Ruguru Nerima

Photography by Shelby Hettler

Interview by Yosan Alemu

When did you start making art and writing poetry?

I think, in terms of performing, I started performing, when I was young, and in terms of writing, I started writing in my second year of high school because my English teacher really liked literature, and nobody seemed to like her, so I wanted her to know that at least one person was paying attention. I used to go to the library and read poems and then write poems and then give them to her—this is how I got into it.

I know that you are Kenyan. How does being African, and being apart of this diaspora influence your art?

I think my first year when I was making art, I was still stuck in this mentality, that “Oh, I’m Kenyan, I need to make art that is Kenyan or represents Kenya”, and then when I got to my first year of college, I came to this realization that those things don’t have to be necessarily tied to me in those ways, because it was really blocking me from experiencing anything else. When you’re in a place where you’re so highly “othered” or made to feel different, you always end up in this place where you’re defending your “differentness”, or you’re ending up justifying it, saying that you are also human or alive. So I kind of stopped doing that and started to explore myself and the human condition as I come to it. I think sometimes when people are like “we want this Kenyan artist to come because they’re Kenyan” this kind of reduces what I am doing to one thing, but at the same time some of my work is very pointed in terms of identity in Africa and the diaspora. I really think it’s fun to be in this place that I am now because it feels like fresh ground, and not even fresh ground in terms of land, because I don’t think it’s even land; it’s a kind of fusion of different things. And by virtue of me being Kenyan in America, and having to come into my art and exploring myself then I guess this work is rendered as Kenyan, or “othered” on Columbia’s campus.  

What life experiences have shaped you as a person and how do you reflect that in your art?

Everyday is a life experience. Literally brushing my teeth is an event. I think things that have really shaped where I am in this moment particularly is having to leave home (Kenya) to come here, because in those ways I got displaced so much I had to explore myself and had to figure out what the fuck was going on. I wasn’t on that normal playground. That was one huge life event that really rocked me, and everything else has been little things here and there. Another life event I would say occurred this past summer holiday and it has really helped me come into myself, and has helped shape the way I think about certain things or how I relate to things. Every event that has happened to me has been propelling me to do something. In my last piece of work, during the winter break of last year, I was exploring the idea of being in the home and being unsafe in the home. Thinking of that piece I made in the winter, and relating it to this hashtag of “MeToo” that’s happening now, and how there are so many of us that share this experience, even though this shared experience is very secret, and people know that it is happening but they keep it to themselves, and once we bring it to the front, the magnitude is so huge. I think the life experiences that really shaped me were the ones where I had to step out of myself a lot, to be displaced.

Do you take a lot of art classes?

I don’t think so. I think I take classes about my art, classes that allow me to think more about my art, but not actual art classes. I do take acting classes, however. So far as art goes, I am taking a class for directing theatre, solo performance--this class is making me go crazy in the best way. The closest to art classes I am taking are these acting classes. I wanted to take visual arts, but I just don’t have the time. I am also interested in the theory part of art, and how art places itself in society. Art theory is really helping me understand my art.

I noticed that in your photos on the Ratrock site, you played around with the lighting. How does light, both manmade and natural play into your art?

When I was taking those pictures I was thinking about light and how it can be placed and what it does, what it reveals, and what it conceals. In those ways, I was trying to tease out the concept of what I see vs. what I don’t see. I’m taking this oceanography class and the other day we were discussing that there are certain creatures in the ocean that are a certain color because they are absorbing light differently. Light is such a huge form, element, medium that we don’t even acknowledge. Light has the power to form shadows, but at the same time, form outlines, and also shine.

Do you shoot your own videos?

Yes, I do shoot my own videos. It’s funny because the other day, I came across this Instagram account where this girl shoots herself a lot, and I do that too. I prop up my phone and mount my phone to start recording myself. I do record myself a lot, because I can frame myself and direct myself to be in front of the camera.

In your video for, a tale of Spiders, what was the message you were trying to portray? Was it a depiction of life and death?

I think it’s a kind of death. The video was essentially exploring that “MeToo” thing even before the hashtag came about. No one ever talks about the pedophiles in the home. I don’t know how it is in white families, but in black families there is a lot of “hush hush” as to present this certain kind of image. Even though it happened to me, I was silent without anyone telling me to be. This was the first time where I actually explored that idea that those people really create webs in the house. Like when there are spider webs in the corner of your walls, and you just let it be. In those ways, a part of me died through that experience, and I was trying to mourn her in a tale of Spiders. I wanted to present life being stifled out of you in ways that you can’t really explain.

In your photos, I noticed that your models are typically--if not all--black women, is there a reason why?

There’s a 102,000 reasons. Well, first of all, I’m a black woman, and my friends are black women, and I’m surrounded by black people, and I love it. I want to say we are here, but we don’t need to tell people that we are here, because by our very existence, we are. There’s this South African photographer, and she does a lot of visual diaries and in one of her videos, this interviewer asked her how she uses social media, and she replied that she uses social media to tell the world that “I’m here”. We as human beings like to reconstruct history and people don’t like thinking of the present. I make art with black women as a way to add to the documentation, to the archives, of the collective memory of the earth. Like this is the way a certain black girl was living in New York in 2017, and no one is able to reconstruct that. Back then, people lived differently and weren’t as able to leave the same kind of footprints we are leaving now, especially with the use of social media like Twitter and Instagram--which is not a good or bad thing. But I think that their footprint is harder to track. So making art about black women is a political statement. I don’t want someone in 2064 to think inaccurately about black women in 2017. This has happened throughout history where the lives of black women in the 19th century, 18th century, etc. have their lives and experiences inaccurately analyzed, and I think that is a violence in itself, and I don’t want that to happen ever again.

Do you believe art should be politicized? If so, why?

I believe in Audre Lorde’s words that the “the personal is political”. I never understand the people who say we have to separate the art from the artist. What kind of mental gymnastics are they doing? The same brain that produces these fucked up political ideas, is the same brain that produces this artwork. The things that we produce in the world are a patch up of the experiences we have had both subconsciously and consciously. If this person is politically fucked up, and even if they are making this art, somewhere in there, the political fuckedupness is embedded in that art, and that’s an energy that shouldn’t be tolerated. I definitely think art is political because it’s simply created by human beings in societies, and human beings existing in societies are political, especially if you’re a human being that has a certain kind of position enforced on you in a society that politicizes your existence. Because you exist in such a backdrop, there is no way that everything you do is not political. In America for example, being a black women is the most revolutionary existence. Even thinking about you and I sitting here on Columbia’s campus is political. Columbia literally owned slaves, or the people that founded this University owned slaves, and the boys would harass and assault black women slaves. And you and I are here sitting in  Columbia’s campus. I don’t have the luxury to not be political because the backdrop I’m living in is politically volatile. .

I noticed that in your videos, they depict emotions like love and pain, emotions that are very powerful, and even at times can be intertwined. Would you like to elaborate?

The way I live through life, I don’t yearn for love as much, that’s why through art, I can show it more. Most of the art I have been making has been coming from a secret garden in my heart. I have been producing these art pieces in the aftermath of feeling hurt, or pain. For me, I cannot separate love and pain as different entities. Now I feel like I need to tease out and explore pain, especially if it always comes with love. That’s why through art I am trying to depict pain in different ways. Can pain be good? I love love, but love comes with pain. Instead of creating a polar opposite of love and pain, I’m trying to find the common ground between the two.

You put a lot of your videos on Youtube. Do you think Youtube is a good medium for art?

I have been having such a huge problem with where to put my art. There’s Youtube, Instagram, Tumblr, and other mediums. If I put my work on Youtube that is somewhere where people can access it forever and ever--it’s very accessible. It would be such a milestone to reach people that don’t have access to Youtube as a base form, as a space. I also think I put my work on Youtube so I can visibly see my growth. I think I’m also moving a little to Instagram, but with Instagram I can only show snippets of who I am. I make a lot of videos for Instagram as a way to tell myself that I am here. Sometimes I walk around campus and record myself, so I can later watch it and tell myself that I exist. I am, I am, I am. There is the guy in the CC reading who says the "I think therefore I am" thing, what’s his name? Is it Kant… I don’t know, one of those people… but that fucked me up because when he's saying those things, only a certain subset of people are regarded as "thinking". So, if someone thinks that you don’t think, then they can say or think you are not there, so I am trying to be "I exist therefore I am" or "I can be perceived visually, therefore I am".

Closing statements?

I am a third year in Columbia College. I am a black woman. I am a lesbian. I am a person who is trying to trace, leave, and document the footprints on this earth.

Connor Warnick

Photography by Charis Morgan

Interview by Maeve Flaherty

Connor Warnick is a filmmaker, artist, and fashion designer from Brooklyn, New York. He is a senior in Columbia College, double majoring in Visual Arts and Film.

So how did you first get involved in the arts?

My parents are both definitely involved in them, and so was the school that I went to from second grade through high school, but I was not personally very involved in the arts until college. They were just ever present in my life-- my dad is an architect, and my mom works at museums. I would take art classes, and I think I was interested in art, but I don’t think it really clicked for me how important it actually was to me and how much I enjoyed it until I went to UCLA for two years. It was really in that first year when I pretty quickly realized that art was what I wanted to do.

Was there a first class you took or something?

I think it happened a little bit before. That summer before high school and college, I don’t know why, the way that I was experiencing the world felt like it was changing a lot and I was appreciating more in terms of how much artistry really goes into a lot of the things that I enjoy. I had only been thinking of art as fine art and things in museums and not necessarily films and music and design .

I was a pretty dedicated athlete in high school, and I started to think about how sports could be arts. Basketball was my creative form of expression in some ways at my high school. Things were starting to turn inside my head. Then when I enrolled in classes for my first time at UCLA, I started learning more concrete history and theories and opinions about art itself and it started to influence how I was looking at art in the rest of the world. And then by the end of that year-- I was an English major when I started-- I felt very sure that I didn’t really want to be reading or writing about art or other artists as much as I wanted to be making the art. Visual art in particular, I found that I was especially drawn to, although up until that point the main thing I had done was creative writing, which I still enjoy a lot. But it felt like there was an imbalance in what I was actually practicing. I had done too much writing and not enough creating of images.

From there, I changed my major. I changed into the art school at UCLA and took more film classes. Since then, it has kind of just continued and I’ve gotten deeper into making images and things like that.

So you’re a transfer from UCLA. When did you transfer and what was the thought process that went into that?

So I transferred before last year, which would have been my third year in college and this is now my fourth year in college and my second year at Columbia. The transfer process was very bizarre. It was really not the sort of thing where I was desperate to leave at all. In fact, I really really liked UCLA, and I miss it a lot, to be honest.

UCLA is very divided academically. When I came in as an English major, I was in the big School of Letters and Sciences that most people are in. I also wanted to study art and film which are in two other separate schools. At UCLA, because it’s such a big school, you can’t take classes across two different schools, let alone three. So that’s why I decided to transfer into the art school at UCLA. That was in February of my second year. What happened was I didn’t get in at first, so I emailed them to ask if I could get feedback on my portfolio or appeal the decision, and they didn’t respond for a week. I’d kind of dealt with things like that before, because it’s such a huge bureaucratic institution. So I just assumed it was a lost cause, a dead end.

So I just said even though I love LA and I like it here a lot, I’m not studying what I want to study, so I might as well apply to transfer. So I did. But then about a month later, at the start of UCLA’s spring quarter, they enrolled me out of the blue in an art class, which should have been impossible, because I didn’t think I was in the art school. I thought they were just being nice and giving me a consolation prize or something. So I went to the office and spoke to the advisor for the art program, and they told me that in their system I was in the art program. Then I realized that when I emailed them when I didn’t get in, I had actually emailed them from my backup email and then stopped checking it completely. I was only checking my UCLA email and not my gmail. So let that be a lesson to everybody. You should definitely set up forwarding with all your accounts lol.

So I checked that email and it turned out they actually did respond to that first email. I guess they were moved enough, or something, by my email to let that serve as an appeal, and they reviewed my portfolio again, and let me in. So I was in the art school the whole time, and didn’t know it, which was crazy. If I’d known, I probably wouldn’t have applied to Columbia. So then all of the sudden I had this one great option--which was great, because I was actually considering dropping out completely without any academic options that I was very excited about -- it felt like I had everything I wanted at UCLA now, and then a month later I got into Columbia, and then I had no idea what I was gonna do. I took all of April to decide. I ultimately decided to just go to Columbia out of curiosity. I liked being far away and I liked LA a lot, but after the bizarre series of events that led me to that point, I felt that it was time to go. It felt like all these forces operating outside of my control.

You’re a filmmaker, fashion designer, and a visual artist. How do all of those things inform each other?

I think that my end goal right now is to just be making films. I want to be a director. I think all of the things I’m interested in-- fashion or costume design, visual art and art direction, photography, writing -- film is the medium where I can do all those things equally and create my own worlds with it and do everything all at once. That is how I think about it. Film can unite those other things. I think that over the 20th century, and definitely in my life, film has been the most influential art form.

So, popular with the masses and accessible?

In that sense, yeah, but that’s not really why. I think less so now-- now I think music and fashion are probably the two most relevant or omnipresent art forms in our lives, and the way those two mediums have come to be widely communicated is cinematically, or through moving images -- I’m thinking of music videos, concerts, performances, fashion runway shows, etc. But that sort of reality/ultra-reality was established because of film’s widespread influence, and screen culture and visual culture in the 20th century. And in my own personal experience, as a kid, I would watch a ton of movies and play a lot of video games.

Are there any particular films or filmmakers that inspired you?

As a really young child, my first favorite filmmaker was Tim Burton.

I love Tim Burton.

Yeah, I’ve loved horror movies more than any other types of movies for as long as I can remember. When I was five I saw Scream at a friend’s house during a sleepover and I was damn near crying out of love. It was the best thing I’d ever seen. I was begging my mom to let me watch more horror movies, but she didn’t think I was old enough to watch the real horror movies like Scream. So we kind of worked our way up through PG-13 ones. Just generally spooky things.  So Tim Burton was not only the first director, but also the first artist that I was aware of by name and whose style I could recognize. I was five or six.

What is your personal style when making movies? What would you say is your process or your goal?

I mean I don’t know yet because most of the things I’ve made so far have been pretty short and pretty non-story oriented.

Yeah, I was watching Wonderwheel and it was very visual and there were incredible colors and it was kind of eerie.

Yeah, I really like making videos like that one. It feels more like painting. You’re not really ascribing any words or a story to it. I was kind of trying to mimic the experience of vision itself and how things unfold in front of your eyes. Memory was also something I was thinking about with that specific piece and more generally, with everything else I do. I think a lot about the way memories overlap and blend into each other. I feel like montage style editing and superimposition-- where you have multiple images blending into one image-- is sort of how I’ve always thought about memory. You can see everything at once from the past and the present and the future. There’s this filmmaker Stan Brakhage, who was definitely very influential for that piece and in the way I see things in general with my naked eye. In terms of ‘process’ or ‘goal’, up to this point, I haven’t been that focused on stories, but that’s something I’m working towards.

Do you have any story ideas you can give me right now that you’ve thought about?

I feel like I’m drawn more to themes than specific stories. I’ve never really been able to figure out why, although I don’t think it’s that uncommon. I think there’s something about death and darkness that I have been fascinated by since I was a kid. Even when I was a kid, my favorite characters were always the villains. The psychology behind evil is something I’m really interested in, and developing characters like that who are undeniably bad people but still have a logic and a humanity to them is something I want to explore. The best villains are humanized to a great extent, whereas there are also a lot of villains in mainstream films who are just pure evil and don’t really have any emotions, or an agenda, or opinions about why they’re doing what they’re doing.

This is kind of unrelated but I’m a big Sherlock fan and they were comparing all the different villains, and part of why Moriarty is so frightening is that he doesn’t have a set goal. He does what he wants.

