S|223 in the Miami Design District
January 23 - March 27, 2020
By CORI HUTCHINSON, March 2020
It should be noted that, since this interview was conducted, the Miami Design District studios have closed indefinitely due to the ongoing pandemic and, while especially current, questions of accessibility such as the limitations and virtues of virtual visitation must remain open following this particular historical moment. Over the course of the conversation, artist Alette Simmons-Jiménez offers an interconnected approach to art-making, citing feelings of closeness and isolation side-by-side.
Cori Hutchinson: First of all, how are you faring in Miami? I read that some beaches in South Florida at least are closed mid-spring break.
Alette Simmons-Jiménez: Hi Cori, Thanks for asking - I am doing fine other than an increased amount of stress due to all the uncertainty out there. I heard about the closed beaches, but I’ve also seen pictures on the News of very crowded beaches. Maybe some people are not listening or are young and have that attitude “I’m invincible”. Everyone needs to listen to Italy and realize the only option for now is to stop socializing in person.
CH: Did you catch the news that, in the exchange of medical masks between China and Italy, a poem was affixed to the boxes reading: “We are waves from the same sea.” It reminds me of your “A Stick, a Stone, a Tree” and “Every Other Breath” collages, both of which stack unlike topographies.
ASJ: I did not, but what a beautiful thing to do. The phrase (actually is thought to be attributed to Bahá’u’lláh, a Persian religious leader of the 19th Century – I just had to look it up!) continues “...leaves of the same tree, flowers of the same garden”. That’s very connected to what I would like people to take away if visit the show or get to see it online.
CH: Is the pandemic affecting your ongoing exhibition at all?
ASJ: Well, yes, it’s affecting everyone.
But I’ve been lucky with timing. I opened mid-January before we knew what was happening and in February my show was extended. It’s been up two months. That’s a good run.
In the Miami Design District, where my exhibition is, businesses are still open to the public. It’s a beautiful area for open-air walks. No crowds at all. But even with 100% implementation of social distancing and sanitization practices you can’t help feeling that you should not be there. I’ve been preparing for this and I’ll be putting a virtual tour online soon. I will stay open as long as it’s safe for everyone, but it’s smart to err on the side of precaution.
CH: How did you arrive at the encompassing title “Mono no aware?” How do you apply the phrase to your practice and/or daily life? And, more specifically, what role does the ephemeral play in your work?
ASJ: I already had a title for my show, but when I discovered these words, I realized it spoke to everything in the show and in my studio practice. “Mono No Aware” is a Japanese phrase that’s difficult to translate. In general, it refers to one showing empathy and respect for life and nature, and the beauty of the transient nature of all things. What’s here today will eventually fade and something else will replace it. Everything and nothing are precious. I’ve become very interested in the ephemeral and this concept and in producing work that supports it. Going forward, rather than creating objects and storing works, I’ll be working towards the freedom of creating and walking away.
As an art student, I was taught to let my work evolve naturally. Not to attempt to dissect meaning from it, so not to create contrived work. I produced work like that for decades, with a freedom that was profoundly gratifying. But then the artworld apparatuses insisted that artist explain their work. I struggled over what I was “required” to know. I stumbled for many years to create work that was supposedly relevant and that fit my thoughts and words. Then recently, I gave up. I really wanted to just figure out what on earth I truly wanted to focus on for the remainder of my life, relevant to others or not. I began approaching everything from a different direction. I started looking deeper into myself, my childhood, my desires, my passions, to discover what I really wanted to do - for myself. I always loved being outside, so I pushed myself to go out and away from my comfort zones. As I got closer to nature, I felt closer to the universe. That was what I needed.
During this personal exploration and while beginning the work in this show, I rediscovered details from my childhood that became an epiphany, opening big doors into my art making. Going forward, it’s odd but pleasant that I keep running in to thoughts and concepts that clarify this direction even more: “We are all waves from the same sea...” and “Mono no aware” for example.
CH: What informs your interdisciplinary approach to art-making?
ASJ: As an art student, I discovered I was proficient in both two-dimensional and three-dimensional work. That opened the door to working in a variety of directions, all at the same time.
My studio practice is about ideas and concepts, not the development of a style with a chronological flow. Rather than lean toward one media, I prefer no limits and no boundaries. As an idea appears, so will its form, and I’ll work spontaneously in whatever media best interprets that concept. I like to take risks and I’m interested in the complexity of orchestrating disparate components in space, of finding that conversation and connectedness between them.
