INTERVIEW: STEFANI SHOREIBAH

Photography by Lola Lafia

Interviewed by Elizabeth Meyer

Please introduce yourself:

My name is Stefani Shoreibah. I am a Sophomore at Barnard College, and I grew up in Florida. I am a visual artist and art history major, but I am also pre-med and studying to be a breast oncologist.

What made you decide to be an art history major and pre-med?

For me, both art and medicine are fields that critique the human condition in different ways, but their approach is similar. In that, you have to not only analyze what is in front of you, but also reflect on your own activity [and] see how you can look at something from a different angle. At the core of medicine is humanity, and I think that often gets lost in translation between all of the science classes that pre-med students have to take and the competitiveness in these classes. At the end of the day, medicine is about healing others and addressing their problems. Empathy is itself the medicine many times.

Does art also have a lot to do with empathy?

Absolutely. Art requires empathy for others and an understanding of the environment and space in which we live. You are looking at yourself and challenging how you perceive something, how you perceive the world around you. The work that I do is very personal, very vulnerable.

When and why did you begin creating?

I’ve always loved to draw, and I’ve always loved to paint. I was that kid who scribbled everywhere in coloring books because I hated staying inside the bold lines of whatever shape I was being told to draw. I would actually take my mom’s old medical textbooks because I thought they were advanced coloring books. There were all of these lines and dots and shapes and I would find myself coloring in them. My parents found me doing that one day, and it did not end well.

I went to an arts high school, and that was a huge turning point in my creative process. It was enrollment through audition only. It was a very competitive visual arts environment, but at the same time it was great to be surrounded by so many creative minds. Even though we were all visual artists from the same town and age, we approached things in a different way. It forces you to look at yourself and not only improve your technique but cultivate a better understanding of the art you were making.

How does your work manifest on campus?

I am an illustrator for the Barnard Bulletin and the Columbia Science Review.

 Farm On the Nile - Stefani Shoreibah

Farm On the Nile - Stefani Shoreibah

What drew you to using both photography and hyper-realistic graphite drawing in your series, “Feet in the Desert”?

Half of my family is from Egypt; the other half is from the Philippines. My father is an immigrant, and came from Egypt to America. We go back every couple years and visit a farm my family owns on the Nile Delta. During my most recent visit, I went to all of the areas that are stereotypically Egyptian: the Sphinx, the Pyramids, and I took pictures and reflected on the idea of roots, ancestry, and heritage. Being an Arab-American in this cultural climate in America made me reflect a lot on what it means to be who I am. I chose to draw my feet because I felt that I was stepping into a space that I’m seemingly a part of, but in reality not. I’m Egyptian but only by blood, and not by experience. I grew up in America. This idea made me think of feet in the desert. The title is kind of ironic, because I’m in a state of mind trying to connect with my ancestry and while I was physically present in the land of my ancestors, I’m simultaneously detached and disconnected from being truly “Egyptian,” even if I call myself that. I thought that photography and drawing would be interesting to put together while reflecting on these ideas.

Why draw the feet instead of photographing them?

I wanted to capture Egypt for what it was; I didn’t want to touch it in drawing. I feel detached from it in a way. My feet are my own, and I wanted there to be a barrier in medium that would translate to the barrier between my identity and ancestry. This barrier also speaks to how everyone sees Egypt. What I photographed would be stereotypically something you would see in a magazine, and my photographs are not unique. They are images of Egypt of what foreigners see, people from the outside looking in, and ultimately, these images are what I see when I go back to Egypt. As much as I try to connect with ancestry, there’s always going to be this barrier, and to a considerable extent, I’ll always in some way be an outsider looking in on a place that I am supposedly rooted from.

 Feet in the Desert - Stefani Shoreibah

Feet in the Desert - Stefani Shoreibah

For your sculpture, “subMERGED,” what drew you to creating a sculpture made from reused materials such as old newspapers, matches, cardboard boxes, Styrofoam, and plastic?

That was a fun piece to make, but I got into a lot of trouble when I made “subMERGED” in my senior year of high school because it was thought to be too political. I grew up in a red part of Florida, and art considered to be political was essentially controversial. “subMERGED” is a statement on American consumerism and human waste, a critique about where our environment is headed from the way we treat our planet.

The sculpture visually depicts objects submerging into the ocean. There are plastic bottles, matches, chicken wire fence, 1960s sewing pattern kits, styrofoam, newspaper, among other things. I literally went to a junkyard to gather materials. I wanted to use trash and junk, things that were tossed away, literal waste. My goal was to turn it all into something that spoke to how mankind has taken the planet’s natural resources and other living creatures for granted. The ocean is a major victim of mankind’s waste and, so much that it is practically a junkyard itself. I wanted to show all of these elements in my sculpture, a piece that I hope reflects the mankind’s carelessness in contaminating the ocean. So while “subMERGED” was thought to be political, it shouldn't have to be. Understanding environmental science should not be politicized. “subMERGED” serves to reflect the state of mankind’s relationship with Earth.

When did you start incorporating your political views into your art?

The area where I grew up in Florida is not in alignment with my political views. I began to embed politics into my work as I grew more aware of my anxiety around topics at the political forefront, such as climate change and women’s rights. Many things were happening while I was in art school, like the 2016 election, and I responded to these external events and adjustments through my art.

Art is my voice; my outlet of expression, as it is for a lot of people. I felt it even more so in a town where so many people were against what I believed politically and pushed back. That’s why I wanted “subMERGED” to be my piece for an exhibit we were doing senior year. My instructors insisted that it was not going to be received well. I thought to myself, if we are capping our voices and limiting how we can express ourselves, is what we are creating truly art?

 

In what ways do you incorporate nature and anatomy into your art?

With “subMERGED” and other pieces, I went outside and collected dead things. This will make me sound crazy, but I like to collect dead parts of nature. Not just dead leaves, I like to collect dead flowers. One time I found a butterfly wing and thought it was really beautiful and put it in a piece. I think it’s just artistic preference, to incorporate of anatomy and nature into my work. I like to think that my art reflects me responding to the space I’m in. Nature being actual, literal mother nature, but also the nature of our culture and of our political environment. Art reflects the space where I am and how I incorporate this into a piece reflects how I’m responding to a space.

Regarding anatomy, I love the human body. I think it’s so beautiful in its different forms, and I love drawing hands and feet. There’s an aesthetic to the human body that is raw, something simultaneously fragile and formidable. Anatomy is an essential aspect in studying medicine, and likewise, in studying art. Every art class sequence incorporates some aspect of anatomy. Anatomy is the the strongest visual tie between medicine and art.

 subMERGED - Stefani Shoreibah

subMERGED - Stefani Shoreibah

In what ways do you work to achieve a binding between the arts, current events, and perception of self in your work?

I made a collage that responded to the Women’s March, and I think it really speaks to art reflecting on current events and my perception of self. When I made the collage, there was tension between cultural identity, personal identity, and what the 2016 election symbolized and threatened. There was also tension surrounding how people in our country could explore their identity. The Women’s March happened in January of 2017. I had a piece that I was working on for school, and the news was on while I was working on it. I thought, ‘I’m not doing this anymore,’ pushed it aside, and I started making my collage. As I was watching the screen, I was illustrating the women I was seeing protesting. This made me think of myself. I began to wonder, ‘What does this mean for me as a woman of color?’ Watching the Women’s March made me question so many different things, and I projected the anger, frustration, and anxiety that I was feeling onto this physical entity that became this collage.

To create the collage, I went back to old Radio Guides from the 1940s and 1930s, another time in which America was experiencing political tension, as well as war and the Great Depression. I ripped out ads of women of that time from the radio guides as well as photos of women in the domestic space cooking for their husbands. I put their faces next to the illustrations that I had drawn of women marching in the Women’s March. This was to show unity, in bringing women of different times and generations together, but I also did this to show stagnancy in the pursuit of gender equality. Women have come so far, but at the same time there’s a long way to go. It was a way for me to bring these women from the forties and thirties next to us in spirit as we enter another era of tension that already jeopardizes the rights of women.

In your portfolio you say, “There’s always a bit of vulnerability revealed in sharing art, but that’s a vital part of why I started my art blog.” In what ways does sharing art reveal vulnerability for you, and why do you feel that is a vital part in sharing your creation? Do you think vulnerability is an essential part of being an artist?

Art is my voice and a lot of times it expresses my thoughts and feelings in ways that words cannot. A lot of vulnerability goes into sharing parts of yourself that can’t always be expressed in words and conversation. Sometimes I have to project anxiety, tension, and internal conflict onto a physical entity. Art is a literal manifestation of voice and how I’m responding to something in a moment or over time. It’s important for artists to share so that we can see how others are feeling about something we might be responding to as well. Art goes back to human connection, which is also why I love medicine. Medicine is about human connection and looking at humans in their most vulnerable state. Art for me is a form of healing and medicine is healing as well. As I’ve grown, I’ve realized that medicine is an art itself. The worst thing is to have passionless art and passionless work. Passion is embedded into everything I do, and especially into my art.

