By CLARE GEMIMA October 8, 2023
Other artists included in the show: Ted Wray, Faustine Badrichani, Dena Sturm, Tara Lewis, Michael Ezzell, Jen Dwyer, Peter Zelle, Caitlin Carney, George Goodnow, Cyle Warner, Brandon Clarke, Brittany Holloway-Brown, Alida Wilkinson, Edgard Barbosa, Patricio Tejedo, Yvette Cohen, Bryan Fernandez, and Anne von Freyburg,
Reflecting on Ki Smith Gallery's recent group show Liquidity, this interview explores how five of the exhibition’s twenty-three artists examined the idea of fluidity in our world, specifically in how it infiltrates economic, emotional, cultural and physical contexts found across contemporary society. Inspired by sociologist Zygmunt Bauman's theory of liquid modernity, the exhibition, curated by Natasha Roberts, invited viewers to ponder how art embodies and challenges our ever-changing and constantly in flux surroundings at large.
The exhibition explored fluidity within our contemporary society, touching on economic, emotional, cultural, and physical aspects. Clare Gemima interviewed 5 artists from the show who have all produced their own wildly diverse interpretation of the theme. CHiNGLiSH WANG discussed how his work reflects a changing world, while Jared LeClaire spoke about the complexity of universal flux, and Alison Kruvant explained her innovative use of wet look materials. Yuval Pudik unpacked his own political representation of the theme, and elaborated on how global perspectives are tainted by indoctrination whether we admit it to ourselves or not, and the prolific Lydia Nobles opens audience’s eyes to the personal narratives of abortion she responds to sculpturally. The artists' diverse perspectives offered insight into the dynamic nature and liquid state of today’s world.
Clare Gemima: How did your work in Natasha Roberts’ Liquidity reflect or respond to the dynamic nature of our contemporary world, where fluidity encompasses economic, emotional, and physical aspects? What personal perspectives influenced your interpretation of the exhibition’s theme?
CHiNGLiSH WANG: In a contemporary world characterized by constant flux across economic, emotional, and physical dimensions, my work is a reflection of the evolving landscape, and my personal perspectives deeply intertwined within it. Born in the late 70s, I've witnessed the profound shifts from analog to digital, from tangible experiences to virtual ones, and from purely aesthetic considerations morphing into broader explorations of multifaceted challenges. These shifts have influenced my perspective on art and creativity. My “CHiNGLiSH Brands - Trash Bag” series, in particular, arises from the intersection of these experiences. It serves as both a reflection of the dynamic nature of our times, and a commentary on the changing role of art and materials within it. This series envisions a scenario where conventional materials become scarce, and all that remains is the waste we've generated. It is a response to the idea that creativity must adapt to unconventional resources in a world where 'trash' materials become a canvas for artistic expression.
Jared LeClaire: Liquidity as a state is innately complex. It is the state of something with borders but no form. Trying to grasp at something of that nature can be very difficult. The way built out this show was a very smart approach. The collections of works at Ki Smith wrestle with the fluid nature of all things through multiplicity. There is no single statement that captures these ideas but, in its diversity, the collection of works builds out a more holistic vision of fluidity as a matter in economics, social, personal, and so on. My work revolves around the transient nature of being and the poetics of change. It is my work in tandem with the other artists that respond in different subjects that allows us to tease apart the ideas Roberts was engaging with.
Alison Kruvant: My paintings in the exhibition are based on sculptures made by my late grandmother Naomi Goldberg Kruvant. I’ve been working with the concept of fluidity for several years now, so Natasha’s thematic curation of Liquidity is an organic fit with my work, which is one of the reasons I was thrilled to be part of the exhibition.
Over time, I’ve become more interested in depicting experiences, rather than subjects, in my painting. Experience is by definition transient, constantly changing, mysteriously made up of a series of moments. I want to make paintings as close to my sense of reality as possible. Fluidity is an intrinsic part of contemporary life, from questions of gender identity to a globalized world in which we must shift our point of view and step outside of our inherited assumptions in order to participate in a relevant, postmodern dialogue—no matter what the context. Simultaneously, our cultural identities and differences are in the spotlight. Ideas of subjectivity and a personal, yet mutable perspective are really important in my work.