Yeah, just chaos and anarchy. I think of the Joker too, Heath Ledger’s Joker. He was a really beautiful character because he was so smart and so well spoken. That was the scariest thing about him-- how right he was in a certain way. I’ve always found the character of Freddy Krueger, or John Doe in Seven, or even Darth Vader to be really geniusly conceptualized characters in the ways that their presences are always felt no matter where you are in the story, and because they have such creative methods of executing terror upon people who they feel did them wrong. It’s their own way of exacting their own awful, twisted forms of justice, and it’s a type of damn near genius-level creativity that I feel like you can only reach if you’ve truly snapped and lost all connection with or compassion for society. Characters like that are who I’ve always been drawn to, for whatever reason.

You’re also a fashion designer. You make really cool sweatshirts, and you were featured on the VFiles instagram page. Can you tell me about making those and what went into that?

What happened with that was also crazy. I didn’t reach out to them or anything. I was in class one day and my phone was going crazy so I stepped out and checked it and saw that they had posted me and my clothes on their instagram and they messaged me and asked if they could sell my clothes in the store. That was crazy.

If anybody else wants some advice on how to get your work out there, VFiles has their own platform, a social media app that you can upload your work to. You don’t have to be a designer-- you can be a model or stylist or photographer or just a fan, anything. It’s its own community. It’s easy to find cool artists on that page.

I made an account that week and four days later-- they reached out to me, and then I got to actually sell my clothes in their store in Soho.

You say on your website that your goal is to make clothes that address our inner anxieties. Can you expand on that at all?

Yeah, that was for the first season of the hoodies. They are all one of one, customized pieces. For the first couple of pieces I was asking people what they were afraid of and writing their fears on the hoodie itself. And there actually weren’t many images on them or painted renderings of anything. A lot of those were only words and very manic and chaotic looking. Fear is a theme that I’m clearly drawn to. It’s something that I return to a lot.

It’s very visceral. It’s probably the most basic human emotion.

Yeah, I definitely agree. And I think the hoodies themselves kind of turn out looking spooky and dark. People have told me that they felt afraid to wear them in a way. But I think that is one thing fashion can do-- help you overcome that and feel more free and empowered by it. I feel like a lot of fashion is about being very self-conscious and I don’t feel like that should be what clothes do. It should be the opposite.

Your website and instagram are under the name Orion Connor. Where did the name come from?

So Orion is my best friend’s middle name, which was how I landed on it, and then I was just thinking of the way ‘Orion’ sounds and looks it got me thinking of good color schemes and like outer-space and mythological imagery and that felt like enough to start with.

Orion is the name of my clothing line, but Orion is also a collective. There are other people who make work for Orion. I founded it, and the other kids are mainly longtime friends, people I grew up with. I envisioned it as more than just clothes, and the clothes were just our first endeavor. But we want to do other things. It's a group where our strengths and resources can be lent to each other. The other people mainly do music. One’s a DJ and another is a music producer/engineer/journalist. I really want to do a podcast. We all do, but we haven’t done it yet, which has partially been my fault for not making time for it, which I regret.

Orion is hard to keep up with during school. If you want something like that to really make it and succeed, you have to give a lot to it, and I don’t really have the time to give everything I’d like to give to it. But in a year or so I’ll be done with school and hopefully it will still be on the rise.

What do you have planned for the future?

I want to step away from making clothes. I’ve gotten the perception that since Orion has gotten recognition and done pretty well recently that people view me somewhat exclusively as a ‘fashion’ person, especially people who find me on the internet.

I don’t really feel like fashion is truly my passion. I think I started doing the clothes because it was fun. It became a source of income too, which is good. I’d rather be making money that way than working certain jobs or finding internships and shit. Though over the past summer, I found that I really wanted to have a mundane ass normal day job. I really wanted to work for a butcher. I wanted to be a butcher’s apprentice. There’s a time and place for both. In terms of the future, I see myself doing less fashion. If I did, it would be to fund films. I want to take a leap in my filmmaking and ramp up the level at which I’m doing them. Most of my films have been very guerrilla. Just me and a camera and a subject. But I want to step up my production level and get into making shorts that are more story driven and eventually, longer pieces.

I also want to take jobs on sets and get more hands on filmmaking/directing experience. I enjoy watching other people direct sometimes, even if I may disagree with what they’re doing. I always learn a lot from watching other people. That’s one thing about Columbia’s film program-- you don’t really get that experience here. It’s not very hands on. It’s aimed towards being a writer director, which ultimately is what I want to be some day, but there’s a certain point where you have to get past that more amateur style of thinking. You can come back to it, and I probably will, but I’d like to be working in a bigger format. I just don’t feel ready to yet. Film is very expensive. I think sometimes I feel like there is only so much I can do with what I’ve got. I think I’ve gotten pretty good at this format of short experimental film pieces, though I wouldn’t say I’ve mastered them by any means, but I don’t feel like I want to be making them forever.

During your time on Columbia’s campus, have you been involved in the arts here?

In terms of clubs or groups and stuff, I haven’t really been. At the start of last year, I went to a few Postcrypt meetings and a Snock meeting. There was one Snock event where I screened something. That was kind of it. I wasn’t involved in the actual community. But I’m an art major so I’m always doing art classes and meeting other art students that way. I’ve been in the end of the year semester shows at Prentis and I really enjoyed those. Those were fun ways to see what people were doing and think about what I wanted to consider taking in the future.

This year, I’ve been a little more involved. I was in the first Postcrypt show of the year. It was an iPhone photo exhibition. I liked that idea.

The Ratrock Call to Artists theme last month was “delirium”, any thoughts on that?

Yeah, I feel like delirium is something I think about regularly. I’m very interested in subconscious dreams and nightmares. I really like films and art that are chaotic and nightmarish, where it really feels like anything could happen and you wouldn’t even question it, no matter how bizarre it could be. I’ve always felt that the things that terrify and disturb me the most are the most beautiful. There is something so beautiful about things that are so unspeakably horrible. Something very visceral and subconscious, and I feel like delirium is tied to that.

So maybe we’ll see your work coming up?

Yeah, maybe.

OSCAR HOU

Photography by Maya Hertz

Interview by Mary Ma

Oscar is a first-year at Columbia College from Liverpool, England. He is a visual artist and musician, who has a diverse portfolio consisted of painting, photography, video work, and music. Oscar’s portrait paintings strike me as incredibly vibrant, leaving a surreal first impression with their intense brushwork and dense layers. Impressionist in expression with a boldly fauvist use of colors, his paintings do not shy away from confronting the viewer with its subjects, often caught through a moment in time.We sat down on a Friday afternoon after his six-hour painting class to talked about art, music, and moving to New York.

How did you get into art?

I kind of just always did it and never stopped. I started with drawing Pokemon and things from manga and animes. Then I took art GCSEs, which are for British students from ages 13-16, they are like the end of examinations, a bit like APs in the U.S. And then I took art A level which was the next step, and from there I just kept going, and now I'm here.

How long does it take for you to make your paintings?

The portrait of my mum took probably over 100 hours. I spent a couple months on it, I would work 3 hours in school everyday, I can’t remember if the math adds up but the number is up there... A lot of my paintings take a very long time, but I lose track of it in the process, so it's not bad.

Where do you work?

When I wasn't working at an art room in school, I would paint in this small spare room in my house. It was really small, but there was a window so I didn't suffocate. (Although I'm pretty sure I'm permanently damaged from staying in that room for so long). I painted in a very solitary manner, so it was kind of weird coming to Columbia and having a studio space where there are also others working. Recently I just bought a big f**k-off canvas that I stationed in my room so I can start painting in there.

What are your processes?

It depends on the piece, sometimes I'd just start painting without any kind of sketch. Sometimes I would use a photograph as a vision of what it's going to be. Or I'd make various sketches in my sketchbook, and then sketch on the canvas with a paint brush, using a thin-blue color. I always used really thick acrylic paint, especially with thick layers, acrylic is nice to work with because it dries really fast. Whereas for oil, it'd take a very long time. And I was never really taught how to use oil paint, honestly I didn't even know what turpentine was.

But now I'm only using oil! I’m kind of applying the acrylic process to oil... which is kind of stupid... But I do think that oil smells better, and it feels better to use. It's natural and buttery. Let’s just say I would eat oil but I wouldn't eat acrylic.

Does your photography and painting overlap?

Not really. Any kind of artistic expression I have comes out through the most conducive path that leads me to where I want to go. Sometimes it'd be photographs, sometimes its paintings, sometimes music. I would say they all come from the same source, but I wouldn't say they interfere with each other that much. When I take a photograph, I see it as a completed art piece I’ve made, and there is a reason why I haven't painted that, because it only works well as a photograph. Like action shots or the feeling of being in the moment, that's mainly expressed through photography, it wouldn’t be the same thing painted. Paintings are more conceptual.

How do you choose your subjects?

A lot of them are my friends. I choose subjects that are meaningful to me. Some of them are just acquaintances, people that I'm friendly with but wouldn't want them over in my house, (maybe for two hours max). For example the portrait of Adam was from my prom. After the event, we were all in an apartment and it was just a bunch of teenagers getting wildly pissed. For a moment he sat there on the couch and dozed off, so I shot of photo of him and painted it. I don't know him that well but that was an interesting moment. I try to be friends with interesting people.

Favorite color?

Ultra-marine. It's an electric-y, other-worldly blue. It's a blue that is not found in nature, and blue is almost everywhere. But ultra marine is very rare. I use it a lot in my paintings.

If you could talk to one artist living or dead, who would it be and what would you talk about?

Van Gogh. I'd try to make him happier, and give him some really unqualified therapy. He was a very troubled man, I don't like the idea that he was a great artist because he was sad, because he was depressed. If he were happy, if he lived to a ripe old age, we would have seen so much more stuff, he would have had such a happier life. He always tried to find happiness and beauty in his work. And I very much regret the fact that he died and I wish he were alive today.

Why use film?

I just took my dad's old film camera that used to be his most expensive possession when he first moved to England, even though now the value has depreciated. When I was first experimenting with it, I found it to be a lot better than digital cameras. It feels more wholesome to use, not to shade on contemporary trends of photography. With digital cameras, you can get a really good saturation of images. You can take 20 photos of the same thing and try to pick the best, but they'd look exactly identical besides a bit of difference, that seems like a waste of time to me. It's an information overload.

If you can only consume one artistic medium for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Visuals. it's an awful question to ask because it's asking which sense would I want to lose the least. That's so sad.

What’s behind your song "holy one"?

It's suppose to be a love song. It's about idolizing someone almost like a religious figure, but it's also sarcastic because of how forward it is. Most of my songs have a lot of meaning and are very personal. Not for the “holy one” though, I’ve never been in love.

What genre of music would you say it is?

I think indie. I don't purposefully stick to one genre. But now I'm moving into hip-hop and jazz. Everyone at Columbia plays jazz!

How do you find the art scene here differing from home?

There are so many crazy, hilarious, and weird looking people walking down the streets and in the subway. It's great, and very inspiring. Back home, if you are really into art, you will most likely try to move to London. The art scene in my city was not very present, but I’ve done a few exhibitions and met some really cool artists. It’s been a shift for me moving here. I'm very happy that I ended up here even though it wasn’t on the top of my list. (Then he throws shade at Yale, his first choice).

How do you see social media as a platform for artists?

Definitely a useful platform. If you are an artist in this generation, you need social media. Most of the recognition I've gotten is through social media, like magazine features etc. I think the best thing about it is that it enables people to bypass the standard and traditional path of getting a BFA, MA, and working your way up. Social media very much depends on networking. Instagram enables everyone to network, to meet other artists, and get to know them and their work. With social media, and the internet, everything is also much more accelerated. Even for 12, 13 year olds, they know things like feminism, social justice, racism. And I didn't know any of that when I was 12 or 13, WTF? We are in the age of information, and I think all the information made available is incredibly liberating.

SHANGA LABOSSIERE

Photography by Emma Noelle

Interview by Ali Saadeddine

ALI: My favorite work of yours is your first. I thought “Sole-r System” was extremely identifiable. What I’m interested in is the ways in which you consider yourself to be this in this system of your own?

SHANGA: Ah okay… Well pretty much the whole poem. That whole poem is pretty much me. I wrote that poem as a junior in high school. The planet is me. Even now, in my rapping, I still refer to this idea of a “sole planet”—basically quoting the poem.

Interesting. Then, you take it in a completely different direction. You say something like “I wish we were lions”—animals that live together, and it’s interesting to see how your poem “Animals” comes directly after “Sole-r Planet”.

Well, look at you! See, I didn’t even think of that.

Haha, well I’m going to ask you the same question but in the context of this poem: in which way do you consider yourself as or want to see yourself become an animal?

Well, I wrote this poem July of last year, so I wrote it after Sterling and Castile were killed. It’s somewhat of a collective idea, so the lion I’m referring to is Cecil, the lion, the gorilla is referring to Harambe. Basically, when these animals are killed, everyone is pissed at the people who killed them and they’re offered more compassion than Sterling and Castile and people are going to continue to be demonized and want to find reasons for why someone or something is dead… I’m probably going off, but anyway.

On the contrary, I think the way you satirize human empathy is quite brilliant. The way you talk about it is like a stream of consciousness—just like the way the poem flows. You say people will “continue to be demonized”. Explain more about that.

Well, yeah I’m just referencing the collective effort that happened when Cecil and Harambe were killed; there’s a collective dimension. But, when it comes to Castile and Sterling, people began saying “Well, this guy did this and that and the third…”, things that are not even relevant to the issue at hand, like their past criminal records. To even reference the tragedy in Vegas, they looked at the guy who did it and they talked about how he didn’t have a criminal record. OK, granted. He might not have a criminal record, but he still did such a horrific, tragic thing.

Your poem is about “Animals” and yet it focuses on the issue of accountability which is an interesting paradox when you bring them together. I was really interested in the progression of your poems. What can you say about placing “Animals” at the forefront, facing “Sole-r System”, as if a direct commentary on it? There’s something to be said about their similarity, however, I think.

When I submit my work, at least the last three, those three, I think kind of fit together in a narrative; it’s not a hard narrative, since it’s just a portfolio folder. But, there’s something about “Sole-r System” and depression and being alone and depending on others for happiness.

You end your poem the same way you begin it: “An eternity before the darkness ends”. Is there some sort of transformation that goes on in this poem? I understand that your intent behind this is not to provide people with hope, but to give them the tough, dark truth. You equate life to darkness and I’m really interested in this particular equivalency. Is there life? Are we supposed to wait for it?

I can definitely say I’m in a better place than when I wrote this poem and I think it also fits into—you know, I talk about the winter solstice—there’s going to be seasons so it definitely feels like an eternity. I guess it’s a relative eternity. I mean look at the winter solstice, it’s dark as hell outside for most of the day, only a little light.

Wow, this idea of “relative eternity” certainly seems interesting. You talk about life as if it’s a constant flux of change.

Well yeah, in the moment it feels like eternity, you know, that crushing thing, so, at least for me, I can still relate to the poem, but it’s a new season for me, so to speak.

We’re talking about this idea of feeling alone, depression, even other themes that you explore in a lot of other poems. When you are writing these poems, who are you thinking about? Are you writing them for yourself? Is there a particular audience you’re shooting for? And what are you trying to tell them?

Well, in terms of “Sole-r Planet”, I had this feeling of catharsis and I needed to write and just sort of get my feelings out and provide an image to what I was feeling at the time but also I look at similes and metaphors as a way to build the bridge between my world and the world of your reader’s; they might not get it entirely, but to just help them feel and think. I don’t know, I guess the word would be microcosm? I don’t know.

You talk about catharsis. Your work does seem cathartic at times, as if recordings of past epiphanies you’ve had. You say, for example, that you are “locked in a staring contest with death, winning only accomplished by temporarily losing.” What experiences have you had that have shaped your perception of death and the way you write about it? (Because, I mean, you’re describing a tug-of-war with death—which seems like an extremely specific philosophy about death.)

Well, I just feel like being black in America, as we’ve seen in the media, if you’re a certain color, anything can ‘justify’ you being killed. I’m sorry what was the question? Oh yeah. Well, yeah. It’s always pulling and pushing.

Let’s go to “A Dream of My Ancestors”. You mesh this idea of your cultural identity and your identity as a writer. “My pen is my machete,” you write. How is writing empowering you to investigate your identity in a way that wouldn’t have otherwise been afforded to you?

