WRITING / INTERVIEWS / NOTES
ACTIVATING PERCEPTION - NINA A. ISABELLE
MIDTOWN ARTS DISTRICT
by Debra Bresnan
May 10, 2017
When did you first know you were an artist?
Growing up people referred to me as an artist and so I became one – an experience that made me aware of the power of language, perception, belief, and social programming, all themes in my current work. It’s possible that if I had grown up in a different environment I might have been an engineer because as an artist I’m always working with how things like concepts of memory and phenomena articulate with visual and spatial perception, language, materials, and meaning and how to build generative dialogue between these factors. Where an engineer might work with materials, data, or electricity, as an artist I use a similar approach but with different variables.
Favorite medium(s) you use to make art?
My favorite art medium is probably the phenomena of perception and how language builds reality.
Right now my focus is on working to manipulate and bend notions surrounding the value and usefulness of art away from commodity and towards structures that represent essential and social value. Inside of this, working with painting I can still have an intention to study gesture, motion, and look for new languages that might emerge from this action and mark making or find new information in whatever emerges.
I like to get my hands on chunks of materials like vats of clay, lumber, bolts of fabric, or discarded machine parts and sort of grapple with the stuff until it gives in to another form. Sometimes I might start out with an intention or give myself an assignment, but other times I let myself generate information by engaging with materials and paying close attention as I go.
Since I work pretty equally with photography, video, design, performance, installation, and painting, nothing is really off limits to me. I grew up at a summer camp for kids where we had an arts and crafts department with a ceramics studio, photo lab, leather tools, batik, enamels, silk screens, and fabric dye, among others. Nine months out of the year these departments were vacant and I really made the best of it – I learned to use the kiln and glazes by haphazardly blowing up and melting a lot of stuff, mixing chemistry by taste, a lot of other experimental and dangerous learning-by-doing that has carried over to my current approach. I never read instructions as a younger person because I couldn’t really read until I went to college. I’m rarely intimidated by new things, and I think that’s one of my favorite things about my development and approach.
What are the most interesting new trends in your field? Is your work changing as a result?
One of the most exciting things I notice right now is a shift toward recognizing the social value of art as a tool to reframe reality through community building, open sourcing ideas and data, and through things like artist collectives and working together with other artists and community members. In the art world, there are always these superficial fads like geometric shapes or graffiti, or some new trendy material, or something everyone is doing like such-and-such, but my work doesn’t usually wind up aligning itself with those sorts of cultural flows. I don’t usually find myself in trendy circles — something that has made it difficult to find a community but also has led me to the point where I am now. I recognize that, all along, my running mission has been to challenge outmoded institutional and economic systems that have grown regulated and insular and to work to build systems to replace these. Artists are always pressing hard against hierarchal structures like gender, race, and social class: It seems like the discord generated by our new political administration is influencing a lot of art thinking these days.
Talk about your creative process – where/when do you get most of your ideas and how do you know a piece is ‘finished’?
My creative process is rooted pretty firmly in letting myself respond instinctively. One thing I often find myself doing is trying to destroy rosy notions that abound around creativity being “beautiful.” Being a person who has given birth to babies I recognize the mess, blood, and pain that goes along with creativity. I have a lot of ideas and mostly I choose to go with the ones that make me laugh about myself or our collective idiocy. I also like to work with themes that irk me such as fake systems of legitimization we use to determine success, such as university degrees, financial values and the gender and power imbalances that seem to perpetually skew the art world.
Making art objects like paintings and sculptures, and grappling with material and concepts together, I’ve questioned the point of it beyond decoration or commodity and have come to understand my process as a personal tool that lets me understand reality in a way that I can integrate. Working with materials and visual information puts me in touch with deeper threads of meaning, and nuances of life that fortify the tapestry. I’m drawn toward this way of working and thinking because there seems to be something I can’t quite say in writing or speaking, something linear language can’t quite get at. I don’t know what it is yet and that’s what keeps me engaged.