What does the intersection of art and medicine mean to you?

I think the intersection of art and medicine speaks to the human condition in its most vulnerable state. Art, I think, is a critique of self. Art admits vulnerability, anxiety, and inner tension. By creating a physical piece, you’re releasing that energy into something that is going to be viewed by the world.

Medicine is learning to better yourself as a physician through working with a patient. There is often a power dynamic put into place between patients and physicians, something that must be eliminated. Of course, as a physician you have the education and training to address physiological problems humans experience, but you never know how that knowledge is going to be applied until you meet and converse with your patient and see what they want. It’s often said that medicine is about preservation of life, and I think it is about saving people, but saving someone differs with each patient. As an aspiring oncologist, and especially in oncology, life is such a fragile, vulnerable conversation. In the clinical experiences I have had, I learned that sometimes a patient doesn’t want the treatment meant to save their life, because perhaps, saving their life could mean something else for them, something that doesn't involve taking numerous medications or having radiation treatment. Empathy and understanding are especially crucial in oncology because of this. Humans are much more complex than the idea of “saving lives” because there is a point at which this differs among individuals.

Art and medicine as a whole speak to the complexity of the human. Both reveal that there is always, always more beyond the surface. Both teach to approach new situations with listening ears and an open mind and heart not only to others but to yourself.

INTERVIEW: CAMERON LEE

Photographed by Morgana Van Peebles

Interviewed by Noa Levy Baron

Introduce yourself. Name, year and what you are studying.

My name is Cameron Lee, and I am junior in CC, majoring in Creative Writing and concentrating in Visual Arts. I am one of the Editors-in-Chief of Quarto Literary Magazine here. I am a visual artist and a writer.

What mediums do you use to create art?

I mostly draw in sketchbooks with markers and graphite. Sometimes I paint with acrylic or watercolor, but I mostly draw. I would say that I use sketchbooks mainly out of convenience and because I like to keep all my art in one place. For a while it was daunting for me to have a whole separate piece of paper laid out that had to become “my drawing.” So it was much easier for me to experiment in sketchbooks and really track my growth. I use graphite because of the ease of being able to make mistakes, of experimenting; erasing and going back. More recently I have been into markers because I always wanted to find a way to incorporate color in my art, and I am a little too impatient for color pencils (laughs). In my experience, it takes a while and you have to work with layers. Whereas markers, for me, tend to be a faster way to add color and make a drawing vibrant.

As you introduced yourself also as a writer, how do you create in this medium?

My writing and my art are not usually directly tied together in the sense that I write prose in my sketchbook alongside a drawing, but occasionally I will illustrate something I’ve written to help bring a character to life in my mind. I almost exclusively write fiction, mostly in the third person, because I love the freedom it gives me to inhabit the minds of my characters while still getting the chance to invoke strong visuals and describe the setting, the characters, the world, etc.

How have your writings influenced your drawing? Have your drawings also influenced your writing?

Definitely. It’s funny because a year or two ago, my mom said she didn’t know whether she sees me as an artist who writes or a writer who draws. I love that she said that, and I think that is true about me. The way I write, the worlds I create and the kind of absurd, strange fantastical nature of my fiction definitely informs the way I draw. Even if it is just a few details, I prefer to give a character a little bit of a strange aspect.

I also think the way I describe people in my fiction is with the intention of making someone see the image or see something. I am a very visual person, just in life in general, so I really try to evoke images that help people see what I am describing and a lot of writers that I love do that so viscerally. I really see what they want me to see.

 Papaya - Cameron Lee

Papaya - Cameron Lee

Are there any particular moments when you prefer to draw?

I think my favorite time to draw is first thing in the morning just because I love when there is a lot of natural light in my room. No one else is awake or moving around so I can just sit there in the silence or listen to music. And I’m more productive in the morning too, so I am really motivated to get stuff done when I first wake up.

How did you learn how to draw ?

I started drawing before I started learning how in school, but I took some level of elementary, middle school, and high school art classes before I came to Columbia. I think most of my early knowledge came from practice, outside of proportions or some other basic things I was taught in high school or before. I was (and still am) always drawing and looking at other people’s art. More recently I have learned a lot from my college classes, artists I’ve found online, museums I’ve had the privilege to visit, and my incredibly talented friends and classmates.

In that regard, would you say there is any difference in the creative process of producing works for classes and for yourself?

Yes, I definitely think so. I do most of my drawings in sketchbooks and they just happen on the fly, so there is not as much thought and planning that goes into those as what I draw for class projects. For example, I was in the Drawing II class last semester and we had a project which was supposed to be an enormous drawing. The professor wanted us to try and meld styles and techniques that we had and had not used before and so that lead me to think differently about the subject matter. Having some form of limitation or guideline definitely changes the way I decide to create. In that case, I did not want to do graphite for an enormous drawing so I used chalk pastel and some color pencil and charcoal - that directly informed the subject matter and the process.

Has your life influenced your work?

I think I can definitely speak to life influencing my work because when I was younger I would always be so freaked out if I made a mistake. I’d be like, “This drawing is ruined, I am going to throw it away.” I was very dramatic and my parents always told me that it was not the end of the world, that I could fix it; but at the time I was using crayons or Crayola markers so it wasn’t easy to erase or to go back. I think through high school my favorite medium was graphite because I could just erase it. My fear of making a mistake that would ruin the drawing drove me to a medium that was easily erasable. I am only realizing now, as I am using markers more, that I was so terrified of messing drawings up in the past I would use almost exclusively graphite and do pretty realistic drawings that took a long time so I could think a lot about my next moves. Now I think I am slowly losing that fear of making a mistake. So I just decided to use markers and let it go where it goes and see what happens. If I make a mistake or if I don’t like the final maybe someone else will like it; and if not it’s not the end of the world. Or so I have to keep reminding myself.

Building off of this, in what ways does your work express your identity?

I almost exclusively draw women, faces and bodies and part of that comes from the fact that I identify as a woman and for some reason it is instinctual for me to draw women. I haven’t thought a lot about why, but I am just really attracted to that area of art and that subject matter. I think I should probably try drawing men more because it might diversify my skill sets. But as of now I definitely think that I gravitate towards those themes because I am a woman and that is such an integral part of my identity.

What are the main themes you highlight? Do you want to communicate something through your drawings?

I think it’s kind of funny because I have been asked this question in the past and in different contexts: what is your art about? What are the themes? Do you mean to say anything with your work? I think the majority of the time, not necessarily. It is exciting if people can read into my art in certain ways, but most of the time it’s just aesthetically pleasing to me and for my own practice to explore different faces and bodies and positions and just learn and grow as an artist.

 Medusa - Cameron Lee

Medusa - Cameron Lee

Why do you focus particularly on faces and bodies?

I started drawing faces initially because that is what you usually first see when you look at a person. You look at their face and you see their body in front of you and it was intrinsic to me to try to represent that and to put that on paper. This is also partly why I enjoy drawing women and figures. It is so fascinating to me to see how we all more or less have the same features on our faces but everyone ends up looking so different. I am really interested in representing the variety of people that exist: the diversity of life and figures, the way faces and bodies can move, and the way bodies and faces can represent different emotions. It is funny that I am saying that actually because all of my figures are making the same expression but that is not intentional; just an unfortunate default of mine. I’m working on it.

Have you ever drawn self-portraits?

I have done a couple. Maybe only once or twice voluntarily, mostly for class assignments. I am interested in doing one huge self-portrait of myself because I did a painting in high school of myself, but it has been a while. And I use pictures of my body and hands as references all the time, so it may be nice to see how well I can draw my face, or how I might draw my face. That’s something I’d like to explore more in the future.

Do you have any specific artists or individuals who inspire you?

I can name a few artists that I have been interacting with and learning about recently and that I find really inspiring. It’s funny because a lot of them are actually painters. One of them is David Hockney, who had an exhibit at the MET last year. I had not heard of him before then but I was so struck by the colors and how he represents his figures. It was one of the best exhibits I have ever been to. A lot of the painters I love inspire me to try my hand at painting more because I love what emotions painting can evoke in me.

I also love Frida Kahlo, because of the subject matter of her art and because of who she was. The rawness with which she painted is always inspiring to me.

Recently, I have also learned about Charles White, who was a mentor of Kerry James Marshall, and I love both of their work. I was at the Charles White retrospective at the MoMA and the way that his portraits moved me was crazy; I did not expect that. That is part of what I want to do in art: just make someone feel something. Then I feel I have succeeded, whether they are chuckling or sad or angry.

