Hot Fuzz.” “Hot Fuzz” is a comedy about these cops in England and it’s just really such a great movie. It’s funny because I don’t write a lot of comedic poetry – if you write comedic poetry I bow down to you. I guess comedy is inspiring because it points out the absurdity of...most everything.

In general, I find a lot of inspiration from country music. I’m from Atlanta so I’ve inherited an Atlanta-n appreciation for both country and hip hop. There’s something cool and lonely about country music. There’s so many different sub-genres of country, and it’s all stems from the blues, which I guess is the saddest musical genre. But then country is somehow subverted, so people think it’s inherently sunny and happy. At the end of the day, you can’t extract that sadness from country music. It addresses sadness - either explicitly or implicitly - because it’s about monotony. That’s something I really like. Thinking about the smallness of everyday life and how that can be sad but also absurd. Nothing’s ever just sad; it’s sad but it’s also funny.

Is your approach to writing poetry different than your approach to playwriting?

It is a little different. With my poetry I have this weird journal of words and phrases and randomly collected definitions. I think the way we define the world is really interesting, the words we use to define another word; it’s all just words. That’s something I like to record, the definitions people give me or that I find somewhere. From there I’ll go through and skim the page and look at it and then I’ll flip the page and write down what I thought I saw rather than what’s on the page. For poetry, I also read a lot. My poetry is mostly inspired by other writing. All the other genres I work in are usually inspired by visual mediums. Art or movies.

You talked a little bit about growing up in the clash of cultures in Atlanta. How do you think your identity and where you grew up comes through in your work?

It’s nice to be in a city that has different demographics. There’s a lot of diversity, not just racially, but socioeconomically. Also diversity of identity: people have lived so many different types of lives which is something I’m grateful for. I often think about the individual and what it means to be inside a body. I think you can’t really know what it’s like to be an individual if you haven’t experienced or met a lot of people. A lot of people that aren’t like you. That’s something that Atlanta does. There’s also so many cultures coming together there. Atlanta’s a nice hub for creativity.

Photographed by Morgana Van Peebles

Photographed by Morgana Van Peebles

How do you think your work and writing changed when you came to the Columbia community?

At UGA I wasn’t writing as much, and just wasn’t as committed to it. All my life I’ve been trying to mimic other writers which is I think a common practice that helps you find who you are. But I think the writers that I am influenced by have changed a lot because my values have changed. A lot of young people when they are working in the arts really value intellectualism. As I said earlier, I was really into Samuel Beckett -- things that are straight up boring. I think I’ve opened myself up to enjoy life and its expressions more. Art can be entertaining and still be art.

What are you working on now, short term and long term?

I’m doing the Varsity Show right now. I’m applying to jobs and fellowships. I’m going to take a year off between undergrad and grad school - so if I don’t get a fellowship I’ll just be trying to save up some money. I’ll most likely apply to grad school for poetry. My brother is in film school so during the summer we’ll hopefully be together to work on a creative project.

Last question. What was your favorite book as a child?

Tuck Everlasting.

Mamadou Yattassaye

Photographed by Natalie Tischler

In conversation with Nigel Telman II

Mamadou Yattassaye has been a solo artist for a number of years but has recently set out to make a name for himself in New York along with our band soul for youth, a hip-hop/jazz band based out of Columbia. Through soul for youth I had the good fortune of meeting Mamadou and was recently able to sit down with him and talk about his evolution as an artist and his integration into the world of live music.

NT - Alright, sitting down here with Mamadou, this is Nigel with Ratrock. Go ahead and introduce yourself for us!

MY - What’s good, my name is Mamadou Yattassaye. I’m 19 years old. I’m a sophomore at Columbia College studying creative writing with a pre-nursing track (that’s TBD though). I’m from Harlem, NY - but my family is from Mali in West Africa.

NT - Alright cool, cool. So what three words would you use to describe yourself? I’m curious. Now that you’re introducing yourself to us.

MY - Well I think for sure number one — humble. I’m not the biggest person to brag about what I be doing; I just keep my stuff on the low. I’d say spontaneous. I feel like I can be quiet but in the right setting I have fun, get a little lit. And the last word: just grateful. I’ve seen a lot, you know, and I think through it all just being able to know that I'm still breathing and that I’m still alive for a reason, I still wake up the next day for a reason.

NT - You’re grateful for the life that you’ve gotten to live, here in New York, here in Harlem.

MY - Absolutely.

NT - But also at Deerfield, right? The boarding school you went to for high school -- how did you get out there from Harlem?