Since I started writing, seventh or eighth grade, my first ‘big’ slam piece—big is in quotation marks because looking back I could’ve done a lot better but yeah—it was really introspective and talking about how I felt at that time, always feeling the need to kind of investigate myself and to try to characterize what I’m feeling. How is my pen my machete? My family comes from Haiti, and in the poem there’s an image of the unknown maroon and he has a conch shell—the call to rise—in one hand and a machete—the weapon—in the other. I guess my pen is my weapon more or less, in a figurative sense of course, just using it as a tool. I write as an emotional release, like in “Animals” and “Beacons of Liberation”, I write to fight, to challenge, to promote change and whatnot.

Yeah, you say that you’re blowing your conch shell and that that is a “call to rise”. What is this thing that you are rising to? What is the purpose of this poem specifically?

Well, I guess, oh damn, you’re making me think hard, huh! Well I guess just hoping that what I can do with poetry is change the way people think, you know forcing them to think differently about things, motivate people. In “Sole-r System”, if somebody can look to it for help? Beautiful. If somebody can look at “Beacons of Liberation”, and says we should do something? Beautiful.

You definitely talk about empathy for the people of your country in poems like “Beacons of Liberation”. Tell us a little about this cultural damage and how it carries through in your creative work.

I’ve been immersed in this activism and I can actually show you my Instagram page—I posted this poem on Instagram—so it’s been a part of me since as long as I can remember. It’s like a cloud. I wrote that after Hurricane Matthew last year because I felt moved, I felt I had to write something, because seeing all the mess imposed onto Haiti, and have this earthquake happen, and seeing people helpless, and to go there in 2014 and see the rubble still over the city and people still living in tents. This is just a repeat. Aid isn’t going to come.

In your last piece, you do show quite a bit of hope. You say “things in the dark will eventually come to the light,” which is a stark contrast to your first poem where the question appears unanswerable. In “Sole-r System”, it seems as though, when talking about yourself, you abandon all hope. But, in the poems succeeding it, especially “Beacons of Liberation”, when discussing an important issue to you, that is also external to you, you seem to have a lot of hope. Is there a tradeoff you think? That for one to be so hopeful of change in something, must abandon some hope elsewhere? Why are you even this hopeful that things are going to pick up for Haiti? Wouldn’t it be easier not to?

Challenging! Challenging! Challenging! In the first poem, I was speaking from that vantage point of hopelessness. I guess what makes me so confident about Haiti’s future is that we’ve done it before. I talk about the “ancestral beams”. I’m confident about my people; they’re a fighting people. I’m damn sure, and I’m part of that fight even so many miles away.

 

 

ANISA TAVANGAR

Photography by Emma Noelle

Interview by Grace Nkem

Care to introduce yourself?

So, hi— I’m Anisa Tavangar, I’m a senior at Barnard, I study art history / visual arts (which I love) and I’m also the Editor-in-Chief of Hoot Magazine.

What are you currently most interested in? What’s really struck you lately?

I feel like I'm generally excited by a lot of things, so it's difficult to pinpoint one. Very generally, though, I'm very motivated by justice, and I think anything related to justice catches my eye; more recently I’m thinking about beauty as justice, or beauty as a form of justice, and tying those concepts into art or creativity. And justice as a form of art is very exciting.

What’s your most interesting class this year? Are you working on a thesis?

I mean I’m taking senior seminars, because I'm doing 3 theses— which is exhausting— but my most interesting class is Methods and Theories of Art History, which is interesting because it’s heavy art historical theory which I like, and I'm also taking Philosophy and Feminism which I thought was Philosophy of Feminism, but actually is not. It’s literally Plato and Augustine, with respect to feminism.

Otherwise, I’m excited about my senior visual arts studio because in it I really can do what I want; the possibilities are endless—its cheesy but its true— but I’m suddenly in all these classes where I can do what I want— whereas all this time I’ve been answering prompts I’m finally at the point where it’s just: go for it.

I hear fashion and makeup are your forté— how have you engaged and explored those interests at CU?

It’s interesting that people (I mean I run Hoot, so hello fashion!) peg me as very into fashion, but I don't like fashion that much. I don't know— I think I like every avenue that allows me to make things and make an impact. In high school, fashion was a very convenient medium— I read a lot of blogs and took a sewing and construction class— and I think fashion is an interesting medium in terms of sculpture and performance. It’s a very structured, fabricated medium— especially in terms of performance.

I just think it’s interesting that I look at art as a very spiritual thing. I mean, to me, the art of making something and the quality of creativity is a uniquely human thing and it’s really a spiritual quality: the ability to be creative. And so I definitely look at art through that lens, while I think that when things are strictly material, because there is a way to create things that are strictly material, they lose their meaning. The material aspect of creating, when things are made solely in that way— meaning vanishes. Fashion week is like that, it’s not an experience of art or design, expression, ideas— its material. And all the structures and hierarchies within it are false. They are made up, and stuck— so why are we taking them for granted?

Thinking of things in terms of a continuum and not a spectrum is interesting, because spectrums have endings that you have to bounce in between— but continuums can go on. There’s room for growth; I'm into infinity. In the end nothing matters but being a good person, everything else is fake! Those aren't elegant words, but the only things that are universally true are these qualities: kindness, generosity, justice. Not what’s on a runway. A runway or gallery can only select those and emulate those. Yeah. That’s what I'm about these days.

Back to Hoot Mag— tell me about it: what is Hoot, how did you get involved, what is it doing, and where is it going?

Alright. Whoo. Yes! That’s true I'm Editor-in-Chief of Hoot, which is the undergraduate fashion magazine at Columbia. I got involved my freshman year, my older sister was a senior and she said check it out, so I went to the first meeting, thought it was cool, could see myself getting involved. But I’m wildly type A, so of course by “contributing” I got very, very involved— forget “getting involved,” I went full speed ahead. I contributed two blog series and to two print shoots. My second semester I was Beauty Director, and then the editors graduated and gave me the whole thing! It was scary at the time but I'm so grateful that they trusted me. 

Every semester, the magazine changes, it’s a reflection of the editors and contributors, and it’s allowed me to inject these abstract ideas into the publication.

So the way that I put it is: yes Hoot is a fashion magazine, but we are more concerned with conveying our ideas through representation and inclusion. So, more important than clothes and trends are these concepts, and that’s the mission of the magazine, and that is the most important part of it. As cool as it is to style a shoot, it’s the mission of the magazine that’s been most impactful and what makes me proud of Hoot. And this is a time for reflection, because I’m not continuing it spring semester! Yes, time to announce it.

Hoot has really changed in the last 2+ years that we’ve had it, and we’re passing it on! It’s going to be nice because then the new people will have complete control, of course, but if they need us we’ll be on campus. Its been crazy watching it change so much, and to see what we’ve been able to do. For example Holler was one of the first things I came up with for Hoot— I was in the car with my dad and thought it would be funny: Hoot & Holler— and now, to come back and look at something and say “I did that” (with the help of a lot of people) is really nice.

You’re working at Refinery29, right? Tell me about that.

Actually I just ended on Thursday— because there’s so much going on at school and the time commitment was a lot, but I absolutely loved the team I worked with. Such amazing people. I never expected to leave an internship emotional but I teared up.

At Refinery I was the intern to the Exective Creative Director and Co-Founder of the company, who I admire so much, and I sat on the Brand Leadership Team, looking on how the brand is applied broadly across the company— a bird’s eye view. It’s just a cool place to be, everybody is so interesting, smart, and capable— from a strategist, to a designer, to a marketer, there’s so much to learn from each person. That’s what I valued about the company, and everybody really adheres to the values that the company aims to uphold, for sure.

How was fashion week?

The first time I went was my freshman year, it was Tadashi Shoji— beautiful gowns, just floating down the runway! I remember it being so special, I was very starry-eyed. It was so beautiful, and it had once felt like such an unapproachable space— to get in there my freshman year felt unreal! But year after year, season after season, its kind of lost that gloss or that sheen. That sparkle, or pizzazz?— something shiny. The patina?

Now, when you go, if nobody cares who you are, you’re wrangled into this holding pen before the shows and nobody cares if you can see, nobody talks to you, everybody is there for themselves trying to be seen. I think after not too much time that kind of overwhelms the experience. And once you're in the room, consciously or not, you’re wondering “do people like my outfit,” “what are they wearing,” and you’re judging people on their outfits; you don’t want to be that way but you can’t help it! That’s the only thing the space is encouraging people to do— judge other people— which is unfortunate.

This year I didn't post about it, I put a bit on my story, I tried not to go to shows and encouraged the other Hoot editors to use the invites. I mean, it's a privilege to go to these shows, but you have to think, what’s the point of it? I’m not into it right now.

I saw your article in Medium on the September issue covers. And no one can deny that Hoot makes a point to be forward-thinking and inclusive. What has been your experience with inclusiveness and politics in general, working and existing within the world of fashion?

I think my relationship with it is complicated, but the issue itself is simple. Simply put: I think there is no platform or publication that is doing enough. Or, that is having the perfect conversations. No one has the right answer for it— but there’s a lot of not trying hard enough to figure out what that might me. It’s very disheartening, but at once very motivating, thinking about what these solutions might be.

One of my “shticks:” I am not a political person. I read the news, I'm informed, but I'm not a member of a political party, I try not to talk about specific politicians. But there’s a very different thing between political and politicized. Global economic policy is political— but justice, equality, and the well-being of humanity— these are politicized issues. They're social issues. I just think its interesting that everything feels political— why? Because a politician talked about it, it’s what’s going on every day, but it’s not a political issue.

The funny thing is, I’ve worked in digital media more than fashion— I’ve done two internships at Refinery29, but the first was very bottom of the barrel click bait articles, and interned and freelanced for issuu.com, writing content and producing a video series. Fashion is a vehicle for change, but I'm not married to it. I don't need to work in fashion if that's not where I can have the best impact.

So where would you like to work?

That’s the thing— I don't know. I love digital media. I love art history. But I don't have one that I need to be in. I want to be somewhere that allows me to influence the world through beautiful things— wherever will allow me to do that.

Do you have any other similar— or dissimilar— projects you’re working on?

Well, I'm doing an art history thesis, a visual arts senior project, and an Athena Social Action Project. All three relate very closely to these ideas, in different ways. They all have to do with inclusion, identity, visual culture, how the images we see ourselves reflected in impact how we see our role in the world.

Do you like the term “visual culture?”

I think its necessary for now. You can't separate all the different forms of media— there’s so much happening on Instagram, you can’t say it’s not affecting the world! Because visual culture isn't just “high art”, it’s what fonts you use! What color are you drawn towards? Anything that influences the aesthetic qualities of our day.

When I'm talking about inclusion, I’m not just talking about the Met or a fashion shoot— I'm talking about all of it. Its about who you’ve included in an ad, a fashion shoot, who's getting a solo in a museum, who’s publishing, who’s editing. It’s all connected, all relevant. And because of that digital reach, if you try to dichotomize all these, you’re being dishonest to the reality of the day.

Another thing about visual culture is that change is part of its essence. Change is necessary, inevitable— and individuals have the capacity to make that change. If you see something wrong and do nothing, you’re using your skills in the wrong way. Culture is malleable, and you can make it happen. “Be the change you want to see in the world,” if you want to be cheesy.

If you could only consume one form of digital media for the rest of your life, what would it be?

It would have to be the New York Times…. website. I mean, it’s all there, they have all these different categories. You can read the news— love reading the news— there’s think-pieces— I love a good think piece— and there’s Vanessa Friedman— love her.

And, um, hootmag.org/blog.

Alright get ready— who are you wearing?

Oh, nothing interesting— too much Zara. But, my earrings were designed by a friend of mine, based in Brooklyn. Her brand is called Edas Jewels! She was in Holler Fall 2017. Wonderful person, wonderful designer— check it out. Everything else is boring— but I'm wearing pink eyeshadow. I'm not into putting effort into my clothes as much— its exhausting! It’s like, look at Steve Jobs. Yeah, I’d say my fashion inspirations are, well, a mix between Ina Garten and Steve Jobs. I said that in an interview a while ago and I'm sticking by it. 

Well, in the spirit of reflection— any tips for underclassmen?

I have a few. My first, biggest, tip is: FOLLOW THROUGH. Number one. If you ask something of someone or you want to get involved in something and you expect them to hand you the opportunity, it’s not gonna happen. You need to follow through and put that work in for yourself not matter what level you’re at. Put the work in.

Other advice, college specific advice— don't feel obligated to follow certain clichés. There are all these things that people consider to be a necessary part of the college experience that are not necessary at all. Don't feel like you must partake in something you don’t enjoy. Do what brings you joy!

And call your parents. I call my parents all the time, we've gotten to whereas other students complain about parents calling them, my parents are the opposite. But, really, be in touch with people outside of the experience you’re in now, so you can reflect. It can be a parent, sibling, friend at another school, anyone you're close with. You can get sucked into what going on around you and its important to pull back and realize this isn’t everything. 

Be nice to everybody. That's another big one. 

I don't like being too cool— I’m not a cool person. Be into things!

We’re all nerds here: lean into that.

SAM WILLIGER

Photography by Shelby Hettler

Interviewed by Grace Nkem

Care to introduce yourself?

I’m Sam; I’m a senior double majoring in art history and visual arts. I’m from LA, originally. Sam responds. “And she has no idea what she’s doing with her life,” she adds in the third person.

What got you started in visual art?

Oh boy— I have been doing visual arts literally since I was five. I remember there was an art-after-school camp program thing that was 6+ and I went in and begged them to let me in, even though I was 5, and that’s probably where it all got started. I did like a very formal painting training, and then by the time I was like–I have to construct this timeline in my head hold on...how old are you in middle school?–12, I totally rejected that and I was so over painting. I feel like I’m describing a modernist trajectory, I hate that. I was heavily involved in sculpture over the course of high school, and when I got here I got involved in printmaking, which is what I’m focusing on now.

What draws you to printmaking?

Printmaking, I think, has the most opportunity for experimentation actually, even though I think many people would view it as a preliminary step, and very structured. Because the nature of it is multiples, you have the opportunity to play around with each multiple and change things. I also think that paper gets overlooked as a medium. There’s very cool things you can do with paper. The whole joy of a print is you don’t know what you’re going to get until you pull the print and look and see—with painting and sculpture, you kind of see what you’re doing as you do it. But with prints, you don’t know until you’ve printed. I have this shirt I got at the Blond Artbooks booth at the BABZ art fair last year that says, “like sex, printmaking is not solely a means of reproduction.”

Art history?

I’m trying to think of a path. I can’t pinpoint it as much as visual arts. My dad is an architect, and when I was little, whenever we would go on vacation we would travel, go somewhere, and see the house by the person, and I think that form of architecture...history…..blends with this. I think that really got me into it. I don’t know, I was really into it through all of highschool. When I was in senior year I took art history, I was really excited about it. My dad being an architect, would take us to all of these houses and museums—maybe he is the architecture side and I picked up the art side. A lot of those houses would have art in them.

How has being an art historian affected you as an artist?

Oh my god it’s given me so many issues—ha, no. I think there’s a divide in art making in that some people think you have to know art history and some people think that that gets in the way of art making. I think it’s important to know the trajectory of art history to know what tradition you’re a part of or what you’re breaking from. And I’m not saying you have to be an expert—I can tell you very little about Rococo—but it’s important to know the trends. I focus mostly in the Postmodern era, and with all that institution-critical content, I’m always like, what am I doing with my art, what is it doing? On the flip side of that, I think it’s rare to find an art historian who also practices art, and I actually think that is a shortcoming in the field. A lot of art historians position themselves as critics without having the technical experience with a medium, which I think sometimes leads to (sometimes just blegh) a lack of understanding.

What are you currently working on?

Prints! I have been making so many etching plates lately and feeling unsatisfied with them, and then I just keep making more! I’ve been making a crazy amount of prints. Actually what I’ve been working on is a combination of silkscreen monotypes and kind of pseudo-monotypes with etching plates. They’re not actually monotypes because I’m using the same matrix. I’m pulling the ghosts of these etching plates until the image actually fades. I’m also making a lot of clam-shell boxes, which is a bookbinding technique.  