Living in New York and being able to go to all of those museums, and see all those paintings, drawings and sculptures in person always inspires me. On Sunday I was at the Wallach Art Gallery, looking at an exhibition called “Posing Modernity” about black figures in art. Just being able to stand there in front of a painting with no glass between us and seeing how the brushstrokes look and what rich colors were used really inspires me to go off and try to emulate or learn from that.

Also funnily enough, a lot of my inspiration does not come from famous artists but just artists that I follow on Instagram: random people that I find through having an art account, or people recommending things to me. I just love the creativity of artists such as @pollynor who draws women and their demons and touches upon sexuality and gender. Also @a.creature and @flesh.png who are not afraid of playing with color, figures or creepy and weird things and just messing around with sketchbooks, forms, and all sorts of techniques that I would love to be able to do one day with my art.

Are you working on any future projects? Do you have any specific goals?

I think future goals of mine would definitely be to further shed my reluctance to try things that make me uncomfortable. I would love to paint more in my free time, and not be afraid to pull out the watercolors or ink even though it might involve more time and effort than something else. I have never done oil so I would love to try oil painting for instance. I would also like to explore the darker side of my art and what it means to be a woman or a demon or both. I have always loved weird things and strange things and the idea that there might be another world. This is why I like imagining things that should exist outside of our world inside our world, marrying the strange with the normal, just to bring a little more fantasy and interest to everyday life. I would love to continue this exploration and broaden my horizons.

As far as future projects go, I would actually love to do a self-portrait. I have been thinking about that for a while and I never managed to do one for myself that I feel really happy about. There are also a couple of unfinished things in my sketchbooks that I need to get back to. I would also like to be more experimental. I do a little bit of digital art and I usually forget that I can do it because it is not at the forefront of my mind but I would love to get back to experimenting with it. Overall, just trying a lot of new things and not being afraid to mess up and not like something.

INTERVIEW: KASSIA KARRAS

Photography by Nico Lopez-Alegria

Interview by Courtney DeVita


Introduce yourself.

Hi I’m Kassia Karras. I’m a first year at Barnard. I grew up in Beijing, China for 15 years and then moved to Atlanta for high school. I went back and forth between the two growing up. I’m half Chinese, a quarter Greek, and a quarter Cherokee. I’m planning on double majoring in Art History with a concentration in Visual Arts and Political Science.


What were your first moments creating?

Art has always been part of my life. I started with finger painting when I was one year old, and honestly I don’t think I’ve made better abstract art since 2001. I’ve never been scared to use color, and I’ve been drawing all my life.

I started my art account in eighth grade. That negative social pressure that forces you to post on Instagram was kind of positive in terms of art because it forced me to create consistently and become part of the art community on Instagram. I got to see what other people my age were doing. A lot of the artists were also 14 and 15 and now they’re all 18 and 19, so I’ve gotten to see how they’ve grown too.

What role has social media had on your art making?

It can be a really positive business tool when the intentions are clear. My art account is mainly a digital portfolio and a way for me to commercialize my art and build an audience. When it comes to personal accounts it’s really a gray area, and kind of weird that we’re all mixing business and personal. The audience is also the creator, which is really confusing. I definitely like my art account better than my personal because everything is set out with clear cut intentions. I like being able to interact with all the other artists.

I’ve done collaborations with other small artists on Instagram and have gotten a lot of commission opportunities through illustrating people’s band covers. I just did a project with this Chinese children’s shoe company where I designed their logo and brand characters. I’ve gotten projects to illustrate for books. Instagram’s opened a lot of doors. Instagram is a great tool for artists in this day and age.


What mediums do you use?

I use Copic markers on Muji paper always. I hand draw everything and I also use my ink pens. Sometimes I’ll use water color and oil pastel, acrylic paint, oil paint, or charcoal. I use a lot of different mediums, but predominantly it’s pen and marker. Then I’ll scan the drawing and sometimes I’ll photoshop a digital background or color digitally.

How do you think growing up in two contrasting places has shaped your art?

Having lived in such vastly different and contrasting environments, it has taught me to learn from the differences. Comparing and contrasting, not only the two countries but how the people in them socialize and how different they behave, has shaped my worldview. I started thinking about the individual’s relationship to the environment once I moved to Atlanta, because I found the lifestyle to be so introverted and isolated compared to the city lifestyle. Everybody drives everywhere, and you rarely bump into friends. Whereas, in a city there’s a lot of chance and that’s definitely what I prefer - being able to walk everywhere, and not being able to plan everything. I try to incorporate that sense of spontaneity in my art.

In your artists statement you say your art style is superficially innocent, but underneath explores themes of corruption and deception. Can you expand on that?  

I like the idea of a lot of tension or contrast within an image. I just did a portrait of a young boy with really bright orange and green colors, but he’s sad. There’s a story built off of that tension and I like that with broader themes as well. I do a lot of pieces about deceptive things. I did this piece with pills and limbs coming out of them to talk about big pharma and the corruption within that. I’ve really been influence by Mark Ryden and Marion Peck. Their work is really pretty to look at but there’s a darker subtext that seeps through.

Can you talk a little bit about your use of animal and clown heads that pervade your illustrations?

I think the animals I draw are very unrealistic and more like toys or masks more than a literal animal. I really like the idea of playing with the masks we wear, because everyone has that persona they put on or multiple personas. Whenever I draw clowns or smiling animals it’s to display these different masks. I like the idea that you can’t tell what they’re really like or what they’re really thinking. You can only see what they’re presenting and that doesn’t always tell you a lot. It’s up to the viewer to interpret, but often times there aren’t a lot of clues so you end up feeling like you’re searching. I like to put a lot of different elements within a piece, so you can search around and uncover something.

How did your clothing brand, O.K. Fun, come about?

I got frustrated by online clothes shopping for graphic tees. I felt like artists with really cool art were holding back in terms of what they could do with their art in combining it with fashion. They simplify drawings. It just felt like there was another way to do it. I’m also interested in commercializing my art a little more. I think illustration is the base, but there’s so much more you can do with that. I just figured out Square Space and then I got a bunch of my friends from high school and we did a fun photoshoot. I wanted to limit the clothing line to seven or eight pieces. I definitely want to put out a new line soon for winter and spring with a more cohesive theme.

How did you decide on the name of the brand?

I thrifted this sweater that says, ‘bad fun,’ which I liked, but then I ran it by my dad and he suggested not to use a word with a negative connotation. I like ok fun because it’s like a neutral good - It’s not great fun, it’s just okay fun. It doesn’t expect too much from anyone. It has a very mellow vibe, which I think reflects the art and clothing.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a some of track and album covers for a couple of rappers, and a tattoo commission. I’m also doing illustrations for the Blue and White. In general, I’m trying to make more art. I want to get to a point where I have a cohesive series that would show in a gallery space. Whether that be paintings, or illustrations blown up on canvas, I think a show would be dope to put on, and maybe with other friends’ art and live music. My main goal is to just keep making art, I think that’s the best way to improve, to just keep making art.

INTERVIEW: PHANESIA PHAREL

Photography by Elle Wolfley

Interview by Alexa Silverman


Can you introduce yourself?

I’m Phanesia Pharel, a sophomore at Barnard from Homestead, Florida. An undeclared theatre major - what else am I going to do, to be honest?!

Describe your first moments of creating. Were you always interested in playwriting?

I started out performing, like a lot of people. I continue to perform when I can and however I can. When you’re a black woman in theater it’s different because acting can’t be as fulfilling as it is for other people. I remember when I was 10 or 11 - maybe middle school, 12 or 13 - and I was auditioning for Oklahoma. It’s a very classic American musical. I remember my drama teacher telling me I just didn’t fit the part for a character in the show. I don’t know if she meant it in that type of way but I was this very awkward, pudgy black girl with these sprouting dreadlocks - I wasn’t very palatable as a kid, I think. And I knew it. There are so many instances where I just don’t ‘look the part.'

My goal was to go into comedy. Stand up, sketch comedy. Sarah Silverman, of course Joan Rivers, Wanda Sykes, Ayesha Curry as well; I listened to these women and I was like, ‘This is so amazing, this is so funny, this is so fucking weird. I want to go into comedy.’ Then I did this public program [in my sophomore year of high school] that was for young kids to get them to write plays. It ended up not having anything to do with sketch or comedy writing, and it was all about playwriting. I fell in love. I started writing plays. Now that’s kinda my main gig, but I still perform and sing.

Was that your first introduction to playwriting?
Yeah. I read a bunch of plays the summer after I did the program, as well as an anthology of black plays from the 1400s to 1961. Junior fall I was a part of the Thespian Society. The Florida Thespian Festival is actually the biggest festival in the world; you can usually take three items to present or perform with you, in various categories of theatre. I took two performance pieces and did playwriting. I wrote this play about the public education system because I was super pissed off with the way me and my friends were being treated. A lot of shit was uncovered in the play: Trauma that I had experienced and feelings of how systems work to hold us down were unleashed… it was nice to be able to step aside and have a say over my education, because that’s a privilege I wasn’t afforded until that moment.