MY - Basically, I was part of a program called KIPP when I was in middle school. That program was helping a lot of inner-city youth be better academically and socially. Y’know we were surrounded by a lot of paranoia, a lot of gang violence and all that stuff in Harlem. Basically, the mission of the program is to bring a lot of inner-city youth together and give them, like, a structured, scheduled system to prepare them for high school. There were a couple counselors over there that saw the potential in me and they wanted me to get out of New York and see, experience some new things. So they helped me apply for boarding school. I only applied to Deerfield [Academy], though, because I didn’t really know where else to apply to. So I only applied to Deerfield and by Allah I was able to get into the school.

NT - So you’re from this predominantly black, predominantly African area in Harlem and suddenly you’re taken out of that and put in the cornfields in Massachusetts. How did that affect your worldview?

MY - Whenever I be reflecting on my journey, those four years were definitely a big culture shock. I was in the middle of nowhere, seeing cows, trees and all that stuff. And just being an inner city youth I was like, “What the hell am I getting into?” I was mad young, too. 13. I think all of that took me by surprise: Like do I even fit in, am I even ready for this environment? But if it wasn’t for that environment, I wouldn’t be as open-minded as I am today, with all of the different cultures, sexual orientations, people from all over the world …


I didn’t know how to interact with them, because I was marginalized by my environment. [In Harlem] I only knew certain types of people and I only knew how to approach things in certain types of ways. I always had to be two steps ahead because of my paranoia. So coming from that environment of Harlem to going to an environment where all the people are free-flowing and from all these different places, it made me realize what life is. The world is so big, so large, and so complex -- and it’s not only defined by the environment that you grew up in. But I was blessed enough -- that’s why I say I’m grateful, cuz I was blessed enough to have the opportunity to get out. Not a lot of people have the opportunity to get out of their environment. They don’t have the resources.

NT - And so ... just a quick background question, how long have you been writing poetry for?

MY-  Seventh grade is when I started writing poetry. I had a teacher named Mr. Raysor who was in KIPP. He was my English teacher. Throughout that time he just had all these exercises bro where people could write creatively cuz he was a creative himself. So he was just pushing everybody. He pushed me, too. He was like, “Hey Mamadou, you should try writing; just write out some thoughts or whatever, and see what’s good.” So I just tried it, making it my own. Since then I’ve been writing poetry. Poetry is my first love. At first it was just, like, putting my thoughts on paper and then I started crafting it and they just became poems.

NT - So from 7th grade, when you first started writing poetry, did you ever notice a distinct change in your writing alongside your scenery change?

MY - I think what happened was the lens in which I was looking at the world was just sharpened and defined more, through being able to go to a school like Deerfield. Before I went to highschool I wasn’t really speaking. I had good ideas, but I just wasn’t able to articulate them the way I wanted to. So I was struggling with that - but I think that just going [to Deerfield] and being in that academic environment helped my learn to articulate my thoughts. [My writing] was still the same -  there was some new imageries and experiences that I was writing about, but I was able to go back and write about old things. [My words] just got sharper. The strategies that I would use to convey my thoughts and experiences became more defined.

NT - So now, from the cornfields and cows of Massachusetts … Re-transplanting yourself into New York City but in a different space than you were before: Columbia University. I imagine a very similar student body to Deerfield in terms of the level of white people here.

MY - There’s mad boarding school kids here.

NT - Boarding school kids definitely come here. But basically, your old neighborhood Harlem - did you see any change in your writing from your move back to Harlem?

MY - I feel like my writing is always evolving, just every day. I feel like it be little things too that just, like, spark a change in the way I see things y’know? A conversation, a song lyric… So I don’t think my change to Columbia has been a big difference, y’know what I’m saying? In terms of my experiences, though, it is different, like, going to a school like Columbia but being from Harlem. My image of Harlem is totally different from what this is.

NT - Right, like this is definitely not the traditional Harlem area.

MY - No absolutely not. It’s a totally different bubble. The people here are just so… it’s like they’re within their [own] bubble. It’s weird when I go back home to be like “Bruh I just escaped, got out of a little alternate universe,” type shit, y’know? [But] I got my family, bruh. So above everybody else, above all the people, the core curriculum, I got my little sister, I got my mom, I have my dad, and I got my day one homies so it’s like ... no matter what bruh so I’m not really fazed by whatever this school be throwing at me.

NT - And so would you say your writing is sort of, like, a stream of consciousness from what you observe and what you perceive in the world and that kinda flows out when you’re writing or when you’re rapping?