CH: The sharp visual contrast between the fuzzy, hanging clouds and hard, knuckle-like sculpture is very striking. Can you speak to your decision to include them both?
ASJ: Part of what strikes me as wondrous in nature are the qualities of fragility and strength, both working in unison. It’s always there. Like the bamboo plant, whose strength comes from its flexibility. I look at an exhibition hall as a space and opportunity to create my own world. I like the works presented to have a conversation but not necessarily to say exactly the same thing. Or maybe they’re saying the same things but in different languages. The clouds are works made of thousands of wavy, swoopy filaments forming a mass of lines. To me “Claw” is just another wavy line, only thicker.
CH: How do you select your materials?
ASJ: Materials are often personal artifacts from home or around the studio. Most works have mini stories built into the material they’re made of. I select this or that according what I believe I can manipulate successfully into the piece I’m working on. In “Infinite Ocean (Ifitry)” I had a visual design in my head. I had worked hours sewing on it, cutting, gluing, and painting. But it was looking awful, so I went back and tore it all off. I found new materials and redid it again, several times, before I achieved what I thought was possibly good. It’s trial and error.
CH: Who or what has influenced your work?
As you mentioned earlier “A Stick, A Stone, A Tree” and “Every Other Breath” - ‘stack unlike topographies’. I do tend to stack layers of influences. In fact, I use this concept of layering to be able to express a complex maximalist attitude, employing information from multiple imagery cues and the varied sources that supply them. Sources such as, exposure to architecture, design, and craft, to experiences in nature, and to the work and processes of other artists. This is how I have always addressed my studio practice. It was very liberating to discover the work of artist Sterling Ruby and later to hear him talk in person here in Miami at the ICA. It was very encouraging to see that he creates work in a similar method and he’s been able overcome roadblocks placed on work that is a continual fragmentation and synthesis. His work “involves a combination of philosophical enquiry and material investigation, the latter involving the seemingly endless repurposing, combining and recombining of different techniques and media. This too mirrors a shifting condition of constant deconstruction and reconfiguration, and the idea of a non-hierarchical, boundary-less universe.” ... as stated by his gallery in Brussels. I feel right at home in that universe.
Jim Hodges, is another artist whose work and career celebrate these ideas of the blurred edges between simple and complex ideas, craft and art, beauty and art.
Others whose work blows me away are Jorge Pardo, Kiki Smith, Brancusi, Alma Allen, and Martin Puryear. Then, there is something new happening for me, influenced by those who work in, or with nature, for instance Ana Mendieta and Richard Long. Just lately I’ve had a huge magnetic attraction to their work. I was at an art residency in Morocco recently and I was given permission to carve a wave, a curving line in relief, on a huge boulder by the ocean cliffs. I’ve almost never been so happy as when working in this isolated place where few to none will stumble on it, but looking back at it, as I left, there it sat, gloriously, in its own conversation with the ocean tides.
CH: Is there a sound component to the exhibition? If so, can you describe it for those of us who will not be able to visit in person?
ASJ: Yes, there is. I have a video component running on an iPad and hung adjacent to two other works. The installation is called “The Calling Wall”. In the video “The Calling” sound is the principal element. In sequence, we see, and hear, the rhythmic drone of an escalator, then the sound of a train approaching, the conductors admonishments, and then just as we see the cascading rush-hour flood of people, accompanied by their loud clatter pouring down the escalator, we also hear the shrill call of a Royal Tern, (a local Florida seabird). Sound and image both fade to black and then repeat on a loop.
Accompanying the video to the side hangs a photographic image “The Bird” a video still printed on Silver Fuji Metallic and Plexi mounted to aluminum.
Then last on the wall is a poem I composed and then drew directly on the wall during the show install –
It’s the call on the hill
Feathers felled on the path
It’s a rush-hour flood
A gull piercing the sun
It’s a song, it’s a rumor
It’s the cry on the wind
On a sad serendipitous note, I filmed these birds a few years back and I’ve recently learned they have been seen sporting a beak deformity suspected to possibly be caused by pollutants in the Gulf of Mexico. WM
Image Credits: Daniel Portnoy, Kerry McLaney, Alette Simmons-Jimenez
Cori Hutchinson is a poet, watercolorist, and library assistant living in Brooklyn.view all articles from this author