I took it to the Miami Festival and it won Critics Choice, which is first place, and then to the State Festival where it won first place again. It was selected for the International Thespian Festival and workshopped, and it was published by Samuel French (they publish plays. They actually have the largest collection of Latinx playwrights).

What was it called?

Penelope.

Was that the first play you wrote?

It was the first play I finished.

Where do you first start in a creative project?
It’s different for every project. With “Penelope,” I knew what I wanted to do. I had images - it’s very different from any other play I’ve written. I just sat down and wrote the treatment (a short summary of what’s going to happen). I wrote the first draft, which was 12 pages, and kept writing and I got to 30.
Describe your process of writing.

I feel like sometimes when I’m writing it’s like I’m walking, like I’m looking for pictures. Maybe I’m at a museum and it’s very foggy, and I’m walking, and I’m like ‘Oh, I see this, I see that, oh these two people are talking to each other, I can sort of hear what they’re talking about. Let me guess what they’re talking about.’ As I continue, maybe I get one really clear image, and I see a conversation. And it continues and it continues and it continues and it continues. I knew I wanted to leave the summer with a full length, and I finished it in a month.

(Note: in the fall of 2017, Phanesia’s play “The Revolution Will Now be Televised” was produced by the Black Theater Ensemble at Barnard). What is it like to see your work performed and given life?

If I like [the work], it’s the most amazing feeling in the world. If I don’t like it, it can be really hard to write. It’s really crazy because you have built a world, whether it be an altered version of the one you’re in now or a completely different one. I’m so happy that I discovered playwriting. I feel very lucky. If I were just an actor I don’t think I’d ever be fully fulfilled. Just me personally, everyone’s different. Acting is amazing; actors bring so much to the script, but I like to build worlds. You can’t build worlds as an actor. You can build a character in a world; you can add to it; you can be the paint, but to build a world you have to write. Writing is my salvation, but performing is my essence. You can’t separate the two.

Now that I think about it more I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, I would never be who I am today if I didn’t write plays.’ I wrote plays after “Penelope,” and some of them were taken to festivals, which is cool. It’s been really dope seeing them put up.

How has your work changed since coming to Barnard?

I have written several plays, from one minute to five minutes, and a full length [play] that I’m working on. Since coming to Barnard I’m a lot more confused on writing things that interest me rather than doing it for other people. Just because a play is political doesn’t mean it is actually good.

Are you involved in theater on campus?

One of my plays, called “Zoo Story,” was actually done during Wordplay, last fall semester at Columbia. It was also put up in LA. It was about people zoos, which still now is a thing - just we don’t know about it. [People zoos are] people who are considered exotic held up for exhibition, which is an interesting concept. Capitalist gain and sick fantasy; white supremacy.

Right now I’m a part of XMAS!13, which is a secular spectacular musical that happens every fall at Columbia. I’m writing lyrics. It’s really hard to write an entire musical in a semester - really, less than a semester - because you have to give the students time to learn it. It’s a low high pressure environment you’re writing one musical and setting decent deadlines for everyone’s mental health. Last semester I auditioned for shows, and XMAS was the one in which I got to do the most creative thing: be Assistant Director. Student theater is super cool. And XMAS’s thing is XMAS is for everyone. It is really awesome.
Do you think playwriting is an accessible hobby for young students?

It’s super accessible. I think the most oppressive thing to a playwright is Shakespeare. It’s not even his fault - it’s his fanbase. Like Lady Gaga is great but her fans are the worst. That’s Shakespeare, his fans are the worst. Test makers, professors, and reading lists pretend Greek theatre and other forms of classics don’t exist. It’s limiting. They’re all fans of Shakespeare, to the point that I’m like, ‘Have you read any other playwright?’ It’s such a disservice. We live in two different worlds. I think it’s really sad that people say Shakespeare is the greatest playwright or the greatest literary figure of all time. How do we expect young writers to feel like anything they’ll do will be valid when the peak of writing has already come?

What factors do you take into account when writing a play?

I think it is better if you just write whatever the play is. If you’re thinking about factors of other people before the play is written, or before the first draft, you’re going to get stuck. That’s happened to me in previous drafts. Where I am right now is that I just write the play when I feel like it - when I have the fire.

When do you write and what inspires you to write?

I usually write during breaks but after I met Ntozake Shange I felt energized to write. So I did. Next semester I hope to write more.

How does your work express your identity, and what themes do you often feature in your work?

Usually my plays are centered around black women, but I’m writing a play right now and I don’t think there is [one]. That’s really weird, but it’s also cool. It’s limiting, the idea that black women always have to center their work around black women. It can be liberating but it’s absolutely limiting. If I’m building a million different worlds, there’s going to be worlds where certain people just aren’t in them at the moment.

I also think if you’re building a million different worlds as a writer. The people who have written 100 plays, and they’ve never considered a person of color or a queer person or a disabled person or a person living within the margins, you have to really reevaluate that. It doesn’t need to be on the stage; it doesn’t need to take up space.

What is the value of theater for you?

Theater is one of the most precious things humanity has - and theater looks like a million different things. A bunch of people go into a room, and you [the audience] build a relationship within two hours with the playwright, the character, the actors, and everyone who is working backstage. Everyone knows you’re watching a play, when you’re watching a play, but you actually believe it. If you can believe that you’re in a room of people and that they are something other than what they are, that I think means you can believe in so much more. People who are like, ‘I don’t believe the world can be a better place; if you can fucking watch your TV and believe that Sarah Silverman is Miss America (in her show), then you can believe the world can be a better place. It gives me hope. You can actually make people believe anything, and theater is proof of that.

INTERVIEW: LING GROCCIA

Photography by India Halsted

Interview by Eliza Jouin

Introduce yourself.

Hi, I'm Ling, I'm a sophomore at Barnard College, and my main art medium is metalwork and jewelry.

You've done a lot of art throughout your life. What made you choose to start working with metal?

I started in 8th grade, and then I took it every single year of high school. After my junior year, I got into Metals Intensive at my school, which met the same amount of time as math class or English class would; you're in the studio a lot. Metalwork offered me a form of art where I felt successful, in that I was able to effectively create the products I envisioned, in a way I can't in 2D art. This is probably why I don't like drawing, because I can envision things and the reality of it ends up looking terrible. Whereas with metalwork, I'm actually able to produce what I want to.

Can you describe to me your artistic process from when you conceive something all the way to when you present it?

I feel like I'm a very organized, detail-oriented person, which is probably why I like metals so much. You need a certain thought process to know how all the moving parts are going to come together. You have to be conscious of the order in which you construct your piece. You can’t move on to something prematurely, because often times you can’t go back. For example, you can’t go back to solder something once you’ve attached something flammable. So much of it is having a really good outline to start with and knowing what all the steps you need to take are, and ultimately what you're trying to make. But then also, there's this weird paradox because at any moment, you could literally melt your piece to a ball. It's terrifying. So it's about figuring out what to do now and being able bounce back.

What kind of metals do you prefer to work with to create your jewelry?

In high school, we only had access to copper, silver, and brass, and my favorite is brass. I really don't like copper - something about the color. Whereas when brass gets oxidized, it comes into this really nice antique look. It's not as brash as gold or expensive as gold, but it's a nice cheap alternative that ends up having an earthy look.

Since there aren't any metalworking classes here at Columbia/Barnard to create this specific type of 3D art, what's your creative outlet here?

It's been really upsetting to not be able to do studio art classes here. But I did get into embroidery this summer. I’ve wanted to try embroidery ever since I came across Jessica So Ren Tang, this Asian-American artist from San Francisco. She’s amazing. Her work examines exoticism and Chinese stereotypes. She embroiders portraits of sexualized asian women, but then their skin is filled in with embroidered traditional Chinese patterns. For me, her work speaks to the ways in which identity voices itself in art. She also does 3D embroidery, which is insane.

Okay, so it's @jessicasorentang on Instagram.

She's super cool and she deserves so much attention.
So I got into embroidery, and I've been recently trying to figure out how I can do metalwork at school or in New York City. The new Barnard design center seems like a good opportunity. They don't have any metalwork stuff, but they have a lot of equipment for woodworking, so maybe I'll back get into that.

Going back to what you were saying about that artist that inspired you to start doing embroidery, are there any artists that you really look up to or that have inspired your work?

Todd Pownell does really amazing channel setting, and kudos to anyone who does diamond setting because I had a diamond setting project once and it's the worst thing ever. It's a pain in the ass. But he does really stunning diamond setting where he'll have a ring or a bracelet or something and the metal on top will be super textured but there's this channel of diamonds or stones where it looks like somehow the earth is cracked and reveals this horde of diamonds underneath. When I make jewelry, I see myself tending towards representations of nature. I love creating a juxtaposition of a representation of nature in metal, and duplicating nature in something that's so cold and not natural.