MY - I mean yeah because I’m always inspired by, like, my environment. That’s what continues to make me write in different ways, write about different subject matter and the way in which I go about it, different perspectives. So I think that’s true. The environment and people I talk to influence the way I go about the specific pieces of writing I’m doing and in terms of style and language.


NT - Speaking of, what is your writing process? How do you sit down and decide what you’re going to pen on the page?

MY - I don’t know, my style is very spontaneous bro, because I can’t be forced to sit down and try to mash out a poem. I mean I probably could, but I wouldn’t be proud of it, y’know? It just happens where I experience something, or I hear something - either through a song or a lyric - or I’ll talk to somebody, or I’ll see something while I’m walking; and right there in that moment I’m sparked; and in the next 20 or 30 minutes, I’m just writing down everything, and it’s kinda like word vomit, just writing anything. And then once I got all my ideas and creative things out, now I try to format it and revise, revise, revise; make sure the way in which I wanna say things is precise. That’s how I be writing my poems. And it's similar with how I write my lyrics too, with rap. I have the same spark, have a certain subject matter in mind, just word vomit and then try to match that with the way I wanna say things, cut off words, revise. So I mean they go hand in hand in terms of my approach in lyrics for rapping and my poetry.

NT - When did you first get into rapping, actually? Because I know it wasn’t when you stepped foot on this campus.

MY - High school. I was just doin’ it for fun. I had my bro, Tarek [Deida, CC ‘19], he go to Columbia now too. Cuz I met him over there and I started rapping with him - he be rapping - so I just started rapping with him and trying it. It was whatever, it was just for fun bruh, and I wasn’t really good.

NT - Do you see the connection between hip hop and poetry? I know a lot of people do but there are also plenty of people who would say they’re two different things.

MY - I do. I mean I’m starting to get annoyed a little bit, bruh, people categorizing me as only a rapper. Cuz, like, I just started trying to rap, y’know? I was always a poet first. So I mean it’s cool, like it's whatever. Rap is an art form too, of course, but there’s a certain stigma with what rap is today. It kinda marginalizes people. It’s like “Oh if you’re a rapper you sound like this,” or whatever. I don’t know, I always like to tell people first that although I do rap I’m still trying to figure out how to be better because I’m a poet bro, you feel me?

NT - Where do you see yourself in terms of other rappers, other artists? How would you put your work in comparison to people like Kendrick Lamar, Drake, y’know, Lil Pump, Kanye West?

MY - I think in terms of style the person I’m very inspired by is Noname. Cuz she’s a poet first too, and you can literally see it in her songs or whatever. So I think right now, like a Noname. A little bit of Saba - that whole Chicago collective I think I really resonate with.

NT - I feel a lot of Chicago from you.

MY - I’ve been telling people, I’m a Harlem kid but I’ve never been the stereotypical type of New York dude, you know? I’ve always been the quiet, reserved, observant type of kid so I didn’t really catch on to all the gritty. I mean I can get gritty with my verses if I really wanted to but the trend which I do is very reflective, very calm, laid back. I feel like whatever I write has to be a representation of who I am. I’m a laid back, observant, like to have fun type of dude.

NT - Authenticity is very important to you, yeah?

MY - Absolute- that’s first. That’s major, to be authentic. Cuz that’s all you got bruh, to be yourself.


NT - What would you say your top five hip hop albums are?

[after much deliberation]

MY - I gotta put “All Eyez on Me” by Tupac first … I gotta put “To Pimp a Butterfly” up there … probably, like, “Beats, Rhymes and Life” by A Tribe Called Quest. I just love that album. That’s three so far. Yeah this is definitely not top 5; these are just albums that I listen to. “Telefone” by Noname bruh. Yeah that’s an album I bump.

NT - That is a potent album. The replayability of that album is ridiculous. You can listen to it 10 different times and hear something different each time.

MY - She’s probably one of my biggest inspirations right now in terms of, like, the way in which she attacks her music. Saba too.

NY - You’re like a student of them too -- you study them, right?

MY - I study that shit bro, I be studying Noname lyrics. I be reading on Genius, y’know, seeing how she’s doing her flow, her subject matter, crazy … I’m tryna think … I mean “Care For Me” too … Alright so all in all bro those are the five albums I’m listening to right now but that is not [my top 5 of all time] - that’s my disclaimer. “All Eyez On Me,” “Beats, Rhymes and Life,” “To Pimp a Butterfly,” “Telefone,” “Care For Me.” That’s all the albums I’m listening to right now, that don’t mean they top five of all time. I listen to too much music bruh.