Do you avoid the human subject—or do you approach it through other means? (I don’t mean to art-historicize you but,) Your work seems to allude to a human presence.

Yah, my work definitely alludes to human presence. I mostly work with the themes of the interior, as a means of addressing the notions of storing versus saving, and functionality versus sentimentality. My work isn’t figurative in that it physically depicts a human subject, but it definitely is working around the presence or lack of a human in that space.

What has Columbia done for your art?

I think the visual arts department at Columbia is one of the best and most underrated departments the school has to offer—but I think that it should stay that way. The class sizes are small and you kind of know everyone in the department, which is a nice thing. The fact that they give you your own studio for you senior year is amazing—that doesn’t even happen at art schools.

Best visual art class?

Drawing into Print with Tomas and Advanced Printmaking with Kiki Smith, Sara Sze, and Valerie Hammon. Best art history classes I’ve taken are Minimalism Post-Minimalism with Branden Joseph and Institutional Critique with Rosalyn Deutsch.

Thesis?

I’m being crazy and I’m actually doing two theses— because I’m majoring in art history and visual arts separately, not doing the combined major (I did that so I can do a full year thesis in both) so for visual arts I’m producing a full body of work, and they give you a studio which is great, and I’m focusing on the themes I discussed: interiority, sentimentality, functionality, through means of printmaking, bookbinding, and a lot of knitting.

And for my art history thesis I’m writing my thesis on Christopher D’Arcangelo, an institution-critical conceptual artist of the 1970’s. There is a huge lack of scholarship on him, and I’m trying to root his interpretive action-based work in the trajectory of institutional critique.

What inspired this? Academic/professional/artistic influences?

In Institutional Critique, the class with Deutsch, one day we briefly discussed d’Arcangelo, and I was intrigued—mostly because of the lack of scholarship on d’Arcangelo. There’s no monogram on him, there’s only been like one exhibition. There’s like this gap in art history, and I wanted to do more work on him. Last summer I went through his archives at the NYU library: I was in Bobst, the bleakest place on this planet, twice a week every week. But, I got to go through all his personal notes and writings and objects–it was a very cool primary-source-based investigation.

Tell me about your time at Postcrypt.

I joined Postcrypt as a freshman and I just, you know, kept showing up to help set up shows. I kept helping to print things, install, events, whatever, and I became very close with the people in Postcrypt. When I was ‘younger’ in Postcrypt, Katie and Kt were like my ‘guides,’ and we just worked on a lot of shows together, and so I’ve just been there. I stayed with it since freshman year, and here we are today.

Talk about some of your art-world work?

Speaking of Katie and Kt, we curated a show outside of Postcrypt over the summer—a show on Kt’s roof one summer, and sent out a call to artists on NYFA, and got a lot of great artists from all different age-groups and all different areas of the city. I also worked at Pace prints for about six months, Sophomore year through the summer, which was great and I loved being surrounded by all the prints. Last summer I started working at a book-bindery called Small Editions, where I’m still working. And I love being there; I’ve learned so much about bookbinding and artist books. I’m also currently working at a small gallery, which is an interesting contrast to Pace which is a large, established gallery.

If you could only consume one type of media for the rest of your life, what?

Oh no, oh no. Images. Both art and TV. Have to finish this season of the bachelor.

I know everyone saw this coming, but: LA or New York? (arts scene)

Honestly, I love both. If I’m in New York for too long I get a little antsy for LA, but if I’m in LA too long I get antsy for NY. NY definitely has a larger more established arts scene with more niche opportunities, actually. I think life in LA is easier and more relaxed, yep, I don’t know. I don’t know where I’ll be, basically.

 

 

MORGANA VAN PEEBLES

Photography by Clara Hirsch

Interviewed by Julia Flasphaler

When did you start making art?

I can’t remember, honestly. When I was younger I wanted to be a writer because I thought that it would take me all over the world. I used to make these really extensive sketches of covers, but then when you went to open the book, the pages were just scribbled lines. My parents would ask me what the books were about and I would see it in my head - I would frame them in terms of actors and lighting. I think at that point my dad was like, OK, she’s probably going to be interested in film.

You mentioned that you’ve traveled a lot - where did you live when you were growing up?

I’ve lived in Switzerland, Costa Rica, Cambodia, India, Thailand. I’ve also traveled to other countries. My favorite country that I’ve lived in is Switzerland. Just because I think it was the perfect place to be in for the age range I was at.

What age was that?

From four to six. It’s really funny because living in America, I think that you are aware of race and yourself and where you fit. But growing up in Switzerland, I never - it never occurred to me at all.

Do you feel like you’re also conscious of being a female artist? Does that play out in your work at all?

Kind of. I think that I’m more aware of it in film. It was something that everyone made me be aware of. I feel like when people talk to me about the female gaze, they expect that I’m going to represent females in the industry as a woman of color. That’s a lot of pressure.

Just because I've created something, doesn’t mean that you should take it as the work of a female woman of color who is now directing. You should see it as a work from a person, or just any other director. It’s something I was made to be aware of because I felt like without even seeing my work, people were putting it in the scope of a female person of color. But that’s not even what my work is speaking on. My work is speaking on me as a person. You can’t just label me and only view my work through such a limited scope.

I noticed that you work with a bunch of different kinds of art - what are your mediums?

I never really stick to one medium for too long because I get bored really easily. I remember in art class we’d have to do step-by-step paintings where you let it sit and dry and come back and do more. I could never do it. I would always want to do everything at once. It got to the point where I started crossing things over because I enjoy certain aspects of everything. Or there were times when I would start writing a film and I would think, oh gosh, this would be a great photo series. And then I would think, oh this would be a great idea for a collage. So one thing would lead to another thing, and then I would eventually cross everything over.

Did you take a lot of art classes?

Kind of. Just being with my dad and watching him draw influenced me a lot. My dad is also a director and I used to read all of his scripts. So it’s become easier for me to think in terms of film. I didn’t actually take a formal art class until high school. And then I kind of just did it on my own. Actually junior year, I didn't take any art classes and got really depressed. But I formed a really strong bond with my art teacher. She’d give me the keys to the studio so that I could go and make a bunch of stuff and then she would come back and look over my art and leave me notes. When I finally got back to art classes I realized that I had missed it so much. I was also forced to do a sport my senior winter but I’m horrible at sports, so I opted out and did an independent project instead. I presented my work and opted into doing this project called "The Art of the Gallery" that used painting, collage, photos and sculpture.

How do you find inspiration for your art?

One of the quickest ways for me to produce a piece of art is by listening to a piece of music. When I listen to something I see these emotions and then I can translate them. If someone said, OK, do a piece of art right now, I would just play a piece of music. Then I would produce it in whatever medium I felt like it was speaking to me in.

How did you make your collages?

Well, they’re all from photos that I took. I usually dress everyone and the models are my friends. I’m really into style too - all of my art pieces are pretty stylized when it comes to clothing. With the fruit heads, I felt this kind of ‘50s vibe. I was doing very stereotypical gender roles in that period. My thought was that the pastel colors fit that time period. I liked the contrast of the black and white because it felt very old time-y. Funny story, the fruit heads actually came in because I’ve always had a random thing for fruits in my names. I had a YouTube channel that was awful - never look at it - but every channel name that I had would always be a fruit. The first one was mangopeachslice, or like blueberryraspberrykiwi. Since then, I’ve been trademarking my stuff as ‘peachslices’. That’s my instagram name, and so the fruit heads idea came from that.

Do you use natural lighting or do you light your photos?

Both. I stage a lot of the intense lighting in my photos. I watch a lot of DIY lighting and film stuff. A lot of the outdoor ones are obviously natural - I just knew where I wanted to go. And unless someone says something to me, I’m not going to stop. They don’t know whether or not I have permission to be there, and I have no idea what I’m doing, so it doesn’t matter! I just learn how to make things work.

How did you write and shoot your short film? What did you shoot it on?

I shot it on a Canon 7D. It’s one of the cameras most used for short films - I was in high-school when I shot that, and I’ve done more since, but they’re not fully edited. I rented sound equipment for the first film that I shot, but for this one I did it all on my own because everyone else was in a sport. I was like, who’s going to do this? I am. It’s me and me. The Canon 7D sound is not good when it comes to sound so I knew that it had to be a silent film. Then I just had to deal with the challenge of making a movie without dialogue.

When it comes down to actually shooting a film or making a photo series, I have to find ways to make it work. I use a skateboard for every dolly shot in my films. Or I have people drive my car while I sit in the trunk. Or one time, my Dad was doing an underwater shot, so we went to petco and bought a fish tank. We put the camera in the fish tank and put it underwater. Everything came out clear, and it worked out really well. It looked like we had an underwater camera but we got it from petco for like $7. It was amazing.

Is it helpful but also intimidating having your Dad work in film?

Yes, completely. We actually got into a fight over my first short film. I wrote the script and told him that I finished it, and he was like, “I can’t wait to read it!” And I was like, “Oh yeah, you’re not reading it.” He was so surprised. I’ve always read all of his scripts, so I guess he just assumed that that would be reciprocated. But my Dad’s opinion holds so much weight for me and I didn’t want to have to deal with that. He knows that this is what I want to do with my life, so it would be so hard to hear him say, “Yeah, this is awful”. I felt like I needed to figure out my work for myself. So that film was a big step for me as an artist.

Do you know what you want to major in yet?

I want to do a minor in visual arts, but I’m concerned because I don’t know what I want to do for a major. I would like to go into the film industry, but Columbia doesn’t have a film minor. Honestly if I wanted to major in film, I would have gone to USC or Tisch.

In New York, I feel like I have the time and resources to make art and movies on my own. I’ve decided to just take the core until I’ve figured out what my major will be. Coming from a college prep school, I was so burnt out by my senior year. So I’m already trying to plan for that. I’d really like to just focus on my art by my senior year and take videography or photography classes.

Do you have other interests? Or other classes that you’re excited to take?

It’s really funny because I’m such an avid reader. It’s been very hard since I’ve gotten to Columbia. I love reading, it used to be so easy! I was that one kid in high school who refused to use Sparknotes. And I dance. I haven’t gone to dance that much since I’ve been here. But I used to go to the Debbie Allen Dance Academy back home. I used to dance every day for four hours.

How do you feel about LA as a city? Especially now that you’re in New York?

The tone of artists that I’ve met here- it’s different, and I like both of them. I love living in both places. I love talking with artists I meet here about how they’ve found their voice. The funniest part for me about LA and the biggest crossover, is food. I could meet people from different areas of LA, but if I mention a good restaurant, everyone is just hands down like - okay, I know that place. LA is the place I always go back to when I have nothing to do. I come to New York for school and I go to LA for breaks and I get to chill and hang out and make art. When I think of LA I think of just breathing.
 

ERIN REID

Photography by Shelby Hettler

Interviewed by Jewel Britton 

Erin Reid is a visiting student at Barnard College from Middlebury College, in her second semester of senior year. She majored in sociology and gender studies and did her thesis on the ways that black women represent themselves on Tumblr. Her artwork centers around finding ways to combine visual elements with each other, and with text.

How did you get started in the arts?

I made art my entire life. It was never really a conscious decision, just something that carried on from childhood doodling into a more regular practice. When I was really little I really wanted to be a novelist, and I would write these long-winded stories about my cats. My mom would always support me and she would bind these stories and I would draw images with them. I had taken visual arts classes all the way up from middle school. I hadn’t taken them recently, since about sophomore year, but I’m taking 3 right now. So I hadn’t been institutionally doing that much art, but I was always creating, even if it wasn’t in a class.

Influences?

It shifts as I move between mediums. Alison Bechdel’s comics are really great, but just looking through Tumblr serves as a huge inspiration to me.

Your Tumblr page was also a part of your Ratrock featured artists page. What are your thoughts on it as a medium for sharing art?

I am obsessed with Tumblr- that’s the short of it. It’s not the most effective platform if you’re trying to get a large public following, but what I do like about it is that it does feel kind of private. Even though it’s online, there’s something about it that you engage with very personally. I don’t always post stuff that’s polished on my Tumblr, sometimes I’ll be like “I doodled this while I was watching TV, here it is”. There are things that I wouldn’t necessarily submit for an artist residency, for instance. I think it’s a helpful medium in the fact that it’s almost like a visual journal that I can share with people publicly, but it’s also somewhat internal.

Can you talk about your thesis?

Yeah! So I wrote about the ways that black women represent themselves on Tumblr. I’m black, so I was thinking about how to represent myself and my racial identity through non-dominant imagery. Tumblr is something I see as a space where people are creating an alternative aesthetic that opposes patriarchy, racism, and white supremacy. I was interested in the space- analyzing certain images as well as the overload of images and how they interact. Thinking about how that changes the experience and what is the value of interpretation. I also got to justify spending a lot of time on Tumblr.

What drew you to collage?

I like a lot of things about collage. I like the immediacy of it. Sometimes when I’m doing collage it’s just that I’m feeling super anxious and I need to do something with my hands. I also like the idea of layering things, kind of like Tumblr! I feel like Tumblr is just one big collage where there are all of these things that you are connecting together- that’s something that has always connected with me. Even when I draw or paint, there are elements of multi-media. I never just do a pen drawing, there will always be other elements or layers. So collage just seemed like the most natural thing. It is inherently made of different things coming together.

I also like to be able to collect weird magazines. Collage has allowed me to see things differently. Like I’ll be at my friend’s house and see a weird pamphlet for a foot massage clinic and the image on it will be really funny, and I’ll be like “can I have that?!” So I kind of developed these weird obsessive collecting tendencies through that, but it’s fun thinking all the time about what I could juxtapose an image with based on what I already have. I’ve also recently gotten into creating poems from cut outs of text, and juxtaposing them. Especially in absurd collages, text becomes really important- I’ll see a strange headline and I’ll think it would look hilarious with this pig or something! Collage always makes more sense to me because I’m always processing all these images and this is a way that they can come together.

Is your artistic process usually based in finding an image and then deciding to create a collage from it?

That’s definitely one way I do it. But sometimes I’ll sit down with a very specific idea in mind of what I want to do a collage of. For example, one day I was trying to figure out what spirituality meant to me. I knew I wasn’t a religious person, but I have certain spiritual beliefs that I never knew how to describe in words. For that I thought about ‘what would this look like if I was to create a collage for it?’ So sometimes I start from an idea and then I try to find things that I think resonate with it. Sometimes I’ll also just be watching TV and I’ll collage because I’m bored. So there’s definitely different ways that I collage and how the process comes about.

How much does chance play into your art creation?

I think it relies pretty heavily on chance- in the fact that what I have depends on what I come across. There's an element of chance when I’m flipping through a magazine and something will randomly catch my eye and become what I will gravitate towards. That being said, the decisions of what I create are very intentional. What I choose may be based on chance, but I am very intentional about where it’s placed, what it’s placed on, and the color scheme of the whole collage.

How important is it for the viewer to know where your collage pieces came from? Is that a part of the message you’re communicating to the viewer?

I don’t think that I’ve ever said explicitly where the pieces come from, but it’s something important to think about. Recently I got a lot of funny retro housewife magazines, so I’m always thinking about the politics of that type of magazine when I’m making a collage. There are all these questions like,  if I have an image from the housewife magazine interacting with an image from Jet magazine, what does that say?

Can you talk about your work with zines?

Some zines I make are just compilations of collages I’ve made. It’s a good way to distribute my collages as a physical thing. I also use zines as an autobiographical process where I can reflect on my own life and experiences in an artistic medium. For instance, I’ve made a zine about my experience of being biracial. I love zines because there’s such a community surrounding them. I just went to the Feminist Zine Festival that was here (and awesome!) There were so many people that were creating things and sharing their ideas. I’m involved in this zine collective exchange, they’re only on their second edition. It’s this group of  people that send zines to each other through snail mail- it’s so riot-grrrl 90’s, I love it.