Do you feel that your life experience has influenced your art, and if so, how does that manifest itself?

I am a pretty firm believer that your identity and your life experience ends up manifesting itself in your products. I'm less sure in the "how:" the visual ways I can see identity in my work. I'm thinking about my tiara piece, and going in I knew I wanted to incorporate thread. For me, one visual image I keep with me is the Chinese mythology of the red thread. This red thread represents the bloodline that connects everything and everyone. Making this tiara was my one biggest meltdown of highschool: the night before it was due I had to thread all of it and it was just a mess! But I'm so glad how it came out.

One thing I've been reckoning with, this year especially, is as a Chinese adoptee, how much can I claim authenticity to my Chinese identity? I've written a lot of things recently on self-exoticism and finding the balance and knowing what you're exoticizing. I feel this attachment to things like the tiara. I named it "Unearthed Empress" which is kind of cliché, but because it's so dirty now because of air and decay it looks like it could have honestly been in the dirt for a year or something! But feeling those connections, and also after making them, being like “do I have the right to make those connections and claim these feelings?”

Tell me more about your Unearthed Empress project mentioned earlier.

The way Metals Intensive worked was each term you had a term project. For that term, the project was called the "Add It Up challenge," and all these different techniques and materials had a different number of allotted points, and you had to get up to 500 points. So like the use of enamel was 20 points, cold solder seams was this amount of points. You definitely had to get creative. So I ended up using the gems and the thread in it.

You also won an award for it, right?

Yeah, that was nice! We sent things to the globe show which is the Boston Scholastic show, and if it gets a Gold Key; it goes on to the national level. The tiara one won gold at the national level, which I’m incredibly grateful for.

You also have a human body series, can you tell me more about that?

My human body series explores how you can replicate and represent nature out of something seemingly so hard and inflexible as metal. There's the heart piece, the lungs, and a piece inspired by mitosis. I really loved making the heart. To make it, I used chasing and repoussée, which was a requirement for a term project. Basically, you have this pot of tree sap and you heat it up and put the flat piece of metal in. Then you use different hammers and tools to make whatever 3D shape you want. It's incredible to see the depth you can get out of a single piece of copper. I had to use copper; you can only put copper in this certain type of tree sap, but I ended up covering it. If you look closely, it has my fingerprints in a red design all over it!

What is your favorite thing that you've made?

I really liked making the lungs. Weirdly because is was so much torch soldering, which is a real pain in the butt. Basically, the frame of the two lung cages is all made out of wire. Each piece is a different piece of wire, so soldering it to make it look seamless is hard. You have to hold it in place while you heat one part up, making sure all the other solder seams don't come undone. It's a lot of work but I remember when I was doing it and then filing after; I usually hate filing but being able to get that flushness was so satisfying. And the fact it opened after, I really liked that. To give it mobility. And the red thread, coming back to it.

Given that metalwork is generally perceived as a more manual and difficult form of art, how do you feel societal conceptions of masculinity and femininity play a role in your art? Do you feel as if you're breaking gender norms through doing this? Does it play a role?

There definitely is a sort of industrial-ness to it, which I really like. I really liked taking woodshop in 6th or 7th grade for some reason. I think it spoke to me more because of the type of labor, and I was actually able to produce something I wanted out of the industrial materials.

As to femininity, the things I make are more feminine. I haven't thought about this too much, but I think part of the juxtaposition that I like between metal and nature is the relationship of something industrial used to make something so delicate. Obviously metal is still natural, but doesn't have that same edifice.

Do you have any ideas for works in the future?

Recently, not being at a studio, I've been brainstorming a lot of pieces I want to make. I’ve been really in to oysters and freshwater pearls and believe that their movement and organic shape would look really amazing represented in metal. I also really like bees, and want to make a pair of bee earrings in brass where the abdomen is this amber-colored gem. I love how earthy, orange colors add nuanced depth and warmth to gold and brass.

Do you have any advice for people interested in learning about making jewelry and getting into metalwork?

I would say it's definitely something to try, just because it's such a different skill set. I feel like we rarely use our hands in that sort of industrial capacity, or in that type of art. In general, sculpture and 3D art should be something we teach people.

Interview: Sophie Kovel

Interview and photography by India Halsted 

Introduce yourself.

I’m Sophie. I’m a senior at Barnard and an artist. I’m majoring in Art History and Visual Art. I was born in Los Angeles and raised in Northern California.

What were your first moments of creating?

I was exposed to a lot of art when I was quite young: in the home, in museums, through conversations, through family members that are artists.  There was a specific period of time when a group of friends and I would see gallery and museum shows and re-create the work.

Who are the artists who influence your work?

Lisa Oppenheimer, Emily Jacir, Rachel Whiteread, and Lorna Simpson have in large ways influenced my thesis. I am also very influenced by Eva Hesse.

What materials do you work with? How would you describe them?

They tend to be malleable, organic, and non-rigid – like wax and cheesecloth. I want to play with resin too. I am attracted to its luminosity: the way it glows and the way it can take form.

What classes have most informed your work?

Though it’s hard to locate a specific class, Leslie Hewitt’s “Freestyle and Displacement” had and continues to have particular influence on my work. In large part because of its focus on representations of cultural trauma: trauma of dispossession and diaspora. Leslie  renewed my faith in the political power of abstraction. The Atlas Group’s work is a very good example of this subtle strength. So is Leslie’s – it’s quiet but deeply political.

Describe your studio space. Is it a place of exhibition? For yourself? For others?

It’s an exhibition space for myself, but then in the case of the open studios it’s a way to collectively open up the class’s thinking. When others enter the studio the thinking is on display in addition to the work.

How would you describe your artistic process and when would you say a work is finished?

Sometimes it’s clearer than others. Ultimately an artwork is finished for me when it feels that the work can stand. I always have my hands in a lot of places which helps because I don’t just have this linear way of saying “this is started” and “this is done.” Because I work so fluidly, I often find resonances between projects.

Describe your series We Are Not On Solid Ground.

The fires in Santa Rosa and Hurricane Irma happened right as I was beginning to think about what I wanted to make for the semester.  I wasn’t preparing to respond to the trauma of natural disasters. That is the source of the images for We Are Not On Solid Ground. The theoretical grounding came from an idea in a documentary film class last year. We read an essay by André Bazin, “The Ontology of the Photographic Image.” Bazin describes a film of a bullfight in which the bullfighter dies. He then recounts his own uncanny experience of seeing the bullfighter’s death a second time when watching the film on a different afternoon. Change is “mummified” in film for Bazin; film makes death repeatable. So, I was interested in this idea of mummification as the repetition of  trauma.

What about these two events inspired you? Is it their timeliness or their personal significance?

I was feeling particularly affected by the news at the time. I was trying to insulate myself and so the work was a way to not insulate myself. And in the case of the fires I was particularly unsettled because they happened just half an hour away from where I grew up. I was looking at images of the fires in The New York Times. They were incredibly beautiful images – charred ground and soft pink skies, and that was unsettling. I was curious if the images of [Hurricane] Irma, which was happening simultaneously, would be equally romantic. I think beauty was a point of entry for me. Because these horrific disasters were photographed so beautifully, I could look at them and there was a sense of stillness as something captured. There is a dichotomy between the stillness of the image and my repetition of it through mummification.

How do you define mummification and what does this process mean to your work?

Mummification alludes to the journalistic original. It’s also a kind of psychoanalytic process. The masking (through gauze and wax, or in another case,  Neosporin) re-enacts repression but at the same time it’s also a preservation, a way to bring the repressed material to light.

How is material important to We Are Not On Solid Ground?

The images are printed on vellum, which is a sort of filmic material. It’s an inkjet print that I wrapped in cheesecloth and embalmed in wax. This series in particularly was largely inspired by Eva Hesse but also by the idea of the wound, the materials that might dress a wound. Yet these dressings don’t necessarily fix anything. It’s a kind of naive attempt. With some of the works, like one image of charred washing machines, you can see the impression of the turkey pan – there are these domestic traces.

How do you separate the work of taking photos and borrowing and embalming images?

I recently got disenchanted with producing images given that I experience so many images. Relevant to all the work is the assembly of images or the assembly of an experience of images. There are these associative networks between each of the projects [some integrate the same events] which a part of me identifies as nebulous, but it  is also a psychoanalytic logic.

Does the process of mummification bring you closer or farther away from the original?

It’s hard to call myself a witness because I wasn’t there. I try to emphasize my distance in all of my work and yet I think of my work as a kind of bearing witness. The process of mummification represents my distance but it also brings me closer because I needed to work through these events. I didn’t just want to hear about the ash that was falling on my friend’s car in Los Angeles when Southern California was ravaged with fires soon after [those in Santa Rosa] and not process it. There’s the witnessing and experiencing of these images and then there’s also its aftereffects. The aftermath of these events carried with them an atmosphere, both environmentally and psychologically.