NT - Alright, so let’s pivot a little bit and talk about performance. Is it accurate to say you’re more of a spoken word artist rather than purely written?

MY - Yeah! I’m trying to be more spoken word because before I had a big problem with trying to share my work. Just being able to be comfortable. But I think now I’m starting to evolve into  more of a spoken word artist.

NT - Oh so when you were writing you weren’t thinking about how you were gonna say it.

MY - Right because it’s a big thing to be able to write and perform because, like, some people are just great writers and aren’t able to perform. For me I thought that was me. And that’s something I’m still working on. I’m still tryna be better and evolve.

NT - So as, like, a spoken word artist, how do you approach performance? How would you prepare for a show somewhere?

MY - I don’t even know. I remember Robert [Lotreck, drummer and fellow soul for youth member] asked me that the other day: He be like “oh how do you prepare to perform?” I was just like I don’t know bro. I just kinda mentally run through it, and then just like [perform]. I like to gesture too and look at people.

NT - Do you see some growth as an artist and as a writer based on your time in the band [soul for youth]?

MY - Yeah I think being more confident in my lyrics and how I express myself through them, and really holding a connection with my lyrics even more. I always held a connection, obviously through writing; but when I perform it too, I’m saying those words, I’m reciting those words, and it feels even closer. So I think I’ve evolved in that, and just being able to perform for big crowds and stuff because I was not used to that.

NT - Right and it seems like you’re getting into the flow of it a little more. At the Rockwood Music Hall [] concert you were doing a very good job of audience interaction and just being with the band in general. I feel like last year all the way to now you have grown, in performance, to become more a part of the band as opposed to just a frontman. Now you have Robert stopping on certain things for emphasis. You queue us: you queued me to start the bassline a few times. I feel like now the connection between you and the band is like, less separated. It’s coming together.

NT - So, not counting soul for youth performances, where have you performed?

MY - I’ve performed at a little event at my school called Koch Friday Night and I performed at this writers conference, my poem. That conference was the first time I read my whole poem out. The writers conference was in Vermont at Middlebury College, so I was over there.

NT - How’d you get involved with that writers conference?

MY - Oh my english teacher helped me apply. There were a lot of writers from the New England area and we was just looking. That was a different experience too, bruh. It was like three days but that shit was crazy.

NT - How was that by the way? Do you think that affected your writing as well?

MY -  A little bit because it made me more confident.


NT - So confidence is a big key to how you write?

MY - Yeah. That conference was a little thing that motivated me. Because I was sharing with people outside of my high school at the time and I was still in the process of being comfortable with that. I remember after I read my poem they were taking pictures of the page. They were passing it out for selected regions to read. And there are still some people I talk to from that program that be asking me about my writing.

NT - So now that you’re in college, I’m curious, you talk about being a poet, talk about being a rapper…  how would you squarely define yourself?

MY - I would say poet but also just an artist. I don’t know I’m just always trying to continue to evolve as an artist.

NT - You’re a product of your environment and your environment is so varied you can’t be defined by one thing.

MY - Right, so I feel like I consider myself just an artist now.

NT - Speaking of your environment, you’ve made a few comments about your childhood environment informing a lot of the content of your writing. You talked a little bit earlier about the paranoia you felt growing up, do you think that was a product of the Harlem environment?

MY - Yeah I think, yeah… you know a lot of kids, bruh, they don’t have outlets to express things. There’s a lot of mental health problems in these environments, you know what I’m saying? There’s a lot of concerns of PTSD; somebody’s seen somebody that they loved, loved ones getting killed shit like that. So I think that PTSD and paranoia and all of that stuff -- and other things like schizophrenia and just health disorders bruh there’s not a lot of outlets for people like that in these environments and there’s not a lot of awareness in these environments too.

That’s why I say I’m grateful because I had a teacher and I had a program like KIPP to at least give me some of the resources to help me on my track in terms of finding myself and what I want to become outside of my pre-existing environment. So I think whenever I write, I try to stress in some way that paranoia, but also that growth too. I’m tryna evolve, I’m tryna be better. It’s not perfect because sometimes I can revert to that, that paranoia and those moments. But it’s all in the growth, y’know, it’s all in the evolution, who I wanna become as a person.