Yuval Pudik: Natasha expressed the idea of analogy between fluidities, like water - but also like elements of culture. I was intrigued by these two parallels. The representation of water in one of my drawings at the exhibition is quite political - it’s a very oily rendering of the Delaware river. I wanted to convey the idea of how water is tainted in this country from a political and historical viewpoint, and to express the water disputes about ocean and river crossings during slavery. Crossing an ocean or river could be a doorway to freedom or one’s fatal journey. I made this body of work during the Trump administration and it felt like we are all in a sinking boat with a massive level of daily anxiety. So I placed the drawing, the image of the greasy river scene behind drywall with a circular opening, something that demonstrated. Natasha seemed to respond to that metaphor and I was thrilled to have made it such a good fit in her overall vision.
Lydia Nobles: Roberts so eloquently considered motion, movement, texture, and color in her curation of Liquidity. Fluidity requires a lack of control, a lack of wanting to restrict; at its very essence fluidity encourages accepting change with grace. Julie is a sculpture in my series As I Sit Waiting, which documents and honors peoples' experiences with abortion access. Our political framework is currently characterized by polarity. I aim to immortalize our collective history utilizing three dimensional abstract portraiture to commemorate the diversity and power of our stories against the backdrop of American reproductive politics. My work, Julie, utilizes color and texture to create movement and honor the nuance of her, the work’s story. The visceral quality of my piece references the body and the changes once pregnancy occurs, whether that’s having an abortion or not. The subtle transitions from ethereal pearl to serene whites, to a soothing blue accentuated by vibrant touches of ochre speak to Julie’s personality and energy. Julie boldly occupies space, and symbolizes the significance of women, trans, and non-binary individuals, positioning them strongly within the discourse of reproductive rights.
Clare Gemima: Luxury Wastes Mini Lady Dior from your CHiNGLiSH Brands - Trash Bag series, challenges conventional norms and explores the transformation of discarded materials. Could you discuss how this particular work blurs the boundaries between what we perceive as 'trash' and 'value’? I am also interested in what sort of message you hope viewers take away from your work in terms of their own role in global sustainability?
CHiNGLiSH WANG: This work challenges conventional norms by blurring the boundaries between what is traditionally perceived as 'trash' and 'value.' It demonstrates that 'value' is not an inherent quality, but a construct shaped by societal perception. By transforming discarded materials into intricate sculptures, my series invites viewers to reconsider their own definitions of 'value.' I hope to provoke a shift in mindset, where we recognize the hidden potential in what we often dismiss as 'trash.' This reevaluation extends to our individual roles in global sustainability. Through my work, I hope viewers take away the message that each of us plays a pivotal role in shaping our world's sustainability narrative. By reimagining the possibilities of 'trash' materials, we can make conscious choices in our daily lives to reduce waste and embrace more sustainable practices. My art is a call to action, a reminder that in our ever-changing world, creativity and adaptability can drive positive change, and transform the way we perceive and interact with our environment.
Clare Gemima: How does your sculpture, Heartbeat in the Brain, 2023, with its metronomes shifting from perfect harmony to complete offbeat in a 120-second cycle, symbolize or comment on the idea of fluidity, especially in relation to existential rhythms, or tempos of life?
Jared LeClaire: I think what Heartbeat in the Brain does so well is that it embodies fluidity through natural phenomena. Phasing, going in and out of sync, is an innate part of nature.
The work uses a natural happening as a metaphor to describe how our feelings and thoughts phase. The red oak stand is used to hold one metronome at the height of the head, and one at the heart. The metronomes themselves are set to 80 bpm. This tempo is called andante, or walking pace, and it is also the tempo of the average heart rate. It is through the layering of these structures and functions that the work embodies our human fluidity, widening the lens to show how we and the world are in a constant state of phasing.