As far as recognizing when something is finished, I think it’s just a matter of paying attention to a subtle feeling of “doneness,” or arriving at a comfortable stopping point or a feeling of resolve – like I’ve figured something out or said what I meant to say. Sometimes a stopping point might never come because maybe I’ve gone down on a dead-end path. I have a lot of projects in limbo because they’ve become overwhelming or I’ve lost interest, things I can always get back to at any point. And, in a quantum way, things can never be finished because time isn’t linear and there’s no such thing as an end point.
Do you also teach or are you strictly a creative artist? Who was your most influential mentor and why? How do you see the role of being a mentor? and why?
In the past, I’ve taught art classes like photography, modern dance, and painting or movement workshops. There is always a technical entry point where students spend time learning about say, the camera machine, visual mechanics, basic movement patterns, or just becoming familiar with materials, and this can be a fun and engaging way for people to come together. But I always want to move further into dialogue about how the usefulness of these art tools and practices can be more than a fun pastime or therapeutic hobby. Art offers invaluable ways to shift perception and find new vantage points.
As an artist, I collaborate with others in several capacities that seem more like mutual mentorship, where we share and build upon each other’s momentum and concepts. I’m not sure that I’ve ever fit the part of strictly a mentor to another, but I do recognize people who’ve inspired me. I had a couple high school teachers who helped me to evade attendance, something that in a typical case might not sound helpful, but I really recognize and value people who have taken risks in order to do the right thing morally. School is not a good place for all children.
I can’t say that I’ve ever had a strong relationship with an individual mentor, but something that intrigued me early on was finding and building obscure relationships between seemingly unrelated artists and their work. I remember wondering about Käthe Kollwitz’s Woman With Dead Child in relationship to Henry Moore’s sculptures and sheep sketchbook, and Jim Dine’s Robes. Somehow the similar volume expressed in these works was curious to me, possibly as a subconscious desire to connect the physical form of my body to their work because I’ve always been athletic. I was also intrigued by industrial design and how humans interact with tools and objects, especially mid-century chairs like the Eames Lounger and Bertoia’s designs as a framework for simultaneously supporting physical and thought forms together. So in a way, I’ve let this sense of wonder guide me.
What are you working on now?
For the past year, I’ve been working on a project called The Superfund Re-Visioning Project. It’s an experimental framework that aims to transform contaminated industrial sites recognized by The United States Government as Superfund Sites. In New York State there are 117 of these sites. I’m developing a project that aims to create a platform for artists and community members who might otherwise be marginalized by political and financial systems that typically deal with these sorts of remediation.
I’m also involved with an artist collective developed by IV Castellanos called The Feminist Art Group (F.A.G.) from Brooklyn, and plan to invite them to Kingston this summer for one of The Shirt Factory Open Studio events. Currently, I have a show at the new HiLo gallery space in Catskill and like to participate in local shows at The Old Glenford Church Studio. I think it’s great when things like The UNITY show curated by Sarah Carlson and Lisa Barnard Kelley between the artists at The Shirt Factory and The Lace Mill come together to fortify community connectedness. Upcoming, I have work being featured by The Unstitute in Catalunya, Spain and plan to do something fun at Paul McMahon’s Mothership Gallery this fall.
Recently my focus is moving into sound and auditory perception. I’ve become interested in digitally degraded sound snippets and obscuring auditory input to the point of noise in a way to find out what’s behind and within the experience of sound.
For more information about my work and listings of recent/current exhibitions, projects and collaborations, please visit www.ninaisabelle.com/cv.
How has being in Kingston enhanced/inspired your work? What do you like best about living in Kingston/being involved with MAD? How long have you been here?
Kingston has a lot to offer artists and community members and is building momentum as an arts-branded district. Recently we’ve seen several exciting places pop up like David Schell’s Green Kill, Rilley Johndonnell’s Optimism concept, Broadway Arts, The Art/Life Institute on Abeel Street, and Kingston High School Art teacher Lara Giordano, who is exhibiting student work at PUGG on Broadway. The surrounding landscape is diverse and inspiring conceptually because of the Hudson River waterways, The Catskill Mountains, The Ashokan Reservoir, and the surrounding forests, hiking, and rail trails. The Mid-Hudson Library system is phenomenal, and it’s easy to travel back and forth to New York City from Kingston. It’s great to have artist studio spaces like The Shirt Factory and The Lace Mill which offer affordable living spaces for artists, and especially new organizations like MAD that are forming to support this new movement.