Writing has definitely been that way of allowing me to narrow it down to what I should be becoming. I mean it’s cliché, but I consider everything I do to be poetry in motion so the grotesque and the beautiful has a certain cohesion. The way I believe in things, bruh, God, Allah, wouldn’t put bad stuff or good stuff for no reason. There’s no reason why there’s a bad or there’s a good thing without a purpose. Everything has its intention. There’s a beauty with that y’know? So I don’t regret anything that has happened to me. I mean obviously there’s been times, but when I reflect and been more mature - I’m blessed to be able to experience the bad and the good. It’s shaped who I am as a person, you know? I wouldn’t be who I am without all of those experiences.

NT - What do you hope audience members get from seeing you rap, seeing you perform your poetry etc.? Is there something you wish to impart on them?

MY - I mean I just hope they hear my perspective and, if anything, it sparks a new perspective. That with the words and stuff that I’m saying - I mean obviously you can’t fully get into somebody’s world but you can have a preview or a sneak peek into my mind or the things I’ve gone through. And if I can at least have sparked a change in somebody’s mind then I’ll know that I’ve done something with my writing, you know? To make people think  a little bit differently, that’ll have been an accomplishment for me. I think that’d be my intention: for people to really listen, hear the words and just think about things a little different and consider their own perspectives in comparison to my perspective and just in general. And just grow. I’m growing, I want people to grow with me too.

Veronica Suchodolski

Photographed by Margaret Maguire

Interviewed by Elizabeth Meyer

Introduce yourself.

My name is Veronica Suchodolski. I am a senior at Barnard majoring in English, concentrating in creative writing, and double minoring in French and philosophy. I grew up in Amherst, Massachusetts. I am a writer, and I write a mix of long form prose and poetry. On campus I’m one of the managing editors of the Barnard Bulletin.

How do you see yourself? Do you define yourself as a writer?

I do define myself as a writer. I didn’t for a long time in part because I didn’t think I was very good, and I thought I had to get a “real job.” As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that this is what I want to do, so it’s silly to define myself as anything else. I also think because I’ve been writing for so long, it’s hard to tell whether I am a writer because I have certain personality traits or if I have certain personality traits because I’ve defined myself as a writer for so long. Things like being a listener and more quiet and observant.

Have you published your work in any on or off campus publications? If so, which ones?

On campus, I’ve been published in Echoes, Four by Four, Surgham, and also the Barnard Bulletin. Off campus, I’ve been published in Z Publishing’s New York’s Best Emerging Poets Anthology for 2017 and 2018.

How did you begin creating?

It’s not a very interesting origin story. I’ve kind of always been creating. I found this Lisa Frank notebook in my closet at home. I must have been four years old because the spelling was so bad, but I wrote this little story in the notebook about this princess with a pet Newfoundland, which is the type of dog that I grew up with. Writing has always been something that I’ve been interested in, and I don’t necessarily understand why. I was lucky enough to have teachers and a family who encouraged me to pursue it more seriously.

What is your writing process?

It depends on what else is going on in my life. Because as a student I’m really busy. Normally I try to write down fragments of things that I think would be really interesting and wait for something to build out of them. If I have more time, like during the summer, I’ll start writing from those fragments and see what ends up sticking into a longer piece. For example, at one point this summer, I started eight different things at once, and I was working on them in tandem until one of them started picking up speed. That was what I focused on. My process is a lot of free writing until something happens.

What are three words that describe you and then three words describing your work.

Post post-modern urban anxiety. Right now, I’m really into this idea of post post-modernism, it’s what I wrote my thesis on. Post post-modernism is about pushing back on post-modern irony, absolutism, meta-narratives, and this idea that there is no meaning. I’m tired of that mode of thinking; I don’t want to hear about it anymore. I’m interested in creating new systems of meaning and looking at old systems and acknowledging that those don’t work. But just because those don’t work doesn’t mean that we have to be hopeless and that there’s no meaning now. The urban anxiety refers to a sort of distrust of urbanism and capitalism. I’m from rural Massachusetts, so living in the city is an interesting experience.

Photograph by Margaret Maguire

Photograph by Margaret Maguire

Do you have a favorite writer?

As I child, I was into all of the cliché books. I read a lot of Harry Potter, and I read the Warrior series. I was into John Greene and the Hunger Games. Right now, I really like Ruth Ozeki who wrote All Over Creation. She also wrote My Year of Meats, which is one of my favorite books. I read it in high school and then re-read it this summer. Her writing is really accessible. It’s not prosaic and long and literary, but the way she writes a story is really impeccable, and the way she presents a character is so masterful. I was reading it this summer, and it was a million times better than I remember it being in high school. It’s so good.  