There’s also a way to create networks through zines, and for me they are inherently political as a medium. My politics are very important to me, so zines are a good way for me to engage with these ideas that I’m very interested in and turn it into art or informational art. I’m very Interested in bodies and how they interact with structures of power, so politics always comes through in my work. I also have a huge zine collection myself!

Are there ways that you see zines as a physical form of Tumblr?

I definitely see that in many ways. I follow a lot of Tumblrs that are looking for zine submissions so it facilitates that network of online and physical zines. The aesthetics are also really linked. I also think of Tumblr as a feminist space (of course there are other things going on in Tumblr that aren’t as feminist or libratory) and there’s something about it that makes me think of teen girls in their rooms writing about their feelings and how they relate to politics. There’s this vibe of creation and things not having to be a complete product, processing things and sharing ideas/thoughts/feelings.

How does all of this relate to comics for you?

Yeah, zines and comics are in such a similar world- the alternative press and print world. Comics are a relatively new medium for me, though. I only started making them in the last year or so. I began creating them because of my involvement with zines. And sometimes zines will have comics in them, there's just so much overlap between the two formats. With both, and this doesn’t always apply to either- but I'm really interested in writing things down by hand and pairing them with images. I like how physical that is. The idea of people having to draw out the panels by hand, and outlining the whole process.

Is your art inspired by any different mediums?

Definitely film. I think especially with comics- film and comics are so similar. When I’m creating comics I think about how a film would be shot and framed- would the camera zoom out or focus in on this scene?. In my collage I’m using photos and filmic images as well. A lot of my influences come from TV too. I feel like I am constantly being bombarded with all these influences from TV and the internet, so collage is kind of a way for me to engage with all those images or acknowledge the stream of images that I’m experiencing.

I know you just got here this semester, but have you joined any of the arts groups on campus?

Barnard zine club! My old school didn’t have a zine club so this has been super exciting for me. Slight side note, but in Middlebury I planned my school’s first 24 hour zine fest. It took four months of planning, primarily by me, to organize 24 hours of programing. There was lots of people that were into zines on campus, but there was there wasn’t a basis for a club that would be reliable. Part of the reason I came to Barnard was because their zine collection is well known and they have a zine club.

Any art classes you are really enjoying?

I’m taking Freestyle and Displacement with Professor Leslie Hewitt. It’s such an incredible and exciting course. It’s like art history and visual arts combined, so we get a lecture and studio time to work on ideas each week. I’m also in a studio drawing course that’s more structured, so we draw models each time. But it’s really good to build up skills.

What is your project for Freestyle and Displacement?

I’m doing an analysis of my family history, so I’m creating kind of an alternative archive through images I receive and documents I have. I have these official archives from my step grandfather who was an integral part in establishing the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and served as CEO and vice president to Coretta Scott King at the King Center. My dad’s dad was an important black judge in Chicago, and there’s this interview with him about his experiences. So I’m working on curating an exhibit of the images I’ve found and captions that I create. I could have a photo of my grandfather at the steel mill he worked at and then have a caption from his perspective about what it was like to work there. It’s cool because I’ve always been really interested in my family history and I’ve always wanted to know more, especially being a multiracial person.

Have you been finding out new information through this project?

Yeah, so much! There’s this story that I was told my whole life, that my grandfather on my Dad’s side of the family killed a white man and they left and drove to Chicago. But in the process of doing research I found the true story. My grandma wrote this narrative about him (her dad) and what he was like. The real story is that he slapped his white neighbor and they came looking for him. They said he wasn’t there, and then they put him on a freight train from Mississippi to Chicago. So I’ve been finding all these really interesting details that I had never known. I don’t have a photo of that obviously, so I'm going to try to create an image that represents that story. It’s amazing that I get to think so much about an art project that relates so directly to me.

If you could consume one medium (writing, film, visual arts..) for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Oh this is so hard. I feel like this is kind of cheating but it would definitely have to be TV. Mostly because I’m a massive TV junkie, and I would get elements of film and good music. Yeah, definetly TV-  I already watch it for 90% of my life anyway.

 

Mira Dayal

Photography by Caroline Wallis

Interview by Mary Ma 

Mira Dayal is an artist, critic, and curator. She grew up in Sudbury, MA and is graduating with a combined major in Visual Arts and Economics at Barnard. Mira’s artwork includes multi-media installations, photography, and drawings. She is the founder and chief editor of the Journal of Art Criticism, an undergraduate contemporary art criticism publication. Her writing has appeared in Hyperallergic, The Brooklyn Rail, NYAQ, as well as other platforms.

Mira’s multimedia and installation work explores relationships between materials, space, and time. She finds creative ways to capture abstract compositions and plays with different ways of representing sensory experiences. Her recent work focuses on the relationship between attraction and repulsion, as well as concepts of decay and disgust.

If you could meet an artist living or dead, who would it be and what would you talk about?

Can I give you three? Joseph Beuys, Lucian Freud, Alice Neel. I recently found out that Alice Neel used to live on 107th street, which is pretty close to where I live on 110th. I just felt this connection to her and I made a painting for the first time in two years after reading about her. I saw Joseph Beuys’ work in Berlin over break; he made these giant sculptures of fat, very geometric and literally made of fat, called Tallow. He has great ways of working through ideas and with very interesting yet disturbing uses of materials. I've been doing some work that's based on his work, so it would be cool to talk to him.

Are there any artists or art movements that have inspired your work or writing?

It's hard to pinpoint specific ones. I draw a lot of my inspiration from contemporary work that I don’t know how to categorize into movements at this point. I think about conceptual art a lot in terms of how I’m making work. “I'm making this thing, what does it mean? If I want to make this idea into an object, how do I do that?” Conceptual art is important as a framework for thinking about the work. In terms of actual materials and execution of the work, my work has more to do with associations between physical objects, domestic space, and the body.

A lot of your work is multi-media, how would you define your relationship with the medium(s) you use?

I started art in high school when I did a lot of drawing. At the time I was working towards photorealism just so I would be able to draw. I did a series of portraits on maps using the lines of the map to create the drawings. I was having fun but once I got to a point where I could draw pretty realistically, I wasn't interested in that anymore because there wasn't much room for exploration. So I stopped drawing for a bit and took a lot of studio classes in painting, sculpture, and photography. I ended up merging all these media together because I started becoming very interested in the photography--I was abstracting what I was seeing into what I could think of as compositions for drawings. Since then I became more interested in capturing textures through photography and drawing representations of those textures--I use materials like graphite powder, oil, and vaseline. I've been thinking more about translating ideas and objects between different media. The sculptural elements emerged naturally out of that process. For example, I started cutting out shapes in yoga mats that echoed shapes in my drawings and used those to make prints. They were fleshy, sticky, and linguistic. Once you start thinking about the materials with which you are working, it becomes a lot more expansive.

How do the materials you use embody your ideas? Can you talk about the transition from concept to material?

In my recent studio work, when I was thinking about materials, the overarching concept I was working with was disgust—creating simultaneous attraction and repulsion for the viewer. Materials like vaseline give the paper a very wet look. After sitting on paper for several months, it no longer has the same kind of sticky surface, but it’s very beautiful because it forms this weird, shining, undulating surface, almost like an ocean. It's very attractive but kind of gross and you don't want to touch it.

A lot of the compositions and “weird” materials come from dreams. Which sounds cheesy, but the way I think about my dreams is that my mind subconsciously combines things that I'm seeing --I think of that as a subconscious collage that has come into a lot of my sculptural stuff. It's a weird process to be delivering the objects of your dreams and making that thing that you feel like you just saw. I once had a dream in which I was reaching to the back of my leg and found that there were all these strange bumps on my skin. It gave me a queasy feeling. Working with that idea of repulsion, I made a cast of my leg and embedded blueberries and almonds into the back of the leg, in the paper-mache, to form the bumps. So that was about how I could get to that sort of visual effect—how do I get the same kind of reaction from the viewer?

What’s your favorite/most challenging material you’ve ever worked with?

Wood was challenging in an exciting way, because I was coming from only working with 2-D work at that point, primarily drawing and painting. It was a different way of making an object --you get outside of making an artwork and it’s like, "Okay, I need to make a box now." You have to be a lot more careful, plan it out, and be more mathematical in figuring out the degrees for cutting the wood or how you are going to sand this thing into a sphere. It was exciting but a totally different process. Just shifting into being able to think that way was challenging.

How do you balance your role as an art critic/writer and an artist?

I started writing about art because I was doing a lot of studio visits. I was interning at A.I.R. Gallery and I was interviewing a lot of artists. I would write up their studio visits as reviews of their work. And still when I’m writing about shows it's often based on my interest in the artist’s process. I try to put myself in the position of the artist when I’m thinking about how to review a show. “What would this mean for someone to be making this?” This definitely comes into my studio practice in that, with a lot of the work that I will get excited about and write about, the ideas and the artists that I'm working with come into my own work. The concept of appropriation itself comes into my work too. A very direct example of this is a drawing I did after I'd seen a ton of shows over one month during the summer. I had the exhibition checklists with details about each work from each show, so I made a drawing in which I copied over all of the little thumbnails on the exhibition checklist. Sometimes the thumbnails would fall apart during the process or I would stop drawing the whole thumbnail and just draw elements of it that were interesting. I think that is representative of how you piece together your own work from all these other ideas that you are seeing, writing or reading about.

Do you write about your own work?

I have to write artist statements for my studio work, but it’s kind of difficult to capture. There are a lot of different ideas I’m trying to work through, but it’s not always helpful for someone else to read about all of them. For example, when I'm reviewing a show, I try to just see the works first and not read the press release beforehand, just to get a fresh read on the work.

One other thing is that sometimes I will see a show or an artist's body of work that is really enticing, but I almost don’t want to write about it because I don’t want to break it, in a way. There are some shows that need to stand on their own, without being pitched by any verbal stakes. I think sometimes I get that feeling because the work is too close to my own interests and I want to just let it be and percolate without having that mode of address. Just leave it there and let it sit. Figure out what it is and why it's working, but not in an overly analytic way.

As a curator, what would you say are some principles or relationships you aim to build in an exhibition space? Feel free to give me specific examples.

The space has always been the same for the shows that I've been doing, which is a gallery with only one actual wall (and three glass walls). It’s not an ideal space in which to curate, but it’s also a nice challenge. The first show I did in there was called Person_Place_Thing, and it was about works that are between physical and digital spaces. For that show, I started with one piece that I was really interested in, called World Wide Simultaneous Dance (1998). The artist (Laura Knott) basically coordinated a bunch of different people from different countries to dance at the same time on live-streamed video, before that was an easy or intuitive thing to do. I was thinking about that as an early example of a way in which physical and digital spaces coincide.

The show that I just did in there was called Residues. Residues were something I was interested in with my work as well. In Residues I was more interested in allowing for connections between works that were not overt and emerged more naturally from the works themselves. I was thinking about psychological and material residues. There was a shower piece by Amanda Turner Pohan that circulated a perfumed fluid that the artist made from measurements of her heartbeat. The residues of that bodily mechanism become the residues of the shower, a perfumed space that you enter into which also forms a residue on your body. There was also a porcelain slip cast of an egg carton by Nicole Kaack in the show. The egg carton burns away in the kiln and the porcelain form is left behind. These works end up having a nice material resonance with each other even though I don't think either artist would have made the other's work. I like that kind of connection.

How did the idea for the Journal of Art Criticism (JAC) come about and what do you envision for it?

When I started writing a lot myself, I was finding that a lot of publications didn’t want an undergraduate student writing for them, especially not in print. In addition, there aren't many undergraduate courses on contemporary art, even though there are a lot of publications out there that are specifically focused on contemporary art. I thought that it would be nice to have an outlet where undergraduates could write, edit, be edited, have conversations with each other about contemporary art, and learn how to run a publication. I want undergraduate student writers to feel like they have an avenue into publishing or writing and a reason to write about contemporary art. The aim is for it to be read by a wider public audience, which is why we stock JAC in bookstores—it gives more credibility to the writers and artists, more weight to undergraduate voices.

You can visit Mira’s website at: https://miradayal.com/

KEENAN TEDDY SMITH

Interview by Perla Haney-Jardine

Keenan T. Smith is a poet from Flint, Michigan. He’s currently a junior at Columbia University studying race and ethnicity with a possible concentration in Atlantic colonization.

Are you involved in any poetry related groups on campus? If so, which ones?

I’m a member of ADP. It’s a literary society, so that’s probably the closest thing. I’ve submitted to various publications on campus. I’ve submitted to African Diaspora, Literary Society, and Hoot’s sister magazine Holler.

Is there a certain fear in submitting poetry, and do you ever feel reluctant or scared to send it in?

It depends on what went into the poem, and what I was feeling when I was writing it. I don’t think I write anything knowing that it’ll be mine forever. So, whenever I write, I write knowing that whether it be a few years from now when I submit, or 60 or 70 years from now when I die, it’s not mine. It’s going to be whoever finds it later on. I’ve never held onto my writing like that, I’ve understood that it’s never alone.

Have Columbia and New York changed your voice as a writer?

Absolutely. When I came here, my focus was on my experience of queerness, and I feel like I lacked a lot of the vocabulary for a lot of feelings I was having. Coming to Columbia and New York, I’ve not only changed what I’m talking about and expanded the subject matters with which I’d like to engage, but I also feel like I’ve gained a larger repertoire of modes of expression in terms of vocabulary and form. I’ve been exposed to so many different ways of literary expression, there’s no way I could say that I hadn’t been impacted by the city.

What are some of your biggest inspirations as a poet?

I’d say that my biggest inspiration would be lyrics. I think that I’ve always struggled because I’ve found lyrics to be some of the most moving forms of textual expression but simultaneously felt like they weren’t legitimate enough. Like lyrics weren’t as real as poetry or fiction or prose. So I was always judging myself for doing so [writing lyrics]. I’d say my largest influences have been different song lyrics from different genres. Some of them I’ve used for who they’re coming from instead of the words themselves. Or taking the words of songs that are popular and using those to fit them into something else and having it be its own sort of style. Other times, it’s just really listening to songs on repeat and trying to listen to the melodies and the rhythms of what’s being said. I’m really trying to engage with that impression.

What about specific artists?

I think that Lady Gaga’s very undersold as a lyricist, because a lot of her writing is very complex and very lyrical, very poetic. I’d say lately, I’ve been very influenced by some of Solange’s older work. A Seat at the Table is gorgeous and incredibly intricate. Her older stuff does the same thing, but with a very different mode. If we’re talking about poets, I’d say Danez Smith, Derrick Austin, and as a foundation, Gwendolyn Brooks. Earlier this year, I was reading some Patricia Smith. I deal mainly in black authors. 

If you could sit down and have a discussion with one poet, alive or dead, who would it be and what would you ask them?

That’s very tough. Right now, because I got to meet her this summer, I’d really like to be able to have a conversation with Claudia Rankine. I saw her read and got a chance to briefly speak to her, and the way that her voice is carried made me really want to have a conversation with her, not necessarily just about poetry.

Do you find that your tone varies depending on your subject matter? I would like to hear a little bit about how you deal with tone, considering how different the tones of the two poems I read were.

Those are two relatively older pieces. I’ve always tried to demolish pretention as much as I can within myself and within my work. When it comes to tone, I think of myself as an impressionist of sorts. I like to try to impress on people a certain feeling or a certain mood. Oftentimes, I struggle to create a narrative because I’m trying to create a feeling, and feeling doesn’t always have that same action. I do think about a feeling, I think about a moment, and try to, not even using things that have happened, but using phrases or descriptors, carve out a perspective and have the reader engage with that moment. I’m often thinking about a moment I’m trying to engender in this person and trying to use the best tone to fit that.

Do you find that there are certain themes that reoccur in your work?  

I’ve thought a lot about the mundane nature of bodily fragility and disposability. I don’t want to use the word disposable, but human disposability more so talking about the way in which people move each other… How people engage with one another in tender ways, in genuine ways, but also turn away from people in similarly authentic ways. Thinking about how mundane it is for a human to self-serve, and thinking about that with regards to all perspectives. Seeing that from the first person, from the second person, from the third person and how that constructs relationships between people and communities, how people’s own motivations conflict with others’ and how these ideas of tragedy and backstabbing and neglect can be retold or rethought of. I spend a lot of time looking at perspective and looking at how nothing is inherently anything with regards to human interactions.  