Inquiry From Aaron Pierce
February 1, 2017
Hello Ms. Isabelle,
I am a graduate from Utah Valley University and I am writing a dissertation for the university's biannual Art History Symposium. The topic of discussion this year is Maximalism. I am particularly focusing on performance art as the contemporary medium that is reinventing museum spaces and engaging audiences by stimulating the senses more through music, dance, film, and painting combined. That is where your exhibit Animal Maximalism came to my attention. I am completely intrigued and enthralled by your performance art pieces and projects you have created. For this paper, I would love to have your view on performance art and Maximalism. I am interested in hearing some of your methods about performance art and Maximalism. It is rare in art history to be able to have contact with the artist, hence my excitement. If you do not mind sharing your opinion, I would like to know how you feel performance art engages audiences and pushes them to connect on a higher level to art? Also, why are we seeing a shift towards more performance art pieces in museums and galleries? I feel that audiences want to have a full sensory experience. How does Maximalist performance art achieve this better than other medium of art?
Feb 9, 2017
I practice a process of allowance where I let myself do what I want. This approach results in maximum data and action. By letting myself engage with an array of modalities I can generate multiple outcomes and possibilities. Because I'm not limited to any single mode of involvement, I'm free to use painting, performance, photography, or video or a mixture of modalities as I find necessary depending on my agenda and instinct. This suits my athletic, resourceful, and determined nature.
I approach performance art in the same way I would approach any other art modality- by paying close attention to gut instincts and psychic impressions in a process designed to override cerebral programming. The aim is always to align action with intention, and make note of the findings and outcome along the way. Performance art is a good choice when the concept I'm grappling with calls for a human body, action, or a narrative to actuate the outcome, especially literal concepts like worshiping the golden calf or using blood to cleanse things. My body can become a tool, a stand-in, or effigy of or for the viewer, creating a point of commonality to facilitate access. Aligning action with intention is also a way to re-frame ritual and an attempt to validate the effectiveness of approaches historically relegated to realms of religious structures and beliefs.
I was recently invited to teach an art theory class for kids at The Hudson Valley Sudbury School. Through our discussions it emerged that the students felt most drawn to art practices and outcomes that suited the nature, mentality, and necessity of the individual artist. For instance they could relate to how Chuck Close became successful at painting faces as a result of his lifelong struggle with a facial recognition disorder.
In reflecting on my personal method it occurs to me that my mode of operation is dictated by my nature, I didn't choose to function within the Maximalism approach and philosophy, it's just that the philosophy happens to align with my nature. I'm a serial over-doer of all things who relishes the opportunity to push things too far. My work is reactionary because I'm a reactionary person. For instance the first time I encountered minimalism I was ready to explode in a thousand directions. And, as an art student I couldn't help but challenge typical art professor's slogans such as "You have to know when to stop." Of course I could recognized the academically dictated stopping point but I would never in a million years stop there. I've always felt that learning how to challenge, push, or destroy something is a valid study when handled respectfully and with intention.
Performance art is an another mode of operating for artists to use in order to find or generate new information, to experiment with creating new experiences, or to try to express something they otherwise couldn't. It can engage the viewer in an intimate way offering the potential to build powerful experiences as it facilitates a space that can involve and include the viewer in a novel physical or psychic way.
It's possible that since performance art inhabits walking space where gallery-goers would otherwise be moving about, a psychic connection is created by sharing the same space. As viewers, we know less about what it would be like to hang motionless on a wall.
Performance art offers a platform for artists to practice aligning action with intention, a way to possibly re-frame ritual and to build experimental new models for of control or power to replace outmoded religious structures and beliefs.