Do you believe that accessibility in writing is important?

I’m really pro-accessibility in writing, and I think that’s partly just because I don’t see myself as someone with a huge vocabulary. Accessible writing is writing that is as clear as possible. A pet peeve of mine is when a writer uses a really complicated word, and they could have used a simpler one. I’ll be reading something for class, and I’ll come across a word and not know what it means. Even though I read a lot, I forget what things mean. I tend to write in more a simplistic style, and I appreciate when a sentence flows really well, and I don’t have to read it several times to understand what it means. I think it can be interesting to read a poem that doesn’t make sense on the first pass and work out its meaning. But in my own writing, I like to make it as clear as possible what I’m trying to do.  

Are there writers and creators that whose work would be classified as ‘post post-modern urban anxiety’?

The conception that I’m working with regarding post post-modernism is called “new sincerity;” but if you look up new-sincerity, it’s all about David Foster Wallace and John Franzen who I do not like. Right now, the book that inspires me the most is Edenborough by Alexander Chee. His style is so interesting. It’s really evocative and metaphorical in a way that I haven’t seen before. He writes about really horrible things that happened to him, but he does it in such a beautiful way that you can’t look away; you have to keep reading even though it’s devastating. That’s sort of the model I’m working with right now.

What other artists and teachers have inspired you?

Alexander Chee is the big one right now. I am in Mary Gordon’s thesis seminar this semester on Virginia Woolf and something that she said in office hours was that she actually was going to be a poet, and then she read Virginia Woolf and was like, “oh I didn’t realize that you could do this with prose,” and that’s why she became a very famous short story writer. I’m really interested in how to make prose not dead, how to make prose poetic and lyrical - which is very hard I’m finding out.


Photograph by Margaret Maguire

How do you try to make prose lyrical? What is your preferred form when you write?

My preferred form is prose, but the reason that I write poetry is that I think it’s a useful pursuit on learning how to tighten up your writing because poetry has to be so tight to be at all good. I like writing poems: not because I want to be a poet, but because I think it’s going to be useful in getting at the kind of prose I want to write. Normally, when I write a poem, I’m trying to use as few words as possible to say what I want to say. When I go to writing prose, I try to keep that mindset of not just writing these long prose-y sentences with a lot in them that you don’t need.

What does your writing and revision process entail?

The writing process entails a lot of writing fragments until something happens. In terms of revision, my process is about trying to cut down words while keeping the same meaning. I also do this when writing poetry. Something I like to print out the draft of the poem I’m working on and cut out all of the words and play around with all of them. With prose, it’s a lot of reading and re-reading and when something doesn’t work, being ok with letting it go and completely starting over. I also read out loud a lot.

Pas de deux, 1957 engages with dance imagery. Why did you choose this title? How do you engage with dance? Do you dance?

The title is a really deep cut to this pas de deux that was performed by Arthur Mitchell at the New York City Ballet in 1957. I had the bizarre fortune to interview Arthur Mitchell the semester that I wrote for Spec. He was the first African American principal dancer in the New York City Ballet. I was thinking about that interview at the same time as I was thinking about this relationship that I was in. A pas de deux is a partner dance. There is a lot of tension but also a lot of working together, and so the two just went together in my mind.

In terms of dance, I don’t dance or really know anything about it. I wrote this title down and the first four lines of the poem which I think are the same in the final draft. And then I wrote this completely different poem that has almost nothing to do with dance, and I showed it to a friend who was like, “this isn’t bad, but you should really tighten up the dance imagery because that’s what’s working and nothing else really makes sense.” I watched a lot of dance videos and read a lot dance reviews to try to find the words to write about this thing that I don’t really know about.

Your piece 90-10 has vivid descriptions of places. Are there specific places that you are inspired by that manifest themselves in your work?

Yes. Anyplace that I’ve lived in for a long time ends up in my work. That poem was written the last summer I spent in my hometown. All of that humidity and farm imagery is very Amherst. I write about New York a lot because I live here. I spent a semester in Paris and wrote about Paris very often. Both of my parents are from Gdańk, Poland, and so I spent a few summers there with my grandparents and have written a lot about that.

Is writing a form of catharsis for you? If so, how?

Yes, definitely. A lot of times one of the first parts of my process, if I haven’t written something substantial in a while, is to do this creative journaling where I’ll write about things that have happened to me but in second or third person to create a narrative distance between what happened to me and what I’m writing. Ideally a good line or two will come out of that. I’ll take those lines and make something else out of them. It doesn’t always end up having something to do with what happens to me;, but since it was borne out of that emotion, it feels good to finish something.