Do you ever write with a preconceived form?

It depends on how I’m feeling about what I’m saying. Often I go in thinking: these are the rules of this poem. This is the scheme; this is the framework I’m going to operate off of. So sometimes if what I’m saying relates to this emotion or this train of thought it’s going to be in this space on the page. Or if it has a certain rhythmic quality or tone, or imagery I’m going to put it in this part of the poem. I’ve been moving stuff around lately and trying to play with the idea of having things be readable in different ways because I think that that speaks to the abstract metaphysical aspects of trying to depict impressions in the 21st century.

What purpose does poetry serve in your life?

It has probably been the most reliable form of expression I’ve had throughout my life. It’s been something that I’ve turned to in moments of extreme happiness or extreme sadness, or when I feel disconnected from myself, like I’m not in touch with what I’m feeling or what I want. When I’m spending too much time thinking about things that need to be done or what other people want to be done, I usually turn to poetry to center myself but also show me where I’m at. For a long time, it was hard for me to understand where I was and what I wanted. Poetry was a good way to put down on paper: these are the things I’m thinking about. I tend to have a thought or feeling and think of phrases that may be going through my head repeatedly and use that as a starting point.

Describe the complete journey of a poem from your head to the page.

I tend to start with a feeling of some sort, a feeling that’s either new to me, or one I haven’t tried to wrestle with before. I’ll be thinking about that, then I’ll push myself to internally speak on it. Then, if there are phrases I like, I’ll start to use them as beginnings, or try to have them somewhere in [the poem]. I use that as a starting point to begin laying into the page. I find that I struggle with writing with pen and paper. I love doing it, but it doesn’t give me the same quickness. I think my mind moves faster than my hand so I prefer to use a laptop. It’s also easier for me to do the tricks or whatever I want to do in terms of form on a document as opposed to page, because I’m not sure what I can do on the page can translate to the document. It’s easier to start from the document. So, I’ll go through the poem, get everything down with the preliminary spacing, read through it again, and see if that’s true to the essence I was feeling before. Then, I try to go through and change the words that I think are lazy, the words that I don’t think move the piece in a way that I feel is aesthetically true to where I was when I started, and then do the same thing with form. I look at what it looks like on the page and see what would better convey this, or better guide the reader to similar conclusions or to similar experiences. Once I’ve done that, I’ll sit on it. I’ll come back to it and look at it periodically, when I have down time, just to see how it’s looking. If I like it, I’ll keep it and it’ll just be wherever, my computer memory, maybe. If I don’t it’ll stay there, but I’ll never use it.

Do you get other people to read your poetry?

For a while I had a friend, we’d workshop pieces for each other, go back and forth via Google Docs, but we stopped because school got to be too much that semester. But I do have people that I’ll send things to. Less so now, because oftentimes, it feels like I get imposter syndrome in those conversations. I feel like I don’t know what I’m talking about. I’ll start to doubt myself and gaslight myself, and it’s not the most enjoyable thing. Usually, I’ll only share something after I’ve finished the piece and take those notes to see if there’s anything I want to change.

What was the last poem you wrote about?

The most recent was about feeling guilty about doing things that made me comfortable. I was feeling guilty about doing things I wanted to do. I was feeling guilty about being happy, trusting myself, and doing things that I wanted to do instead of things I needed to do. So, the poem is affirming. I don’t usually do repetition, but I was experimenting with it. The one before that, the one that I guess I’m prouder of, was more of a fictive poem about the dual consciousness that queer folk often have with regards to their future in general and their own future happiness, but it was through a conversation between two brothers at night after their mom had tucked them in. It was talking about futures and future families and happiness, asking how it’s possible.

Do you find yourself thinking about other aspects of your life in terms of poetry, or can you compartmentalize? Does content from your academic classes or other artistic pursuits find its way into your poetry?

That happens for me with classes. If I’m in a literature class, it’ll be hard for me to not think about themes or images those authors are playing with. There are several poems I’ve written that have referenced or alluded to certain works that have come up in class. While they are works from class, I reference them just like anyone would reference someone they’ve read before. I try to push against it but I definitely think about certain parts of my life in terms of poetry, like the romantic, the familial. I mean, everything’s been written about and the stereotypical ideas of what poetry should be written about are what I’ll often think about first. But I want to push it further, think about other things, find parts of my life that are just as aesthetically relevant and artistically important, that are just as deserving of that same intellectual interrogation that poetry demands, that might not be as sexy as glamorous or as tawdry.

What are words you love? Words you hate?

I like the word delicate a lot. I think I like most words that surround weddings and wedding gowns, different fabrics like chiffon or cashmere, but also the colors that come along with those. I like words that are fragile, that when you write them or say them, you could be concerned about them breaking. I like really delicate words, also.

When would you say you started writing poetry, when did you start reading it?

I probably started writing in middle school. Before that, I was always really into music, and not always in a wide way, sometimes in a very deep way. A select artist, but their entire discography. I often think of artists in terms of their bodies of work rather than a selection. I started writing song lyrics before I started writing poetry. I didn’t have any musical background; I would sing on my own but didn’t have any classical training or anything. I went from lyrics to more serious attempts at poetry. Most of the poetry I was exposed to at that time was predominately things I didn’t think of as poetry, classics like Beowulf or Shakespeare. That was my exposure, and it wasn’t until high school that I started reading poetry. That was also around the time I started. Where I’m from, there was a pretty active spoken word scene. I didn’t really participate, but I would go to this café in the city on Saturday nights and they’d have an open mic night, and I’d listen to the spoken word poets. That was where I was getting a lot of my inspiration then. I stopped creating my own work until the last part of high school, then I started again, but it died out when I was applying because I thought I was going to college for political things or international relations. Then, I got here and all I wanted to do was be in artistic circles, so I started to read more poets outside of my classes and started writing more. I took some pieces that were older that I thought were good and what I was working on then and put together compilations of those. Ever since then, I’ve been steadily doing more and more. I don’t often create a document and think I’m going to do a poem. Often, I have a document up, and I want to paste something from somewhere else. I have several untitled documents on Google Docs that are patchworks of different things that are completely unrelated to one another. Those are the things I eventually have to go through.

If you could only consume one type of media for the rest of your life starting today, what would it be and why?

I would probably do music. My other inclination was to say TV, because I feel like movies are beautiful, but I like the diversity of narratives that come from television. You can have a show with a set of characters, but those characters can end up in vastly different places than they were when they started. Whereas a movie is an hour and a half to two hours, quite finite. But I’d probably choose music because it’s something that’s so diverse in the ways you can experience it, there are moments that are incredibly mellow, and you’re really savoring every note, and there are moments that are much more up-tempo that make you want to dance. You can do so many things with music and to the sound of music that aren’t the same. You can sleep to music, you can have sex to music, you can dance to music, you can talk over music. I think music is the most consistent, persistent media. People don’t recognize they’re constantly experiencing it.

 

Eliza Callahan

Photography by Shelby Hettler

Interview by Jewel Britton

Eliza Callahan is a born and raised New Yorker who produces art in the form of creative writing, music, and visual arts. She is a second semester senior in Columbia College double majoring in creative writing and visual arts, and is just one class away from having a concentration in art history.

Do you think growing up in New York influenced you as an artist, or made you an artist?

I don’t think it made me an artist but I was perpetually around art- always going to plays, readings, seeing shows. My parents are not artists but a lot of their friends were, so I grew up with a lot of artistic characters in my life. I’m an only child so my parents would always take me out with them — their friends became my friends from an early age, and I consider some of their close friends to be like family.

Were these people what initially drew you to the arts or were you already interested in it?

I never actually considered doing visual arts seriously until sophomore year in college. I went to a high school that was very arts-centric and I always took a lot of arts classes, but primarily I focused on music and writing. I write music and perform so that was the medium that overtook my life- and is still a very big part of my life. Music and writing were my “things” growing up. Visual arts was something I always did but it wasn’t something I had a practice in.

At Columbia, I ended up finding myself to be really happy and provoked in my visual arts classes, and found that the professors were consistently incredible and fascinating people: Jon Kessler, Rirkrit Tiravanija, JJ Peet, the list goes on… The visual arts classes began to have a really big influence on my academic work and vice versa. I had never considered going to art school and am really grateful to have been able to experience an academic and arts education. I initially came to Columbia thinking I was going to be a classics major- which I did study for a while and am still really interested in. Art classes really gave me a place to work through what I was learning and figure out how to navigate my thoughts. Looking back, I was definitely most excited in classes when I would feel, oh I want to engage with this or respond to this in my own work (that would happen in a core class, an art history class, a Latin class, etc.)../ So while the visual arts classes gave me the methods and tools, the academic classes were, as they damn should, feeding my ideas.

How do aspects of your other mediums- writing and music- come into your visual art?

Music hadn’t really come into my art until recently when I started scoring some video art that I made. Until that the practices had remained very separate. But I’ve incorporated my writing in a lot of my works. Usually the writing I use is not “found writing”, it’s always stuff that I've written in bits and pieces. I’m actually working on a piece, that I don’t think I’ll finish by the end of the year, which is really revolved around different ways of viewing and experiencing text. I'm currently in the process of creating a pier from which viewers (or rather readers) will be able to experience the text projected down onto the water. So basically, creative writing and visual arts definitely seem to come together, but not so much with music- yet.

Do you write the lyrics for your band?

Yeah, I do write a lot of the lyrics. It’s interesting because I spend a lot of time on my writing but for lyrics it’s different. People are always like “oh so you write poetry and then set music to it” but actually for me it’s not like that. Sometimes, I wish it was and I guess it is occasionally.  But when I’m writing a song, the melody or chord progression is what is often in my head first and the lyrics follow. It’s not that text gets the back burner, but it’s definitely a different kind of process for me- less calculated and more emotionally driven.

Do you have a similar artistic process for visual arts, where the text comes after?

Usually that depends. Sometimes I’ll write something and I’ll decide that it’s something I want to incorporate in a work, or I will overlay text onto something after it’s created. So there’s not really a fixed process for that.

Is there a medium you prefer to work with?

I took a ceramics class sophomore year with the artist J.J. Peet.. I think he is on leave but he’s a phenomenal artist and I think he affected my approach to art making in general. Ceramics has been a good way for me to filter my ideas. It's hands on and more immediate in many ways than other forms of sculpture, but it is of course limiting in size (at least with my current facilities) - you have to make things that fit in the kiln. I've been doing some work assembling ceramics into larger pieces with epoxy lately which has felt pretty freeing. I've also spent a lot of time experimenting with different approaches to image transfer processes onto clay- silkscreen and iron oxide. That’s what I had been focusing on, but it’s been about a year and a half of that. While I’m not ready to abandon ceramics in any way, I’m ready to start making larger works with different media. Of course it’s possible to make large ceramics, but it’s so many layers of process and relying on other people to fire the kilns etc. A lot of logistics!

Some of your pieces featured on Ratrock had representations of the female body. Are there any feminist messages you are trying to convey to the viewer?

Feminism definitely plays a role in my work. I’m always thinking about giving agency to the female body and female image.  I consider myself to be a feminist, an intersectional feminist. [Looking at pieces in her studio]— so yes, it’s definitely a part of my practice intrinsically whether it’s explicit or an undercurrent.

Do you think your political beliefs seep into your work in the same way?

I actually had this crazy thing happen: so last semester, in a pre-Trump America, I was thinking quite directly about presentation of fact versus fiction in history and trying to create my own system of prevention of false fact. As someone who is also a writer, I was drawn to the idea of creating false narratives, effectually short stories and histories and presenting them as fact, or artifact through my ceramic object. Thinking about the way in which different histories come together and pile up, notions of how we store things and archive art histories. I’ve been thinking of myself as kind of a preemptive archeologist- someone who is making something look as though it was part of history, and considering the way something in the present or recent past might be dug up in the future, discovered this way. Thinking about chronologies and nostalgia for the present.

I’m thinking of myself as someone that’s kind of conning the viewer in my presentation of “False object”— The politicians kissing on the weird mug-like structures pulls images from a United Colors of Benetton ad campaign. It’s a clothing label that made a large ad campaign that came under fire for photoshopping images of world leaders kissing (without their permission) that everyone forgot about pretty quickly. I wanted to take these images that were already photoshopped, not photoshopped by me, and were presented in a way that could have been truth or fiction if you did not know better, and petrify them- literally turn them to stone so that in a future they would be “discovered” as fact. Then we entered the era of POST TRUTH and along comes Kellyanne and her “alternative facts”! Precisely touching on what I was dealing with and giving it a nice little title to boot. I could never have guessed that post truth would become cliched over the course of this school semester. I guess I'm now inadvertently making pop art.

Are you involved with the arts on campus?

I was involved as freshmen with Postcrypt, but my music has made it hard to be really involved with anything. But I’m a heavy supporter of Postcrypt, Ratrock, CU records, and Snock even though I’m not directly involved, I love and value the much needed physical, creative and emotional spaces they have created for this campus.

If you could only consume one kind of medium (visual arts, music, writing…) for the rest of your life, what would it be?

That is very difficult! I guess I might have to say music because then I would still get words through lyrics, and music so I’m able to get two out of the three I would want. Sorry art!

Anything you want to plug- for your music or your art?

So, I’m currently a part of two different bands. Jack & Eliza (which I’m half of) and Purr, which I  started with Jack, bassist Sam Glick from Columbia, and drummer Max Freedberg. We’re actually opening for Foxygen this Friday, March 24th at Terminal 5.

Here is the link to tickets!

http://www.terminal5nyc.com/event/1378284-foxygen-new-york 

Jeevan Farias

Photography by Caroline Wallis

Interviewed by Joelle Milman

When Jeevan and I met in Brownies café, he was wearing all cool colors—navys, greys, darker greens. After he sat, he took out a brushed steel thermos and unscrewed the bottom, which served as a cup for his tea. He sipped from it, slowly, throughout our conversation.

Like his curated set of objects and the slow, considered ways he answers questions, Jeevan is deliberate. Born in Texas, Jeevan grew up in New Jersey, though his voice maintains a sort-of southern drawl. He speaks with slang and intelligence. At Columbia, he studies computer science and spends plenty of time in the Makerspace, laser-cutting skateboards and thinking about design. He sat down with Ratrock last month to talk about his ideal mediums, computers, and a life designed around making things.

Where are you from?

I’m from New Jersey. West County. I was born in Texas and I grew up in Illinois until I was five, so- pretty much I lived in New Jersey. 

Were you always into art?

Yeah. I’ve been playing music since I was three. I played violin for thirteen years. I played drums. I’ve been playing trumpet for the last ten. Now I only play trumpet. I did it a lot of visual art in middle school, but I didn’t really know I liked it ‘till my junior year of high school.

What type of music did you play? How did you learn?

I was in a lot of orchestras, jazz programs, basically took private lessons from when I was three until I was eighteen. It was really serious, very much so. I loved it a lot. I still love it. Of all the creative things I do, music is hardest for me. It’s very difficult, but I like it the best. Which I’ve only figured out pretty recently.

What’s hard about it?

I don’t think it really comes that naturally to me. Even writing music- I have a familiarity with it now that I’ve done it for so long. Drawing, painting, making things with my hands – I do it very ad-hoc, I don’t even think about it most of the time. It’s a lot easier to control what I’m doing, figure it out. With music it takes- it’s just straight up harder, is all I’m saying.

How do you go about writing music?

I made the EP last semester. Before that EP I had only ever written or preformed classical or jazz for the past six years before college. I had only ever written acoustic music with a quintet in mind- two horns, bass, drums, piano. So this was really fun for me, really different. I was making all the instruments appear, and thinking about trumpet and voice as other components on top of that. It was learning more intimately how other instruments work.

When you write for a live band, you don’t write out the drum parts: depending on the song you don’t always write out a bass part because the bass player will make one up based on the chords. But I was writing all of that, which was super cool because when you’re writing electronic music you can start at different points and link it all together, make little tiny pieces of it and then build them into one thing.

Writing music isn’t usually like that for you?