But also, It's possible the performance art trend might be a way for artists to backhandedly confront consumerism and elitism simultaneously, or at least to create the illusion of doing so. Commercial galleries and academic environments can be market driven or exclusive, but performance art has the ability to dissolve those traditional notions and to expand viewership by engaging broader mentalities in a way that would be difficult for strictly visual work focused on heady concepts or dollar amounts. And since we live in a culture of visual bombardment, where viewer's digitally conditioned eyes and minds are increasingly savvy, and in conjunction with consumer programming, we need something that can function both inside of and outside of commercial gallery and academic paradigms. There is a literal dissolution of boundaries. Since performance art is impervious to ownership and commodification, it pushes against market-driven capitalist structures and challenges a system where finances determine success. Issues of marketability, ownership, or commodity all come into play because its difficult to financially capitalize off of performance art. So, maybe it's like most trends- timely and culturally necessity.
I developed the Animal Maximalism exhibition concept as a way to bombard the human sensory input manifold with the intention of revealing cloaked information. I use the word "Animal" as an homage to instinct. For me academia operated through reversal, fueling my defiance more than refining me the way school is supposed to, so part of my mission has always been to build legitimate framework for us animals, one that is less cage-like, and Maximalism is a good framework for that agenda. I try to work within and build upon systems that already exist that might reflect and support my authentic nature, and to allow my work to reflect and be a response to the full spectrum of my body's biologic manifestation of its own history within its cultural environment. Maximalism feels like science-fiction, in that it offers the potential for system building where the inward personal landscape can travel all the way outward through the giant jumbled experience of collective household, community, country, and planetary psychic connections.
Maybe performance offers an easier access point to the viewer in that we can all relate to each other as humans who are human shaped and have human form. We all share common ways of moving our human forms through space. It's possible that performance could function to create a portal, like a way out or a way in.
ARTiculAction Art Review // Special Issue
Interview from December 2015
Published January 2016
By Dario Rutigliano and Josh Ryder
Multidisciplinary artist Nina Isabelle's work ranges from Painting to Performance to explore the inability of communication which is used to visualize reality: her approach rejects any conventional classification and crosses the elusive boundary that defines the area of perception from the realm of imagination, to create a multilayered involvement with the viewers, who are urged to investigate the ubiquitous order that pervades the reality we inhabit. One of the most convincing aspect of Isabelle's practice is the way it accomplishes the difficult task of creating a deep and autonomous synergy between our limbic parameters and our rational categories: we are very pleased to introduce our readers to her multifaceted artistic production.
A: Hello Nina and welcome to ARTiculAction: to start this interview, would you like to tell us something about your background? You have a solid formal training and you hold a BA in Art from Westminster College: how did these experiences influence your evolution as an artist? And in particular, does your cultural substratum inform the way you relate yourself to the aesthetic problem?
N: As a younger person I was part of a community of acrobat-like athletes who maintained an extreme bodycentric focus while engaging in high-risk physical activities. As my artistic process evolved it naturally embodied the physicality of movement in relation to mark making. Early on I began to inspect the nature of energy patterns as they emerged and flowed with the breath in relationship to physical movement. Connecting mark making to physical movement was a natural progression for me. When I was first introduced to gestural line during my foundational academic studies I felt an instant, fluid, kinesthetic understanding and I recognized a potential within the allowance of gestural mark-making for me to reconstruct communication and perception. At the same time I became involved with interpretive modern dance and was excited by the dialogue generated between action and art because what I had known of language up to that point had bothered me.
During my formal training, college provided a duration of time and the physical space to practice art, but also fueled my aggravation as I recognized a chasm between academic art and my personal approach. Although I was a good a student, I felt displaced and misunderstood in the art department and after graduation I chose not to continue my studies inside of academia. Since then, I’ve developed multiple personal superstrata that allow me to span the divide between formal academic programming and personal process. By using physical process in combination with self-developed cryptographs I’m able to construct psychic spaces and explore the possibilities of metaphysical transformation as the result of art action and objects. In the past year I’ve arrived at a way of working that suits me, my work has begun to develop a coherent focus and I’ve begun to understand the benefits of my early struggles.
While my athletic experience connected me to physical reality, my academic exposure opened up my awareness of mental and psychological concepts. I had also spent years as a rock climber living in a tent all around the west and traveling in the snowy backcountry of the Wasatch mountains, and these experiences definitely broadened my spiritual perceptions. Integrating my varied foundations has been a tenacious process and plays a big part in my approach to visual and other language.