What are your plans post college?

Post-college, my ideal goal is to spend some time doing arts and culture reporting for either a print newspaper or an online media company. You can view some of my work on my website.

Matthew So

Photographed by Morgana Van Peebles

Interviewed by Uma Halsted

Could you introduce yourself?

I’m Mathew So, a student of Columbia.

Where did you grow up?

Staten Island. I went to school on the Lower West Side.

What’s the last song you listened to?

It was probably from the album that we were just listening to. It was “Hosono House” by Haruomi Hosono.

First movie you saw as a child?

I remember when I was a kid, I had one movie downloaded on my ipod, I would watch that on repeat like every night before I went to sleep. And it was The School of Rock. So that definitely was an important movie.

Did your parents or any members of your family drink a lot of tea or create it as a culture when you were a child?

When I was growing up, my grandpa would drink a lot of tea. Every year, we would get these shipments of really nice teas from family members we knew in China. But then my brother David actually got me into collecting tea a couple years ago. For my birthday, he got me some really nice teas to start with, a temperature controlled kettle, and some basic brewing material; and that’s how I started learning about the art of tea.

Do you have a first memory of drinking tea, or if not, do you have a fondest memory?

Most of my favorite memories are just drinking tea with people that I know, like my friends. All of my closest friends I have made at Columbia, I’ve met through making tea for them. I mean I always think that I enjoy tea the most when I’m talking to other people, getting a feel for how they respond to the taste of the tea, what they connect it with. Like people will say, ‘this tea reminds me of this cereal that I had when I was a kid’ or something like that.

Do you drink coffee?

I do drink coffee. But it’s different; like I also drink tea-bag tea, but I use that as more of a utility. When I want to have something nice, I’ll drink tea like this loose leaf tea, using traditional Chinese and Japanese teaware. But if I need energy, I’ll definitely drink coffee or tea.

Photograph by Matthew So

Photograph by Matthew So

Photograph by Matthew So

Photograph by Matthew So

You mentioned that there are six primary types of tea, could you explain this a little more?

This is called black tea (referencing tea in hand). What we would call black tea is traditionally called red tea [in China]. There’s white tea. There’s blue tea, which is called oolong tea. And then there’s yellow tea, which the process for making was lost for many years. So only in the last couple of years have we been able to make authentic yellow tea.

In general, what is the most basic process in which you brew your teas?

If you’re using something like a Gaiwan - a Chinese tea brewing vessel - you just measure out the amount of leaf that you want and then put it in. Then you get the temperature-controlled water, add it, and you steep it for however long you’re supposed to steep it. After that, decant it using a strainer, and then pour it out into small cups.

For a lot of tea, you want to throw away the first batch, because you want to open the leaves and get rid of what they call “tea dust.” You want to essentially clean off the leaves. So that’s the bare-bones, most basic way to brew tea. And even for specific teas within the sub-branches of tea, you’ll get very specific brewing methods. So for example, if you’re brewing something with buds versus older leaves, the way you would brew those things are very different, but they could both be considered white or green tea.

The tea making process feels very scientific. As a computer science major, have you seen any alignments between that and tea making in the way of thinking or approaching each practice? Or do you see your practice of tea making as more of a break away from the world of computer science?

Tea making definitely appeals to a different part of me [than computer science], like soul versus brain or something. But I guess I do apply a sort of science-y perspective to tea. Using a scientific lens on tea is not uncommon in the hobby. Like in Japan, they have this government organization, where they run studies on tea. And they’ve put out all of these studies and scientific articles about the best way to brew tea or, if you want to brew tea to get a certain flavor out of it, how you do it, or what temperature is best. Applying an empirical and experimental mindset to tea is something I like doing on my own as well.


As tea making is also a very ingenuitive and creative process, did you have a different creative hobby as a kid? Can you describe an early memory of creating in some way?

I didn't do a lot of art or things that you would normally consider [creative]. I played music. I still play music. I play guitar. But in terms of visual art, I didn't really do a lot of that. I liked tinkering with things: taking things apart and seeing how they worked, or trying to see how things worked, but then just breaking them. And I have sort of a similar scientific approach to tea with trying things and seeing how tea responds to very specific changes in the way you brew it.

Photograph by Morgana Van Peebles

Photograph by Morgana Van Peebles

How do you see tea and making tea as an art form rather than simply a series of steps or just the drinking of tea?