It’s not exactly about putting things together. It’s like my visual creative process in that I usually create the thing, a rough image of what I’m trying to do, then keep pushing that, molding it, until it resembles something that I want. The name of the album was Shrubbery and Pointalism but pointillism is spelled wrong on purpose. I‘m kinda into the idea of actual pointillism, that it’s pixilation, resolution, like when you zoom out it’s blurry and you zoom in and it’s blurry- actually with pointillism it’s the opposite. I named it that because that’s it’s how I was thinking about my creative process at that point.

Which is… what?

Which is- refining something. Working. Starting really fast and make something that’s super rough, super general, that lets me see the frame of what I’m trying to accomplish. Sort of like an underpainting. Other people can write a song from beginning to end, but I need the frame of reference.

What inspires your work? Trees, pointillism- where do you get your ideas? Do they just happen?

Well, that EP was super specific with what it was about. I had this idea of walking through a forest and seeing a glowing cube, something that shouldn’t be there. Each song is called ‘below, outside, above, inside. You’re looking at the cube from different points of view. The songs aren’t necessarily about that, but it’s where the idea came from. Which is why I think I was able to do it so quickly: I knew exactly what it was, it made lyric writing a lot easier. I had never really written lyrics before, so having that idea…

Your work covers a ton of ground, from painting to music to 3D Graphics. Is that just random?

Well, my portfolio has a lot of different mediums in it because I’ve done different things in the past couple of years, but I don’t really work with many of them anymore. Most of them (the mediums) I don’t. I painted with oil and watercolor quite a bit in high school, but I haven’t done that in ages. I did a bit of watercolor last year, but I haven’t really been painting for a year. I’m not that interested in it anymore. I like building things, making things. I’ve made some stuff out of wood and cardboard.

So, tactile sculptures?

What else did I make out of cardboard? I made some books over the summer. Notebooks.

Did you make the paper by hand?

No (laughs). That’s ridiculous. Let someone else do that.

I made a skateboard a couple weeks ago.

Have you been using it?

Yeah. It’s pretty fun.

Do you build a lot of the things in your life?

 I’m trying to. I don’t have enough time, but I’m trying to make all my stuff, eventually. I really want to not be in school for a month or so so I can do it. Not completely everything, but—

I’m kind of obsessed with this idea of materialism, but not materialism- being obsessed with a very specific selection of objects that are with you all the time. They’re a part of who you are. You love these materials. It’s a very minimal, specific selection of materials, objects.

And they’re different for everyone, a little bit.

Yeah, but they’re kind of a uniform. You need them all the time. For me, this thermos is one of those. I really need it.

Think you could make your own thermos?

Maybe someday (laughs). I don’t think I’m skilled enough to do that.

When did you start working with wood?

A little bit last year. I’m really- I use computers a lot when I work. I’ve never done a woodworking project, like “made a chair”. I use the Makerspace a lot- an open lab in the engineering building. I use the CNC machine and the laser cutter. But the main ones are the computerized tools I use to make stuff. That’s how I made the skateboard. I cut it with a CNC mill and finished it by hand. I’m gonna make more and sell them.

You do 3D graphic stuff too, right? And you’re a CS major? How has that work informed your art practice- did you have those tools before?

Yeah. I started caring about doing creative things because- I went to an engineering high school and had to take CAT classes, so I started doing 3D modeling. We also had a 3D printer, which was super sick in like 2011. 2010. Longest time ago. So I was doing a lot of that on my own since it wasn’t happening in class. I got really into art 3D modeling, so it was quite a bit of character design, digital sculpting, things like that. I was actually adamantly opposed to learning CS for a long time, which was stupid (laughs). I was like, ‘I don’t care, I don’t wanna know about that’. After I graduated (high school) I realized I was pretty interested in it. I took my first CS class at Columbia. I was going to be an architecture major until a few days ago actually.

I always feel like there is some correlation between the worlds of coding and writing, the process of creating something, writing and coding as art.

Absolutely, absolutely. I was thinking about that the other day too, writing a program compared to essay writing. Just code is easier. It’s also- you have to really think about organization, you have to think about your beginning, how you end it. You don’t really think about arguments, but- you’re composing, when you write a program, which is cool too.

That sounds connected to music. It sounds like all that you do is interconnected.

Word. I guess so. It’s all- I think about everything the same way. Which is really helpful in some ways and counterproductive in others.

I think that’s one of the ‘creative people’ things, one of those double-edged swords of thinking creatively.

I fuck with that. I don’t want to be studying CS to be a computer scientist, studying architecture to be an architect. I think it’s all one toolkit that I’m trying to flesh out.

I think college, for me, is building that toolkit to feel that I can do the work I want to do creatively. Specifically what I want to do is temporary architecture, or installations, audio-visual stuff. I kind of just want to organize parties, build spaces for music.

What about the visual art that’s up there? The eye from the security camera, stuff like that?

Those are actually a few years old, but I like them a lot. I actually wanted to make t-shirts out of them, which I did, through one of those e-commerce websites. Kinda lame, but Columbia doesn’t let you use the print studio unless you are in a printing class, so.

Those designs are also part of a general obsession with technology. Technology has produced my most intense love hate relationship.

Can you tell me more about that?

Sure. Everything I want to do relies on computers. I really love making things that are made possible by my computer. The things that I am able to output using a computer I really love. But I also hate that I spend, like, 12 hours a day on my laptop. And that I basically can’t go anywhere without my laptop because I need it to do everything. Yeah. It’s kind of counter to what I think is good in life. Fun. Farm produce, human interactions. Wood and cotton and glass as opposed to…

Do you have a particular medium that you most often turn to? Or is it always in conversation?

Medium. I think for now, for making things, it’s wood and cotton. Yeah. I think that there are only five materials that are worthwhile: wood, cotton, steel, glass, paper. Yeah. That’s the ones.

What about what’s inside a computer?

Right. So you can’t – I am- I’m realizing that I unfortunately can’t get to that point (where I only work with wood, cotton, steel, glass, paper). Which is kind of sad. It’s mostly an effort to villainize plastic as the worst thing ever.

Do you think that politics or larger ideas influence your life and art? Or is it just the object?

No, definitely. A lot of the drawings I made, mostly about surveillance, which is something I’m still very interested in and fighting against. Environmental activism is really important to me- the whole plastic thing is about that. This obsession with design for people to have a small selection of objects is about that: consume, but consume on a small scale. Consume long-lasting things that are actually important to you.

Would you consider yourself an activist?

Yeah, I think so. Yeah, definitely. That question is hard for the same reason that ‘do you consider yourself an artist’ is hard. I think it has a lot of gravity of ‘do you really put your money where your mouth is’ kinda deal. But, also, activism is similar to art in that it’s not one thing. Activism is not only protesting- that’s not true because protesting isn’t even one thing. Activism is not just vocally gathering and chanting with signs. Direct action is great, but it’s not the only activism. It’s also trying to be aware and up to date as you can be, and to always have conversations with people and calling people out when they say something you don’t agree with. Being confrontational in a way in which you’re not fighting, but trying to educate and learn, and have other people learn, and stuff like that.

I think being an activist means caring about things, to be honest.

And here’s this question: Do you consider yourself an artist?

No. I thought about this a couple weeks ago. Well… yeah.

On the Ratrock page, I didn’t say ‘visual artist’, I said ‘designer’. I think it’s easier to call myself a designer. ‘artist’ has a lot of weight. I like the intentionality of calling yourself a designer.  

(pause) Let me just find the words…

Calling yourself an artist is chill and great for a lot of people, obviously. For me, using the word designer is less pressure.

What does being a designer mean? To you? And literally, what it encompasses?

It incorporates the concept of function. For a while, I didn’t fuck with that, so maybe I won’t fuck with it in a while. I actually don’t see that happening. I’m really interested in highly- functional but very beautiful things.

That’s a good ethos. Anything else you feel like sharing, any upcoming works? Andglowing cube in a forest ideas?

What have I been thinking about… I think what’s been on my mind mostly is the uniform. Making all your own clothes. Everything you own being made yourself or traded with other people. I think that we should all- well, not we all- but I think it’s really sick to limit yourself in certain ways. Your uniform doesn’t need to all be the same thing. You don’t need to wear the same thing every day, but instead of wearing thirty clothes, you have 10. So you repeat things a lot, and it’s predictable. I think that’s interesting. Not school uniform- definitely not everyone should wear the same thing. That would suck. But I want to wear the same thing every day.

Me and my friend met this professional knitter on the subway last night. He’s a student at parson but he also ‘knits freelance’. High brands employ him to knit shit for for them. He makes his own stuff and sells it on commission, so like. He makes sweaters and shit for all these people. It was cool.

Also: a moneyless and plasticless world. That’s what I’ve been dreaming about lately.

Lena Rubin

Photography by Clara Hirsch

Interviewed by Matt Munsil

If you had to use 3 words or so to describe your poetry, which would you use?

I guess water, memory, and opaque.

When you say “water” in regards to your poetry, what does that mean?

I just mean that I’m obsessed with water in my writing. That wasn’t supposed to describe the quality of my writing, that’s just the center of a lot of my writing, which just happened this summer because I was living in New York, and I went all the way out to the beach sometimes. I realized that being in water is my favorite thing, so I go swimming pretty frequently at Dodge in the pool and I found that swimming is a lot like writing in a lot of ways, so I think of swimming and water as a main-- not just subject, but technique in my writing.

How do you approach producing poetry? Your poetry seems to take on different voices, sometimes it’s more stream-of-consciousness, sometimes it’s more calculated, is there a general approach you have, or does inspiration just strike?

I think I tend to write down a lot of notes in my journal, and a lot of my notes are just long paragraphs of items I put together to see how they work, and some of my poems are just direct transcriptions of those. And then others are based on things I’ve read or I’ve studied in school. One of the poems I wrote when I was writing a paper about Emma Goldman [note]. And I think it depends [on the poem]. This is hard because I’ve been writing more fiction this semester but I think the approach is the same. But I think that a lot of my poems have been things that I’ve wanted to turn into stories, so I think I approach them from that perspective.

You mentioned the notes you would take in your journals, and some of the works of yours on Ratrock are just literally scans of notebooks, so at what point do you say, this is a work of poetry which I want to share with someone? What is the difference for you between when you type out a poem and submit that as a finished product versus when you submit scans of notebooks?

I think when I look back at poems, even those that are typed, I never really feel satisfied with them, so often I like to just preserve a poem in its original form because no matter what I know I’ll want to come back to it and change it, so I like just having it be what it first is before I can change it at all, if that makes sense. I’d rather it be completely out there without any changes rather than like-- the process of revising any piece of writing is infinite, so I feel like I need to capture what it first is in order to come back to it later.

For you, what is the purpose of your poetry? Do you see it as self-expression, self-exploration, societal exploration? Or is it just whatever strikes you?

I think writing is just a way to keep myself happy. I like when other people read it and I’m happy it was published, but I don’t-- I think a lot of-- I’ve always written because it’s a way to regulate -- so the poet Anne Carson, she has this quote, I forget which book it is, where she talks about her mom. But she talks about writing as like-- everyone is always carrying things around and you need to find a way to put them down, and that’s sort of what writing is for me, because I’m very neurotic so it helps to break the cycle of that by just putting stuff down on paper. I think in my fiction which I’m working on now I’m trying to do more journalistic-type writing to capture people and places without involving myself as much.

It seems like you go into deep emotional spaces and also intellectual questions in your poetry, do you find that process cathartic, usually?

Yeah. I think-- definitely. I think that emotional and intellectual questions are often really intertwined for me. And thinking about intellectual questions allows me to think about - being intellectually stimulated is a big part of my emotional life, and vice versa.

Two of your handwritten poems actually display artwork alongside the actual text. Do you like to play poetry and the visual arts off of each other, or is that incidental?

Yeah. I mean I have to say I sort of submitted a bunch of random stuff, because Caroline (Ratrock Editor) talked about contributing stuff that showed my process of writing, so I thought sending in scans from my journals would be good. I think visuals are very good for me, I was thinking about a volcano after another Anne Carson book. And then the other drawings were from this-- I found this thing online which was an interactive, very blown-up painting of the Hieronymus Bosch painting (The Garden of Earthly Delights). And I do a lot of this while I’m at work, I work at the music library at Dodge, and a lot of the time I’m just sitting there and I don’t like to have my phone or computer out so I like to just draw things or copy things down. So a lot of it is just filling my free time, but it usually turns into something.

You mentioned that Caroline asked for a sketch of your process or work that demonstrates that process. When you submit something that’s handwritten or from a journal where it might seem less complete or finished to a typical reader, is that a self-conscious thing? Do you want to change the way people perceive the poetry?

I mean I think I’ve always really been drawn to people who keep personal notebooks and like, I love to share my journal with people and I love when people share their personal notebooks or journals with me, and I really like the idea of that being its own art form. I’ve always been really interested in that. I guess you could look at it as incomplete, but as I said before, because you’re not working on a computer and there are traces of everything you do, it’s a lot more honest.

Segueing based on the idea of completeness. You’ve mentioned that you think of writing as a continual process of revision. Have you ever felt like you’ve reached a point where a poem of yours is complete, or is it just impossible to have a complete poem? Or are you always trying to improve it?

I think there are some things I do with poems to try to complete them. When I’m very specific about meter or line length, or set rules for a poem, then when I fit a poem into those rules then that helps me complete it. But I don’t know. But the summer after my freshman year I made this zine with a bunch of complete poems and I think of that as a finished product, but when I look back at it I think that they’re all really bad. So I guess yes is the answer.

Other than Anne Carson, are there other poets or artists who have influenced your work significantly, and in what ways?

The singer Joanna Newsom is one of my biggest inspirations. I listened to her a lot over the summer when I was near the beach, and that was really great. She plays the harp and her lyrics are just incredible, and voice adds so much to everything she does. I’m taking an interesting class right now called Early Ecopoetics where we’re reading a lot of medieval poems about the natural world. So we’ve read Chaucer who I really love, and-- Magical Realism is a modern genre, but reading medieval writing from this period it’s incredible to imagine what life was like at that point. And the idea of writing about nature throughout time is really interesting to me. Annie Dillard is a naturalist writer as well who wrote in the late 20th century. And other Magical Realist writers: Toni Morrison, Bernadette Mayer the poet.

Shifting gears a little bit, how are you involved creatively on campus now? What organizations and what sort of work are you doing on campus?

I'm a staff writer for the Blue and White, a programmer for WKCR, and a member of the Barnard Columbia Socialists. 

Related to that, how do you view the artistic community on campus? Do you find it encouraging or do you think there are some things missing from it?

I don’t know that there’s one scene, but there are a ton of writers here which I think is really inspiring. I mostly know writers at Barnard because I’ve taken a lot of workshops there, and I really love Barnard workshops and have made a lot of friends that way. I was involved in the Columbia Review for a while. I don’t think that I’m as plugged into the writing scene as I’d like to be, but I don’t think it’s the main thing I’m doing, and I’m mostly doing it just for me. I think the academic side of it is what I’m really interested in. I don’t worry about having an artistic community around me because I’m inspired by all the people I know, whether or not they’re particularly artistic. I’m very happy with the Creative Writing program at Barnard; I love it.

You mentioned that you’re doing more fiction writing this semester. What does that look like for you? Are you looking for opportunities to publish your fiction or is it more of a personal activity?

The reason why I’m doing fiction is because I’m looking to create more finished products. I think with fiction, because it’s not so much about individual moving around of words, but it’s a larger scale and I think it allows me to write about things outside myself and in that way make my work have more of a purpose of documenting. I’m also a journalist, and have always been interested in journalism, so I see my writing as a creative way of doing journalism.

So where should we go to find more of your work? Do you have a website?

LR: Yes! I should update it but I have a Cargo Collective website. My stuff has been published in different places but it’s all on there. (http://cargocollective.com/lenarebeccarubin)  

Anderson Peguero

Interview by Cecilia Lee

Anderson Peguero writes poetry and fiction.  His work is emotive and concise, marked by a minimalism that was reflected in the head-to-toe black outfit he wore the day of his interview.  Anderson was candid about the inspiration behind his art and his inner conflict about choosing to seriously pursue a career as a writer.