Photography always raises the question of the original. But calling these appropriated images “sources” rather than “originals” more closely approximates what I’m trying to do.

Describe your series Picturing.

The name Picturing came to me as a way of saying that I was documenting, a kind of journalism of journalism, one or two steps removed. It locates myself. I applied Neosporin to my camera lens, which is a Pictorialist technique. Stieglitz used petroleum jelly to create a romantic effect, to make photography more painterly. I first saw this technique in this Man Ray’s film Étoile de Mer. It followed from We are not on stable ground to use Neosporin as another way to to mummify images, a more integrated affront than before. In this case [using Neosporin] was a way for me make the digital image more sculptural and material.

What about films or specific films inspire you or your work?

I think back to certain moments of stillness or repetition. There is a scene in Truffaut’s Jules et Jim where Catherine is laughing and her laughter stills, then continues, stills, then continues. Or at the very end of the 400 Blows when Antoine is suddenly freezes running on the beach. I think these examples were initial ways for me to think about photography and film. This reflexive thinkingthat the moving image is composed of stills informs my work. Chris Marker’s film La Jetée has this archival quality.

Describe your current project Junior.

I’ve been collecting junior pilot wings, the pins you are given on planes as a kid, in thinking about totems of safety. In my work that there is also this concern of nuclear warfare. I was thinking of the sky and atmosphere and these junior pilot wings  came as a sort of solution. I soon found that photographs I took of the wings had more weight than the wings themselves. I wanted to play with the apparatus of display so I decided to use a commercial, museological postcard display so that viewers would be able to take them. So that they can carry a talisman. I liked the idea of passage, of publicly locating yourself, and I was thinking of On Kawara’s work.

I’m still in the process of theoretically framing them in all honesty. I went to the March for Our Lives yesterday and was really moved by the signs children had written. It really changed how I defined the wings and made me think, could they be voices unheard? What could they locate? What could they demand? I’m leaning towards putting these slogans on the back of these postcards vertically as a structural aspect. I want to leave space for other people to write.

How do you reconcile physical and cultural trauma with collective loss in your work?

I’m not exactly sure if these are concepts that need to be reconciled, but they are definitely all at play. Rosalyn Deutsche introduced me to an interesting rereading of Freud’s Mourning And Melancholia. For Freud, one withdraws from the world in response to trauma or loss. This is what he calls depressive melancholia. So what’s interesting about these works, There is No Threat in particular, is that they seek out another form of melancholia . Jonathan Flatley uses the term non-depressive melancholia to say there is a form of melancholia that leads to an interest in the world rather than a withdrawal from it. That through one’s own losses you can attach to others’ losses.

Is part of being an artist being sensitive?

I think sensitivity is essential to my work. Anxiety has taken on physical effects and that’s the juxtaposition I’m abstractly making in There is No Threat with the clinical swabs. It brings two languages together – the language of safety alerts (which I’ve screenshotted) of the false ballistic missile threat in Hawaii this January and the language of medical props. I’m trying to infuse a sense of healing but also of fragility or vulnerability.

Where do you see your work going in the future?

I’m very responsive and I typically have a lot of threads at any given time so it’s difficult to see exactly where my work will take me.

That said, I collected newspapers from the day of the Los Angeles fire – I bought about twenty of them. I’ve thought about dipping them in wax or stacking them.

In terms of my own plans, I will be in New York next year doing what I’m not sure but surely maintaining an art practice. I ultimately plan to get an MFA.

Nudity vs Nakedness

Interview by Maeve Flaherty, artwork by Amanda Ba

The shades in Dodge 501 are drawn, but the morning sun seeps in and mingles with the powerful overhead spotlights. They’re focused on a woman in the nude, who sits upright on a throne-like chair draped with flowing green fabric. Around her, twenty artists glance between her and their paper, capturing her figure on the page.

The model will spend the next two hours moving between positions as she models for one of Columbia University Artist’s Society’s twice-weekly figure drawing sessions. The sessions are free to the public and organized by Artist’s Society, a student-run Columbia club that provides studio time for the artistic community.

The models, who are paid and treated like any professional artistic model, are nonetheless faced with a unique challenge. Drawn from the Columbia student population, the single session they model for Artist’s Society is often their first time being naked in public. And they do it in front of their friends, classmates, people they’ve seen in dining halls and on College Walk- people they are very likely to encounter again.

To learn more about the student models, I interviewed Artist’s Society board member and graphic designer, Amanda Ba, CC’20. Ba rolled into our meeting on her trusty pink scooter. She explained that the models, who sign up by filling out a google form with availability at the beginning of each year, are selected alphabetically from a list of names. The length of the list means that the model is different for each session and Columbia students are normally only selected once in their four years.

I asked Ba what makes a good model. She explained, “It’s somebody who has versatility with their poses. This allows artists room to be more stylistic in how they choose to draw a body– because a body is a body, but you can play on it. Someone who will twist and create curves and folds and angles and convexes in their body. A pristine, beautiful body is actually the most boring body. What is more fun to draw is curves, undulations.”

Francisco Alvidrez, CC’19, was up to the challenge. “At the beginning,” he said, “I was doing weird, difficult positions. I was like, ‘Well, here’s how I can contort my body for you today.’”

As an artist himself and an architecture major, Alvidrez saw nude modeling as a creative exercise. He explained, “It was important to me, as somebody who makes the art and also as someone who partakes in it all, to be on both ends. To create with my body or with materials.”

The model is an active participant in the art created. In the Artist’s Society sessions, the model’s job is not to simply stand on the block-- it is to move in a way that pushes and inspires the artists.

Virginia, BC’19, had never modeled in the nude before. She found the creative conversation between artist and model surprisingly empowering. “Whenever I changed positions,” she explained, “I was presenting new challenges to them. I don’t know much about drawing people myself, so I assumed that I would be less in-charge because I couldn’t control how my body was being represented, but I actually had a lot of agency.” She added, “I thought it was a cool exercise, choosing how to represent my own body so that other people could represent me.”

But the line between choosing how to represent the body and being represented is thin. Inherent in the experience is a lack of control.

Alvidrez, who is very comfortable with his body, didn’t find the experience frightening or unpleasant. Still, he recognized the limits of his agency: “I’m completely naked on this block, in the middle of a room, surrounded by a bunch of people who I don’t know, who are drawing every knick and cranny of my body. It’s one of the most apparent affronts to my body-- I have no say over what people are drawing of my body. If they want to draw my left nipple, they can spend twenty minutes drawing it. Or they could be spending that same amount of time on my foot. It doesn’t matter. For me, it’s really weird that I am in total control of the situation but at the same time extremely vulnerable.”

Artist’s Society recognizes that vulnerability and tries to make their models comfortable. On the physical level, they offer a private changing space and keep a heater next to the stage on cold days. On a more emotional level, they make sure to talk to each model when they arrive to make sure they are clear on what will happen over the course of the session.

But at the end of the day, the model has to find it in themselves to get up on the block. Ba explained, “A good model is someone who is comfortable with themselves, who knows what they are getting into-- it doesn’t mean that they have to have done it before. But they have to have their minds wrapped around ‘Yes, I am going to be naked in front of a bunch of people but they aren’t going to sexualize me, this is in an artistic pursuit.’”

Artist’s Society emphasizes that the modeling is artistic, not sexual. Before the model enters each session, the organizers repeat a quick code of conduct on how to handle the session: don’t take photos, etc. To make sure the model feels safe, the artists are not allowed to instruct the models on how to pose their bodies.

For Virginia, that element of control was key. “One time, a guy suggested I stand up and the person coordinating the event quickly said ‘If you’re comfortable.’ I did stand up, but I didn’t feel like I had been forced into doing something I wouldn’t have done otherwise. I did it because I was like ‘Why not?’”

Virginia didn’t feel uncomfortable or sexualized. She said, “I didn’t know anyone and I could tell that they were not looking at me in a creepy, gazy way. They are looking at you and trying to capture you on the page. I felt really safe.”

Isaiah Feldman-Schwartz, CC’18, agreed. He’s modeled for Artist’s Society twice, and both times enjoyed the experience. “Something I really appreciate about the Artist’s Society is that it very much doesn’t feel like a sexualized space at all. It was like, ‘I’m standing here naked and that’s only weird if you think it’s weird.’ They’re here to do figure drawing, I’m here to model for the figure drawing, and it is what it is. Everybody was very professional.”

For a student modeling in front of other students, a professional and artistic attitude is key. Most nude models can show up to their job, do it, and leave, not worrying about running into the artists. But at the Artist’s Society sessions, the attendees are mostly either students or Morningside Heights residents. For many of the models, they will walk into a room and recognize one or several of the artists they are about to be naked in front of.