A: Your approach coherently encapsulates several techniques and - ranging from Painting to Performance - it reveals an incessant search of an organic symbiosis between a variety of viewpoints. The results convey together a coherent and consistent sense of harmony and unity. Before starting to elaborate about your production, we would suggest to our readers to visit in order to get a synoptic view of your multifaceted artistic production: while walking our readers through your process, we would like to ask you if you have ever happened to realize that a symbiosis between different disciplines is the only way to express and convey the ideas you explore.
N: Working as a multidisciplinary artist suits me because I have a natural tendency toward instinctive response that allows me to engage equally with whatever action or material I find in front of me.
Part of any thorough process involves identifying and becoming familiar with all of the materials and variables. When I first began to do deeper studies of line, color, gesture, material, posture, and action it occurred to me that there was an amount of information beyond the apparent implications of these face-values. As I began to look to metaphor and archetypes for clues, my understanding and relationships to these elements began to open up and grow.
I feel a level of success that you’ve used the word “incessant” in response to my work, that’s a sensitive and accurate word because I do feel captured by a relentless focus that keeps going round-and-round, spanning decades, creating a snarled web of thought-loops. Performance art has allowed me to physically express the anguish around being ensnarled in a mental struggle. In a way, it’s like having a wrestling match with dichotomy programming. If I’m able to smooth out connections, through painting or performance, I might be able to reconcile polarized thought forms. In that way, my process has resulted in a practical application as it translates directly to interpersonal relationships and extremism.
A: For this special edition of ARTiculAction we have selected The Q: Entity, a recent Performance Art Project that our readers have already started to get to know in the introductory pages of this article. What has at once caught our attention is the way it accomplishes the difficult task of establishing a channel of communication between the subconscious sphere and the conscious one, to unveil and challenge the manifold nature of human perceptual categories and to draw the viewers into a multilayered experience. So we would like to take this occasion to ask you if in your opinion personal experience is an absolutely indispensable part of a creative process... Do you think that a creative process could be disconnected from direct experience?
N: Inside of physical reality it would be impossible for personal experience to be separate from creative process. Author Caroline Myss says in her book Anatomy Of The Spirit that “Every thought we have travels through our biological system and impacts our physiology. It is inescapable that your life history—the cumulative and synergistic blending of your feelings, experiences, and perceptions—has culminated in the body you are walking around in today.” From this perspective it would be crazy to imply that a physical body could be separate from its own art processes.
However, inside of a lateral psychic reality unquantifiable possibilities exist. Phenomena of psychic imprint like dreams, deja-vu, and other mystical-seeming experiences are valid art process elements. In this way, physical connection can act as an interruptor between personal history and psychic process while creating possibilities for non-physical connections to dictate a re-scripted reality. Working with The Q: Entity, fellow artist Clara Diamond and I found that by facilitating intellectual disconnections between physical reality perceptions and process by employing techniques such as dowsing, divination, ritual, and other unsubstantiated methods The Q: Entity was able to build etheric connections of its own which transcended our physical manufacturing capabilities. In this way, channels of communication were able to connect the subconscious sphere with the human perception manifold.
A: How do you see the relationship between public sphere and the role of art in public space? In particular, how much do you consider the immersive nature of the viewing experience?
N: I’ve have had a couple of art viewing experiences that have lead me to realize the importance of public space as it relates to viewership. Around 2001 I happened to see a large piece by Robert Rauschenbuerg hung in the lobby of The Bellagio Resort in Las Vegas. I was so thrown off guard by it, at first I couldn’t understand why The Bellagio would have a knock-off Rauschenberg, I imagined it to be a passive maneuver by a Bellagio “set-designer,” but it turned out to be a real Rauschenburg. I was so outside of my element in Las Vegas, and my perception of the city was that it was very hollow and temporary, that everything was made to be like a Iow-budget theatre production. I couldn’t understand what was going on, or how the Rauschenburg painting could be in that space other than to recognize it as a fake, but it wasn’t. I went back to my tent, which I had pitched in the desert outside of Las Vegas, and tried to fathom it’s placement. Through recent inquiry I was able to identify the piece as “Overnight,” a vegetable dye transfer on polylaminate (107 x 93.5) commissioned by The Bellagio in 1999.