How would you go about describing your poetry to someone who’s never read it before?

My poetry is very modern, very visceral, kind of dark, kind of sad.  I do prose writing most of the time and poetry is a way for me to be more evocative and more personal than writing fiction. My poetry is- I guess emotional is the right word.

Can you describe your writing process?

It’s entirely digital.  I cannot write-I think I have a bad way of writing with my hand. I can’t write much without my hand getting tired so I do most of my creative writing on the computer.  Sometimes when I’m walking around or at an event I’ll use my phone and I’ll just transfer it to my computer.

I noticed that there are spiritual elements in your poem “Malice”.  How do you incorporate your own spirituality and faith into your poems?

I am not as spiritual as I should be, according to my family, but I guess in my writing, I sort of fall back on it as a vulnerability, like a wound that keeps opening when I’m writing.  I can’t write a poem praising God or expressing what He’s done for me because I feel like that’s not the point of my poetry- it’s to show damages that I have had to get over, or showcasing them. I never write a poem expressly for the purpose of talking about God or being spiritual but it’s always in the back of my head, I think.

What’s your favorite poem and why?

Probably “Ash Wednesday” by T.S. Eliot.  That was my final for my poetry seminar this semester. I like a lot of poems.  I guess you could say one of my other favorites is “Paradise Lost”, by Milton. I realized my favorites always have a certain tone to them, but it’s not like a hymn or something, it’s something that sort of challenges one’s faith.  And “Ash Wednesday” in particular, chronicles T.S. Eliot trying to find faith. It’s just one of the first poems that I really looked at critically, and I related to it spiritually, and it was interesting, and of course Eliot has really incredible word play.

What do you see is the relationship between poetry and music and lyrics?

I think poetry is very interesting because it can have music to it, a lyricism.  I think Eliot’s really great at having his poetry have a music to it.  But also, it can have no music quality to it, it can be completely discordant or chaotic and that even can be a kind of music, I’d say, to have no rhythm to yourself and be unpredictable.  When I write my poetry, I almost never rhyme; I almost never try to make it lyrical.  It may happen that it ends up like that, but it’s never on purpose and I kind of admire people who can do that because I absolutely cannot.  In terms of finding poetry in music, I think that’s definitely possible.  I listen to all kinds of music, sometimes for fun, sometimes for moods or whatever, but honestly I would say the sort of music I find the most lyrical meaning in would be like rock or metal music, especially the heavier or darker genres like black metal or like death metal, which everyone here is going to assume is screaming and all that but sometimes those bands are really deep.  Sometimes I’ll listen to music because I like the sound, but then I’ll look at the lyrics too and they’ll be really interesting, insightful, and sometimes even inspiring.  I like the fusion of things in genres.

What artists inspire you? 

Writer-wise, I get inspired prose-wise by reading random books that are great and looking at different paragraphs and lines that are great; I write those down.  But poetry-wise, I would say I’m influenced by modern spoken word poets.  Safia Elhillo is really great, Sam Sax, I saw him for a little bit, it was great.  But also in poetry I try to do- it’s obviously a written medium; it’s writing- but I try to be visual with how I do my poetry. I look at a lot of art. I look at a lot of past movements and sculptures. The poem about St. Peter actually came from me being in the Met. I saw this painting of St. Peter and I had that idea.

Themes about black identity and family are prevalent in poetry.  How have your personal experiences shaped your poetry?

I think something that I’m vulnerable about with my poetry is that I feel like I don’t have enough personal experiences besides what has happened within my family. I’ve lived in military bases in a lot of places around the world so I’ve always felt disconnected from people struggling though hard core oppression. I’m aware of this oppression but I never really felt connected to that experience. The things that come out in my poetry are what I have experienced.  Recently I’ve been trying to widen that a lot through varying themes and common structure of my poetry.  I’ve been doing that since the summer with a lot of my pieces.

 Could you elaborate a little bit more on what you’re doing to widen the scope of your pieces?

After the summer, I was researching different art movements and I was reading a lot of surreal fiction like the Gormenghast Novels by Mervyn Peake.  I was reading short stories and was really interested by the surreal and the abstract. I’ve heard people say that my writing- my poetry- can be surreal almost, so I wanted to take that further and sort of develop a style.  I came across this – it was on Wikipedia- it was just a bunch of random themes in modern black fiction and one was Afro-Surrealism. My favorite art movement besides that has been Italian Futurism for like years, so I had the idea of merging those and seeing where that could take me. 

So I started working on something called Afro-Futurism and sort of moving past what I have experienced personally, and showing globalization. The theme of exploring the normal and modern life of blacks as a whole is like moving towards a futuristic society; like overemphasizing our need to stay current and be as good as every other race out there. So I’ve been expressing that with themes of machinery and industry in my recent poems and highlighting that sort of struggle to become one as a people with struggles we’ve gone through in the past. 

How do you see poetry received and perceived among your peers compared to other forms of art?

Usually, at least in Columbia, I see way more poets and writers than I do other forms of art.  I only know a handful- maybe this is my personal closure because I don’t have Facebook or anything.  I only know a handful of visual artists but I know a lot of poets; I know a lot of people in the poet community and I feel like a lot of the people at Columbia have- not common backgrounds- but common interests and that’s sort of what brings them here to New York City. It has been a city for literature and writing for a long time so people are drawn to that.  It’s definitely really supported here at Columbia.  I feel like whether you are just starting out poetry or if you’ve been writing poetry for a long time, it’s really easy to get a nice support system and -I don’t want to say “fans”- but a lot of people who appreciate what you do here. 

There’s obviously the literary magazine open mics that they have here, but there’s also all types of different clubs and events that happen across campus.  And you’ll see the same people at some of them sometimes and they always love to hear what you write, even if you repeat the same things.  So I think poetry is something that can definitely thrive at Columbia, and it is thriving and it’s just a medium that a lot of people want to experience.  A lot of people come out to poetry slams for the first time at like every new open mic I go to. 

Do you have a specific audience in mind for your poems?

That’s actually a good question because sometimes I feel like I’m writing, when it’s like really personal, I feel like I’ll write it and I write it with the intention of reading it to a specific person, or someone who just understands what I’m talking about.  But then sometimes I will write just because I hear words in my head and I want to write this out and I’m like “man, this is a good line it’s gonna be great. My friends back in Georgia used to say I do remixes all the time because I would never read out anything until I’m there and I would always change words around as I’m reading it, because I’m like “oh, this works better here”.  And sometimes I change words around depending on who I’m reading it to.

Are there any stereotypes about poetry that you’d like to challenge?

Yeah that’s interesting actually.  In high school, before I started poetry, - I’ve been writing fiction my whole life, but I started poetry junior year of high school- I didn’t want to start earlier because I was afraid of people would be like “oh this kid writes poetry and he’s all sad and it’s so girly and pathetic” but actually once I started writing poetry, nobody said that to me.  I’ve never had that happen to me, which I was surprised about; I still kind of am.

A lot of people, when you tell them that you write poetry, they’ll imagine something soft like “roses are red, violets are blue, it’s raining on my curtains”, and then on the other hand, a lot of people when they hear you’re a person of color doing poetry, they imagine you’re on a stage all the time telling people you need to “fight back against the like slave masters” and “your religion is not real”. I think that poetry is as versatile a medium as fiction writing.  When you say you’re a writer, no one assumes you’re writing Twilight Part Two.  So, I guess just freeing myself from the trappings of genres and what I look like; I write as a person.

Where do you see yourself and your projects in the future?

There’s two different answers.  I see where I want to be in the future and then where I see myself being.  Preferably, I want to be a writer full-time, probably fiction and poetry if possible, so I don’t know where I would be living or what I would be doing.  But that’s just what I love to do, so I wish I could do that full-time.  But then, with the way the economy is set up, that’s probably not very feasible, at least for now, so that’s why I’m here at Columbia studying biology. I’m going to major in that, get a job somewhere, do research somewhere, and then I’m not sure if I’m going to med school, because that’s like a fulltime thing and there’s no way I can write and project that career if I’m in medical school -that’s impossible.

Do you feel any pressure from the Columbia community to follow something that people would call more “practical”?

Actually, I feel the opposite.  Everyone in Columbia that I tell I’m studying biology for a job they’re always like “what are you doing? No, you hate it- you should study writing- it’s what you want to do” and I’m like “that’s idealistic and it’s great but the reality is I have to feed myself”.  Especially if I want to do creative stuff I have to be in a creative place like New York City, and that is not cheap; I can’t just work in a McDonald’s and live by myself like that. 

And the pressure I do feel to do something practical comes from my family of course.  My whole extended family is in the medical field and then growing up I got good grades in school all the time, so when that happens your parents are like “well, you’re a lawyer or a doctor that’s all you’re going to do” and I was like “I don’t really like lawyers”, so here I am.  And I’ve brought it up to my mom before, I’ve been like “man I really like my poetry class; I love this image class” and she’s like “yeah I’m sure you do; that’s a great side hobby to have” and I’m like “I guess so”.

 

 

Perla Haney-Jardine

Interview by Amanda Violetto 

Who are you, and where are you from?

My name is Perla Haney-Jardine and I’m from Asheville, North Carolina, though I was born in Brazil. Asheville is definitely the place I call home but I have such strong ties to Latin America because that’s where my family is rooted.

What is art to you? Do your poetry and visual art grow from the same interests?

My poetry and my visual art are definitely, totally linked. I am such a visual person – I like looking at shit, you know, and drawing from everywhere. I’m constantly in that mindset, where I’m thinking about how I can translate something stylistically, or how I can translate something I notice into a poem. Art is the only way I can interpret the world and the things I’m ingesting every day. I have to constantly do it or else I’d be super depressed.

I really like excess. I wish I was better at being simple, more fine-tuned, but I love layering, adding detail, building. I’m really interested in symbols, lately. I think we operate in a very semiotic world where everything means something, whether we recognize it or not. We’re so entrenched in symbolism and I’ve started thinking about how the symbols I see every day affect me and my identity. I also think the people who hold power politically and economically also have the power to determine our symbolic world. By using unconventional symbols in my work, I am trying to question what we consider normal and what we consider weird and grotesque and gross.  

Also, I’m really not a very good committer. I’ve quit everything I’ve ever tried – karate, any musical instrument. Art has been the only constant thing in my life that I’ve been doing basically forever. I don’t even consider art a hobby because it’s something I’ve always done, without even thinking, really. It’s only recently that I’ve started to take my art to a further level of introspection, while I’ve been making art for basically my entire life because it’s simply how I process my experiences.

Do you have a creative process, and if so, what is it?

Hm, well I’m really, basically, just constantly doodling. Though I’ve taken a few art classes, when I was younger, almost all of my experience is from just constant practice. I don’t have a process; it’s more so that I find literally everything to be important – like, the smallest details have meaning to me, and there’s just so much weird shit, and the only way I can process anything is through art. I try to translate the absurdity of the world – the little, everyday details that are so, so bizarre when you take the time to notice them and really think about them.

Your visual art has a sort of dark humor to it. It’s both sarcastic in a very relatable way yet clearly you’re wrestling with heavier themes in your work. Is this intentional?

I think what I am trying to do with my art is have it be uncomfortable, but also precious and tender. I feel less bad about how my brain works when I see other people’s art and it makes me uncomfortable, because it’s like “oh, I’m not the only one who thinks like this!” I’ve had family members, like, message me on Facebook about artwork I’ve posted, checking in on me because of how obsessive and gross my art can appear. And I used to have a lot of weird shame about being dramatic and emotional, but I have realized that that’s how people are. That’s how I am! Over the past year I’ve really tried to push past that. I’ve been doing a lot of work, and trying to find my style, and while I believe in being respectful, I no longer want to censor myself emotionally anymore.

The characters you create - are they based on people you know? Or imaginary?

The people I draw are pretty much people I come up with myself. Mostly, I’ll become obsessed with a certain feature, like for a while I obsessed with hook noses, and for a week I only drew hook noses. For a while I was doing a lot of self-portraits, which for a while felt really indulgent but it’s really not.

What are your favorite mediums to work in? I noticed you do digital art as well – what do you use for that?

It really depends on the piece but I’ve been branching away from my usual mediums, sketching and pen and ink, and trying to look at the process more. There’s so many mediums I have never tried, and I want to try them! Recently, I drew with lipstick and sugar water, and I also used my body as a stamp. I covered my face with ink – for example, I covered my ear with ink and then used it as a stamp! Now that I’m taking visual art more seriously, know that I know it is something I’m really passionate about, I am looking to get rid of any preconceptions I have to find what works for me.

As for digital stuff, I actually have been using the little memo pad in the Notes app on my phone! I want to branch out more with digital art, for sure, and would love to get something more substantial, like a tablet.

What people, books, films (etc) inspire you the most?

I saw Harold and Maude when I was younger, and have seen it a million times since. I love the film’s caustic, dark humor, and how it uses symbols and everyday vignettes to display how absurd life is. I also love Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke. I’m super into anime as well. Another of my favorite films would have to be Güeros, by Mexican director Alonso Ruizpalacios. I recently saw the film Cosmos by Andrzej Żuławski. You should see it – no, you have to see it. It’s so good. One last film I saw recently is The Handmaiden, by Park Chan-wook, the same guy who directed Oldboy. I’m big into horror movies and find myself using a lot of horror movie imagery in my art. The Witch, The Babadook, and A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night are a few recent horror films I have really liked. I’m also super into documentaries because they’re kind of what I’m most interested in – chronicling the most absurd, bizarre, phenomenal parts of real life.

As for artists – some of my favorites are Ray Pettibon, Bruce Conner, Mike Kelley, Clay Wilson, and Robert Crumb. I’m also inspired a lot by erotica, especially old Japanese erotica.

Where is your favorite place to make art?

I like writing poetry in the subway. That’s the best place for me to write. I like to ride the train back and forth and do my poetry assignments. Because of that, I find that everything I do ends up being somehow about the subway.

I don’t like drawing in the subway because people peek, you know? I took a gap year before coming to Barnard, and travelled a lot, and though it wasn’t my best work, by far, I was creating a lot. I was able to really practice, practice, practice. Travelling helped my art develop simply because I was producing so much work.

Do you listen to music while drawing or writing?

I can never listen to music because I’m focused so hard on what I’m drawing or writing, usually. It’s pretty dramatic, for like a college drawing assignment, to be so extremely focused, but I just get really intense about it. I don’t think about anything else when I’m doing it.  

Why do you do what you do? Career, or hobby? Where do you want your art to take you?

I don’t know about fine art, but I have to do something visual, something aesthetic. For a long time, I had thought I wanted to be an actress and only just realized that’s not what I want to do at all, and since the start of this year I’ve been realizing that art is something I want to be more serious about. It’s the only thing I could ever do without getting tired. It never feels like a job to me. But then, there’s such a stigma surrounding a visual arts major. Also, I want to have a family and travel and buy my parents a home. I don’t necessarily think it’s 100% materialistic to want to be financially stable. I’m extremely family oriented, and the idea of being able to support my parents one day is something I really would like to do, and while pursuing the visual arts, there’s no certainty about finances.

Are you currently working on any projects or collaborations? Anything on or off campus you want to plug?

I am currently working on a self-portrait in the form of a Venn diagram. One side is my mother, and the other is my father. It’s getting intense but I’m not sure if I’m ever going to share it because of how personal it’ll probably be.

I’d actually love to plug my professor, Nicholas Gaugnini. He’s the one who showed me Ray Pettibon! He’s a really, really great professor. I can just feel myself improving much more than I ever have. Before this year, I had never made art with much intention or intelligent thought. Now, I’m actually trying to revel in the process and push my boundaries, partly thanks to him. The continuous dialogue I’ve held with him over the past semester has been really revelatory for my art.

Any advice for other artists looking to improve?

If you’re into visual art and living in NYC, go to museums as much as you can. I know everyone says that, but it’s true. I think that there is a lot of inspiration to be found in the rhythm of the place you’re living, and New York City has so, so much to offer. As of right now, this city is the best place I can be as an artist.