Clare Gemima: Your work employs a combination of fabric pieces laid atop your canvases that are then manipulated, wrinkled and crinkled before being painted over in oil. Could you discuss the ebb and flow between One to One's distinctive materials?
Alison Kruvant: In One to One, and other recent works, I use fabric to create a sculptural relief on the canvas, which I see as an extension of the painting ground. It is also a way of drawing to start the painting, which I then respond to in the process. Painting on a folded or wrinkled surface is a completely different experience from painting on a flat canvas—the folds fundamentally disrupt the image I’m painting, and require me to work from different points of view and move my body in order to resolve the piece. Like walking around a sculpture, movement is embedded in all layers of the work. Through these material decisions, I play with the relationship between the literal sculpted space of the fabric, and the painted illusion of space. The image becomes malleable.
Clare Gemima: In Domesticity No. 1: Pieta, 2018, the draped fabric you have rendered appears to have a wet look, and towards its grouping at the bottom of the drawing, it collects almost like puddles of rain or water. Could you speak about how a sense of fluidity is attempted through your use of charcoal, as it seems like one of the hardest materials to achieve this with?
Yuval Pudik: The figures in Domesticity No. 1 are two men draped under a shimmery and shiny fabric like material, synthetic drapery. Although the couple are cloaked, they are visually recognizable silhouettes of a religious Pieta, the iconic image of Mary And Jesus. I wanted to replace that familial and archetypal image of a mother and child with two men. Remove that family dynamic and replace the matriarchal disposition by throwing a layer of ambiguity over them. It is still hard for society to imagine or think of queer relationships without the comparison to heteronormativity. My choice of the shiny material was simply meant to create a visual seductive element to gaze on, to unearth with your eyes. I really don't think of graphite or charcoal as hard materials, at this point they come so naturally to me as a way to represent “softer” surfaces. They are completely natural materials, after all.
Clare Gemima: Your work documents tales of abortion. Whether your subjects, like Julie, had to go through, or felt forced into keeping a pregnancy, personal quotes taken from your interviews are usually shared alongside your responding sculptures. This is inevitably confrontational to every and any viewer. Could you describe the pitfalls of having Roe v. Wade overturned last year, and explain why having this legislation in turmoil is so harmful?
Lydia Nobles: I don’t find my work confrontational. I am empathetic to people who see it that way, and I am always open to engaging in a thoughtful exploration of their reactions. My work is a celebration of the women, trans and non-binary folk who are here now, and a documentation of oral histories from people who needed reproductive healthcare. Some of the most rewarding experiences with viewers is when they are moved to tears, and simultaneously I am too. The act of being witnessed and validated through art carries a profound, transformative power. My sculpture Julie is a portrait of Julie, who was fortunate to have access to an abortion just a few years post Roe v. Wade in 1976. Currently, for my series As I Sit Waiting, I am focusing on people who were denied care post Roe v. Wade. Recently, I interviewed Anya Cook who was denied access to an abortion in Florida at 15 weeks pregnant. Wanting her pregnancy, she was devastated when her water broke prematurely. The ER staff told her there was nothing they could do for her and sent her home with antibiotics. She was forced to pass the fetus in a public restroom at her hair salon less than 24 hours later. The absence of proper care led to severe blood loss, endangering her life, and necessitating multiple subsequent medical procedures. A sculpture in honor of her experience will debut in 2024. Currently, As I Sit Waiting covers 12 states and spans from 1976 to today. Over time, my series will show the changes in healthcare accessibility over decades. I seek to highlight the nuance behind reproductive access against the backdrop of a starkly binary political landscape.
Natasha Robert’s Liquidity ran from August 11 - September 3, 2023 at Ki Smith Gallery. For more information about the gallery and Natasha, please visit www.kismithgallery.com and https://theknow.art/ WM
Clare Gemima contributes art criticism to The Brooklyn Rail, Contemporary HUM, and other international art journals with a particular focus on immigrant painters and sculptors who have moved their practice to New York. She is currently a visual artist mentee in the New York Foundation of Art’s 2023 Immigrant mentorship program.view all articles from this author