Another time, while visiting The Palmer Museum of Art at Penn State University with my mother, I happened to see a large abstract painting (80.5 x 131.5) by Jules Olitski titled “Compelled” from 1966. I wasn’t expecting the surprise because the experience of visiting The Palmer Art Museum with my mother had been shrouded in a long, dark history. She took me there often as a child because we lived nearby, I alway tried to enjoy it but usually wound up feeling tortured by the visits. So when I saw the Olitski painting I was thrown off guard. I could instantly see the space created behind the painting, or next to it, I’m not sure what preposition to use or exactly where the space existed, but it was tangible and I was excited by it. This time, the experience was created by timing, space, and object combined.
Both of these experiences caused me to rewrite a portion of my knowledge about the relationship between art, place, time, and viewer. I recognize that, on the viewers part, its best to have a combination of awareness, desire, hunting, and to be ready for a surprise.
A: We have appreciated the way The Q: Entity, through an effective synergy between Art and Technology, condenses physical gestures and ethereal perspectives into a coherent unity. The impetuous way technology has came out on the top has dramatically revolutionized the idea of Art itself: in a certain sense, we are forced to rethink the intimate aspect of constructed realities and especially the materiality of an artwork itself, since just few years ago it was a tactile materialization of an idea. I'm sort of convinced that new media will definitely fill the apparent dichotomy between art and technology and seemingly Art and Technology are going to assimilate one to each other... what's your thought about this?
N: I agree that technology will continue to have a larger role in art, especially considering the mystical-seeming implications of quantum research being done at CERN and other recent phenomenal findings regarding Einstein’s Spooky Theory. For instance, new research published in Nature Communications by Griffith University's Howard Wiseman and colleagues uses a single particle to show that wave functions collapse in a strange way. Their findings back up years of research into quantum entanglement in which particles are connected in a mysterious way even when separated, and that observing or manipulating one instantly affects the other. If you ask me, this uncovers tremendous possibilities for artists if we begin to recognize the human machine as a sensitive and powerful tool, or even a medium, when interacting with material.
Working with The Q: Entity facilitated a tangible opportunity to interlace technology with memory as Clara and I began working with sound waves, specifically Hz. I had read about studies involving instrumental conditioning of sensorimotor rhythm using Hz to impact human memory and this led us to work with experimental musician, Christina Diamond. We designed a sound piece together using cryptography that incorporated specific rhythm, Hz, and musical notes reduced from astronomical dates to express the agenda of The Q: Entity.
A: Now we would like to focus on your abstract painting production: your works capture non-sharpness with an universal kind of language, capable of bringing to a new level of significance the elusive but ubiquitous relationship between experience and memory, to create direct relations with the spectatorship: What is the role of memory in your process? We are particularly interested if you try to achieve a faithful translation of your previous experiences or if you rather use memory as starting point to create.
N: Perceiving memory as part of a holographic paradigm, one who’s parts possess the information of the whole, has allowed me to understand it as a dynamic structure which can be reprogrammed through technology-infused mysticism. In this way, memories that once existed as linear narratives or psychological stories entangled within the memory structure can be re-scripted to form a type of non-linear download. In a biological and ephemeral way, memory imparts itself in my painting practice as a sort of past life experience that is Hell bent on continuing the historical work of midcentury abstract expressionists who have already addressed hypothetical concepts like synchronicity, quantum mechanics, action, and spirituality. Keeping this focus in spite of that implies that these studies are free of distinct beginnings or ends, unlike what art historians and theorists suggest. These concepts are holographically ongoing throughout eternity.
General memory and individual memories don’t seem to ever possess starting points yet are inseparable from any endeavor involving the documentation machine of a brain inside of a body with working eyeballs. It’s as if our perception apparatus needs to be updated in order to interface with non-linear structures, maybe that’s one agenda of the art entity.
A: We definitely love the way you question the abstract feature of images, unveiling the visual aspect of information you developed through an effective non linear narrative, establishing direct relations with the viewers: German multidisciplinary artist Thomas Demand once stated that "nowadays art can no longer rely so much on symbolic strategies and has to probe psychological, narrative elements within the medium instead.” What is your opinion about it? And in particular how do you conceive the narrative for your works?