Although Feldman-Schwartz didn’t tell his friends about his modeling beforehand, a friend happened to be at his second session. It was “slightly more awkward,” he said. “In particular, it felt that way because it was someone of the opposite gender. Which I would be lying if I said didn’t factor into my consciousness. But it didn’t feel like a big problem. It was more of an awareness. I was like ‘don’t make too much eye contact, don’t be weird about it.’”

Like Feldman-Schwartz, Francisco Alvidrez knew several people in the room. During his session, both friends and classmates of his were drawing. Alvidrez felt more comfortable with the strangers present. “I think had no one I know been there,” Alvidrez said, “I would have been a lot more comfortable, but the fact that I knew people there didn’t hinder my experience or make me more nervous.”

Still, although Alvidrez was didn’t really mind seeing people he knew on the day of the session, he did mind the way the modeling bled into his later life. Several times after his session, people approached him in Morningside Heights to compliment him on his modeling. Alvidrez explains thinking, “I’m at a restaurant, why are you complimenting me on my nude modeling? I appreciate the compliment, but at the same time it’s like ‘why is this necessary right now?’”

Alvidrez felt comfortable during his session, but the later encounters broke the boundaries that Artist’s Society carefully constructs between model and artist. Those boundaries are fragile, and require the commitment of all artists and models to maintain a respectful distance between what happens during and after the session.

After being approached in public while eating a meal by someone from the session, Alvidrez wondered, “When does people practicing stop and sexualization start?”

In Virginia’s experience, the boundary between body and art form was clarified the second she stepped off the block. When Virginia finished her session and started to put her clothes back on in the back of the room, she assumed that after two hours in the nude, it didn’t matter where she got dressed. One of the organizers approached her and offered the privacy of a curtained corner to put her clothing back on. Virginia said, “I realized that once I wasn’t the subject anymore, it was like we were people interfacing in public, as public as a classroom is again.”

In that moment, the difference between nakedness and nudity became clear. Virginia: “Then I was naked, and then I needed privacy to change. When you’re in the setting where you’re the person everyone is looking at, then you’re nude.”

The nude model walks that line between naked and nude. The art critic John Berger wrote in his seminal text, Ways of Seeing, “To be naked is to be oneself. To be nude is to be seen naked by others and yet not recognized for oneself. A naked body has to be seen as an object in order to become a nude.”

Amanda Ba agreed. She explained, “Naked is a state, right? Naked is ‘I am naked now but I will be clothed later.’ It’s almost like a noun, not an adjective.” In Ba’s opinion, nude is something else entirely: “You are using it to describe the visual term for a human body. It’s just ‘the nude’. When we have nude figure drawing sessions, you aren’t looking at somebody and saying ‘Oh, they’re naked,’ because you are seeing them in a naked context. You are like, this is just a beautiful form for me to depict.”

This difference between naked and nude is key to how the models and artists approach the artistic interaction they take part in. For Ba, nudity reduces or purifies the body to a form for artistic interpretation. For Francisco Alvidrez, the word nude has sexual connotations. He said, “Nude for me seems sexualized, and naked doesn’t. For me people being naked was always some nonsexual situation or not even fully undressed, but nude seems more charged with that connotation.”

For him, the sexual connotations of the word nude shaped how he experienced the session. He said, “We use it for this nude modeling. Maybe that’s why I had that thought of prevailing sexualization with my body. I associate that word, nude, with sex or with some charged other meaning. I was more in tune with that sensation afterwards.”

As much as Artist’s Society tries to present the session as a vacuum, a space in which the interplay between model and viewer is entirely artistic, it cannot block out the outside world. Each model walks into the session with their own understanding of their body and the meaning of being unclothed. They bring that perspective with them as they model for their classmates, and back out onto the Columbia campus.

I asked Feldman-Schwartz if he felt more naked or nude during his time modeling for Artist’s Society.

He responded without hesitation.

“I felt naked.”

[Artist’s Society’s figure drawing sessions occur twice-weekly, every Friday from 6pm to 8pm and every Saturday from 10am to 12pm in Dodge 501. They are free and open to the public.]

 

 

Interview: Cameron Downey

Photography by Evelyn Wolfley

Interview by Yosan Alemu

I know that you express yourself through various different mediums; visual art, poetry, music, modeling, etc. How did you find these avenues?

I feel like in a lot of ways I was forced to find my art through more than one avenue because I think about art in terms of concepts. I think this can be attributed to my artist mentors. I was part of a nonprofit, and I was in this program, being taught by these really dope black conceptual artists who were working and doing their own thing while they were teaching other black or low income youth to make their own art and to make it really dope. So being raised under them, I was taught that your art has to have a concept behind it, and it doesn't necessarily always have to be political. I mean you could go off of the idea that the personal is political, and a lot of times, with black artists it is inherently that way. But because my art was centered around having a concept, or a language, I think there was never a time where I thought I could just do that through visual art. I felt like I had to do it through different mediums whether it be sculpture or just in general like creating a sense or an experience for the person who's consuming my art.

When you’re creating, do your different mediums of art ever overlap?

I definitely think so. When it comes to making clothes–for me at least–I definitely think of them visually. I think of them in a certain scene, and I didn't always realize this until somebody asked me where ideally I would like my clothes to be worn. And I was like "Oh I think of living in a post-apocalyptic world where niggas only listen to Missy Elliot and white people don't exist." And afterwards, I was like "Damn, I actually have an entire set up here”, and this is what it felt like when I started exploring that more, and then getting into being the photographer of my work. Clothes mean a lot to me because of the statements they make, and when I started to actually play around with how my clothes look in a visual sense, I started imagining what this specific world would be like, and how that reflects my experience as a black woman. In my art, I like to create worlds for black kids where they feel comfortable, where they are free to imagine and create concepts of their own.

When you’re creating a photoshoot, what is the process like?

Good question. I think it depends every time. Usually I’ll look at my clothing and then ask myself where I would want the pieces to exist. I also like to pair the clothes with a location that I have in mind just because the scenery is very important to me. For example, you know the idea that the people you see in your dreams are actually people you’ve come across in your conscious life? That’s how I see the locations I choose. I'll drive by a parking lot at night and realize this location is pretty dope, and I’ll go from there. And so, I come up with the location and then I come up with somebody who could fit the clothes I’ve made, and not to sound cheesy, but we build from there, start adding things until literally the very last minute. It’s a very interactive process.

What is your favorite clothing item? Favorite accessory?

Accessories. Period.

If you could consume one medium of art for the rest of your life, what would it be?

I feel like I'm kind of cheating, but I would say film. In film you have the visuals, the movement, the people, and the story line. You also have the wardrobe, and the sound--which is so important. I’ve been thinking a lot about sound lately and how that pertains to seeing.

How have your life experiences been reflected in your art?

Well that's a big one. I feel like I could talk about this all day. If I were to tell the story of my life, I would also be telling the story of my art. A large part of who I am consists of my childhood and growing up with my grandparents, my mother, my foster siblings, growing up in a multigenerational home. My grandparents had foster kids all of the time so I was constantly being rotated in and out of people’s lives; I would have these very intimate moments and never seeing them again. And I feel like that rubbed off in a way, in the way I act towards people, because with my foster siblings I only had one chance to make an impact on their lives. I also, at a very young age was aware of my own privilege, the privilege of having a stable home environment and family–something foster children rarely ever see. Being self-aware at such a young age helped me afterwards continue to reflect these emotions in my art.

When people see your art, how do you want them to feel? What is the message you’re trying to portray?

I want my art to be transportative and transformative. I want people to look at my work and be transported into the scene, to feel like they can exist in this world I’ve created. I want my art to depict this world as a parallel to the other worlds I have created and am working to create.

Do you think social media influences the way people consume art?

Absolutely. But I also think it goes both ways. Social media has saturated us in art in terms of visual art on Instagram and even music on Soundcloud. It’s interesting how anyone can put their work out in the open and get immediate feedback from larger audiences all around the world.

How does being a black woman influence your art? Are you conscious of your identity, and if so, how do you perceive identity in your work?

When we go back to the idea that art is you announcing who you are to the world, being a black woman, we face a lot of pushback. And even from studying successful people in the conceptual art world and successful black people in conceptual art, a lot of the time feminine voices in general and feminine concepts are taken less seriously. You shouldn't have to have some sort of  qualification to announce an idea to the world. But somehow the imagination of women–and especially the imagination of black women–is kind of demeaned or seen as impractical. Black women are supposed to shoulder all of these responsibilities for everybody else and we're supposed to be the most pragmatic, and I think that’s part of the reason why our voices in all aspects of the word, especially in art has been silenced. But black women have been trailblazers in the art world. It takes imagination to foresee freedom, and that idea of freedom is put into my work.

Going off of your last answer, of finding freedom in your art, Have you found it, or are you still searching?