I guess it’s just that I’m cognisant of all of the factors going into making tea, from the farms it comes from to the type of cup it should be served in. I’m definitely cognisant of the environment that I try to serve tea in. But also I’m trying to improve my tea making skills to a point where it goes beyond just something for utility.

Whenever people come in [to my dorm room], they’re like ‘is this room even a dorm?’ And that’s exactly what I’m going for. I want people to just come in here and be taken out of the whole college environment; like this space is its own world for the hour and a half that you’re in here drinking tea. And then when you leave, you get to go back into the real world. But here, people say they feel like time’s stopping or something, which is exactly what I’m trying to do.

You mentioned in your artist statement that you’re trying to push the envelope of what can be considered tea, by mixing old and new. What elements of your practice are old and traditional, and what elements are newer?

When you’re building a traditional Japanese tea room, there are specific ways the room is supposed to be structured, specific fixtures of the room that you’re supposed to have; and even going into the teahouse, the pathway to the tea room is supposed to look a certain way. So I’ve been trying to keep these things in mind when I put this space together.

For example, in every Japanese tea room, there is a little alcove, where they’ll put like a flower, and they’ll hang down a piece of art. And part of the Japanese Tea Ceremony is drawing attention to the art, for example. So that is what I really had in mind over here, with this door being an alcove framing the artwork hanging on it; and that accomplishes a certain aspect of traditional Japanese tea culture. But also, at the end of the day, no matter how close to traditional tea culture I try to get, I’m still brewing tea in my dorm. So there’s always going to be an aspect of something new.

Photographs by Matthew So

What's the wildest form of or type of tea you've brewed, or your favorite experience surrounding tea?

The first time I had tea that was brewed using traditional methods, it was life changing. I thought, 'I didn't know tea could be like this!' And so there have been a couple of other moments like that over the course of my tea journey so far. One of the most eye-opening experiences was [when] my brother and I were in this really small tea shop in Japan. We just [went] up, and looked at the guy's menu. He had this tea, which in English translates to "green pillow." And he gave us this tea. He poured out a lot of leaf and filled the brewing vessel up with water only up to the level of the leaves. And then he just left it there for like five minutes. The water was only like forty degrees Celsius. So at the end of this five-minute process, you're left with this sort-of room-temperature, very very concentrated five drops of tea. And it's the most concentrated, craziest-flavored tea you'll ever try in your life. I wish I could go back and experience that for the first time again.


In your artist statement you write how your “art only exists for a moment and the moment you enjoy it, it’s already gone.” Can you elaborate on this? How does this inspire you with your tea making being an art form?

Every time you brew tea, it's different. Even the slightest adjustments in how you're brewing tea, what you're brewing it in, the amount of time that you're brewing, how much leaf that you're using - even if it's just a little bit different, you're gonna get a different experience. And to try to recreate one experience exactly would be really, really difficult. Even using one set of leaves in one pot, every brew after that is going to taste different; that's a big part of this form of brewing. With every new infusion, you're getting different flavors from it. If you want to go back and try the first one, it's gone; you can't get it back. So that's what I keep in mind. A lot of times when I'm making tea for people, I'll ask them how they like the last brew, and then they'll say something like 'I liked it a lot, yada, yada, yada.' And then the next time, they'll say ‘that was so different. I like that one less,' or whatever. Then, I’ll have to explain to them that we won’t be able to taste past iterations again.


How much control do you have over that, if any?

If people tell me that they didn't like the last brew, because it was too light or because it was too dark or astringent or whatever ... I definitely have a lot of control in those factors. But also after I get a sense for what they like initially, if I'm going to start making new tea, I can definitely cater it to their tastes.

Also, when I say that it's really hard to get a tea back, I also mean in the sense that every year, when new tea is grown - even on the same farm in the same location - the tea of the next year can be very different from the tea that came the year before from the same tree. So that's part of it. And when I drink my favorite tea, there's this sad feeling, because I know that even though I like it a lot right now, I can't keep it forever. In a couple of months, the leaves that I have are going to be bad, and tea with an identical flavor can’t be made again so easily.

It's the same thing for aged teas. If you're aging teas and keeping them for many years, over time, there will be peaks and valleys in the different flavors of the tea. So I definitely believe that you have one shot. Japanese people have this term一期一会  ichi-go ichi-e, and it means ‘every moment, you have a chance.’ They use this a lot in reference to tea, in particular the tea ceremony; they think that even if you have the same people doing the same tea ceremony on two different days, it will be two different experiences, because whatever factors contributing to the first will be different going into the second one.