I think I find freedom in the process. As I've grown as an artist I’ve found freedom in telling myself that my ideas are valid. And now, as I'm getting older, I’m more comfortable in saying just that. I exist, and my art exists.

INTERVIEW: ASHBY BLAND

Photography by Aarushi Jain

Interview by Alexa Silverman

Ashby Bland is a sophomore at CC focusing in literary non-fiction and concentrating in visual arts. We met in the sixth floor of Diana to discuss mixed media, bedroom art, and favorite words.

Can you introduce yourself?

My name is Ashby Marie Bland. I am 20 years old. I was born in Orlando, FL. I moved around a couple times -- I lived in Orlando, Charleston SC, and Ft. Lauderdale, FL. I have a little brother and two parents and a dog. My family is Bahamian, Guyanese, African American and Native American.  

Did you grow up in an artistic environment?

I wouldn’t say artistic, but I grew up in an environment where my parents were like ‘you can do whatever you want to do.’ My parents were really encouraging and free. They pushed me to do what I wanted; they would never tell me I couldn’t do something. I’ve always had a lot of interests.

When did you first decide that you were interested in visual arts?

Visual arts came my junior year of high of school. I never thought I could do art, was never really into traditionally learning how to draw. I took this class in high school called AP 2D studio art, that was when I discovered the collages I do. I saw a bunch of subject matter, photos and imagery, that I liked and started collaging them. Progressively I got more crazy -- I would paint on them, I would draw on them, I’d rip them … then my concentration became sewing. I would collage images and then sew on top of them, by hand, with thread. It would take hours. My fingers would be bleeding, but it would be how I wanted it. That’s how I got into the mixed media style. It allowed me to see that I was talented in other areas.

So is mixed media your personal favorite of what you create?

Yes, not necessarily with thread, but just the freedom to put whatever I want on a piece of paper. All my collages I’ve done recently, I’ve taken all those photos; the real reason I got into photography is to have original photos to collage. Having that mix of photography with painting, drawing, or sculpture making … It’s about me being able to make mistakes. All of my collages are never how I originally intended them to be. It’s a cathartic thing -- my art is purely indulgent. I’ll make art for a certain mood that I’m in. I let my hand freely combine things, that’s why there are rips and shit because I’ll mess up and think, ‘well, I don’t want this anymore and I can’t get rid of it so i’ll just rip this piece off.’ Then there will be a hole in the paper. It’s very reactionary.

I love photography and I think it’s great, but whenever I take a photo, I don’t think it’s good enough. I can do something more -- why not? Take a photo of a person: why not print it out and add something else to it? I always end up layering photos or ripping them or adding a color. That’s me being indulgent and not satisfied with anything– I’m always changing things. I like playing with my hands. I’ve always been into design, creative directing, knowing where to put things … I’m really not doing anything other than just putting things places. The act of putting things places is what art is. You decide. If I take a photo, I don't just want to leave it on my iPhone or computer, I want to print it out and have a physical piece of paper. I could punch a hole in it and I don't think it looks worse or better, just different. It allows me to put my energy in a certain place. There’s a versatility too — I can have the original photo and the one that I edited a bit, and I feel happy with both.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?

I’m a big lover of words– my other favorite medium is writing. Last year in Poetry, we studied this poet called Myung Mi Kim. She has this poem called “Accumulation of Land” that has short statements set up in columns and rows. It’s a surrealist poetry thing; what inspired my surrealist poetry. I don’t always want to convey a meaning or theme, just a feeling. I become really obsessed with certain words because of the way they sound or look. For a while I was really obsessed with the word “degenerate.” Not because of the definition, but because I liked the way it looked and the cadence and flow within the word, I thought it sounded like a rollercoaster. I wanted to make art that embodied the feeling that the word gave me.

Do you have a current favorite word?

I started learning French last semester and I like ‘comme ça’ which is ‘like this.’ It’s a cool transition word and I like the way it sounds ... I think “cargo” is a really good word to describe baggage and things you carry because it sounds scientific and technological. I like the contrast between words that sound really scientific but describe certain emotions.

I like “gunwale”, that little boat that has shallow sides. If you look it up you’ll see the boat has chains hung over it … you’ve see in movies where they’re in a boat and they have these chains hung over that are tied to a buoy, and they pull the chains back into the boat and it makes a crashing sound? When I got to that line in [“The Writer” by Richard Wilbur] I was like fuck. I could hear the chains hung over the gunwale that she was pulling metaphorically. “Annex”, I think that’s a cool word because there’s two n’s in it. What else? I really like the word clientele. It’s so sharp … this is how I think. Certain words have certain feelings and sounds and color to me ...

Do you have synesthesia?

I don’t really like to label things. We’re in a generation that wants to label everything; some things just are. I was obsessed with this name Yusuke Urameshi from this rap song that I heard, it’s also the name of a character in this anime called Yu Yu Hakusho. That name is so sick. The way it’s said in the song has this cadence that’s badass; it almost sounds like it’s not a name, it’s one word … Everything is inspired by words.

Where do you work?

Famously, I do my work in my bed. I used to have an art account in high school I named “Bedwork” because I did all of my collages sitting in my bed. I would have all these pieces on my bed laying out. I didn’t need a lot of space. All of my collages are tiny, smaller than a sheet of paper. Although I was comfortable with this in highschool, now I wish I could expand my collages and make them bigger, show that I can work in a large studio. If I’m writing, I'm on a computer. If I’m doing photography, I’m out or in the dark room.

Tell me about the series on your website, “A Pest to Ears but Attest to Nothing.”

“A Pest to Ears but Attest to Nothing” was the last line of one of my poems. [The subject] is my really good friend. We went to a graveyard in Florida and I took a bunch of pictures of him. He inspired me to do film photography -- I have a lot of art of him because he was my muse back then. His lips are really nice. I liked the movement here, the way they’re turned. I picked these two pictures out, and I didn’t really want them on top of anything, so I sewed them together loosely. I’ll scan things a billion times until they come out perfect. I’m really into fuzzy incoherent photography with a lot of grain. It’s warmer. Because I don’t use a lot of colors, I need something that’s relatable. I love the texture.

Why do you find yourself working with black and white film?

Color is limiting. When you see color photography, you pay attention to how the colors interact and not the form. It’s a distraction. Also, when there’s color, it makes me feel anxious about collaging. I don’t want my work to be colorful because when there’s a lot of color you’re not paying attention to what’s actually there. [In this picture] he has tan skin, a white shirt -- that wouldn’t be too bad, but the background is green. I’d never be able to put a red thread through because then it would be fucking Christmas, you know? There’s too many associations with colors that make me feel like I’m trapped. The grayscale allows me to do whatever I want.

I see a lot of red in your work, is this color significant to you?

Yes. Red is a really powerful color; it makes me feel threatened in a way that contrasts with the softness of the photos that I take. A blue wouldn’t be strong enough, a green has too many associations (leaves, trees). There are not a lot of things I find that are naturally that bright red, so it contrasts with the basic nature of the black and white. Also, I have a lot of blood in my drawings and I’m drawing that red.

Tell me about your children’s book.

The first chapter … the entire concept, the title, I wrote when I was four. Obviously I spelled everything wrong and had horrible grammar, but the story was there. “The Girl Who Tried to Catch the Moon.” Every couple years I would find it … I moved three three times so when I would clean out my room I’d find my original draft sitting there and I would go on my computer and rewrite it. When I was eight I wrote it again — still with bad grammar, but I did it. When I got to 13, I typed it out. My parents always knew I had it and before I got to college my dad [said] ‘we need to publish this’ and I was like ‘okay, sure.’ I got it published in September of last year. I guess I don’t really see it as that big of a deal because it’s just something that loomed over me my whole life. I always had this written and didn’t think it was that important. Also, I’m not a children's writer, so I think it’s funny. Knowing that I was thinking about this when I was four is endearing and cool, but … my writing now isn’t anything like this.

How does it feel to be a published author?

It feels like nothing, really. [laughs] It doesn’t really do anything for me; I just like that I put something somewhere … I was never able to growing up because of Tennis. When you play Tennis at a high level, you’re not allowed to make mistakes. The tiniest mistake -- centimeters -- will change your life. Knowing that made me feel threatened. Art was an outlet. Who gives a fuck about three centimeters? I’m just gonna rip the whole thing and throw this paint on it and throw it in the trash and spray paint it. It’s freedom.

INTERVIEW: 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.

INTERVIEW: 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.

INTERVIEW: 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.

INTERVIEW: 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.

 

 

INTERVIEW: 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.

INTERVIEW: SAM WILLIGER

Interview 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.

 

 

INTERVIEW: MORGANA VAN PEEBLES

Interview 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.
 

INTERVIEW: ERIN REID

Interview 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.

 

INTERVIEW: Mira Dayal

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/

 

Interview: Eliza Callahan

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

 

 

 

 

 

Interview: Jeevan Farias

Interview 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.