N: Abstraction is a technique for me to manage complexity between instinctive and programmed sensory input / action output processing systems. By establishing direct communication between the hidden collective input processing system and our personal awareness function, abstraction can generate non-linear communication dynamics, like downloadable psychic narratives, which can commingle in the secret space that exists behind the mask of visual input worn by the painting object.
Thinking of written language as a medium, I perceive Thomas Dumond’s statement that “art can no longer rely so much on symbolic strategies and has to probe psychological, narrative elements within the medium instead” as a narrative itself describing Art as an entity that is being forced into new circumstances due to the false perception of progress attached to linear time. That’s a very relatable narrative because it speaks to a collective shared experience. At some point every person must move or die- birth for example. Narrative seems to exists in the psyche and surfaces as myth, emerging from a non-linear space shrouded from direct consciousness as concrete archetypes and stories. Understanding this dynamic plays a big part in allowing my work to be instinctive and to recognize it as a new personal mythology as it unfolds.
A: While exhibiting a captivating vibrancy, your paintings seem to reject an explicit explanatory strategy: rather, you seem to offer the viewer a key to find personal interpretations to the feelings that you convey into your paintings... this quality marks out a considerable part of your production, that is in a certain sense representative of the conflictual relationship between content and form: how much does your own psychological make-up determine the nuances of tones you decide to use in a piece and in particular, how do you develop a painting’s texture? Moreover, any comments on your choice of "palette" and how it has changed over time?
N: I try to avoid over explanation in order to honor the viewer’s opportunity to arrive at their own personal meaning. When people are able to come to their own conclusions they are able to integrate meaning on a more dynamic and practical way.
For example, The Talmudic concept of the Evil Eye implies that “blessing (or understanding) only rests upon something that is concealed from the eye,” this comes from a parable deduced from a biblical myth found in Genesis where people were directed to emulate fish when it came to multiplying because fish do so under the water where it’s impossible to view the process because it occurs in a place that is shielded from view. This hiddenness acts as a type of protection against the Evil Eye, so in one way, obscuring information creates greater possibility of understanding, especially when the information is non-linear or comes from a non-visible realm in the first place.
Just like history and memory, personal psychological nuances must be inseparable from action and process. For instance, I’m personally reactive to cultural implications that attempt to dictate what I should or shouldn’t do. In that way, I’m like a child and that is an obvious visual aspect of my painting. Defiance pathology is part of what allows me to maintain my true focus, insulates me from the pressure to conform, and keeps me impervious to art fads and lingo. Psychology isn’t black and white, either.
Although I choose my palette based somewhat on theory, I also allow myself space to follow my hunches and to make instinctive color choices. I definitely wrestle with the pathology of conflict between understanding how formal training should dictate my color choices and choosing to ignore and even challenge that training. This conflict plays out visually as extreme or unlikely color choices as well as through the challenge of laying down color as a metaphor for form.
A: The recurrent reference to the emotional sphere but at the same time to universal imagery removes any historic reference from the reality you refer to, and I daresay that this aspect allows you to go beyond any dichotomy between Tradition and Contemporariness, and that establishes a stimulating dialogue between references from contingent era and an absolute approach to Art: do you recognize any contrast between Tradition and Contemporariness?
N: Perceiving tradition and contemporariness as dichotomies creates contrast and my work might deal with this by referencing a larger grey area. Then vs. now doesn’t fit into my perception of time so maybe that’s what you’re picking up on.
Because I’m deploying abstract painting, an old fashioned and traditional language to begin with, as my superficial framework I’m referencing history in a general way. Being aware of the objectives and findings of abstract painters throughout history in conjunction with the notion that because somethings been done before doesn’t deter me. I’m sort of like a scientist with an outdated lab. I like paint and I feel drawn to work with it inside of the framework of abstract painting, there’s still a hefty amount of information to sort through.
I don’t believe that its possible for abstract painting to have an end or be killed, it’s a living tool used to deal with information, and it’s useful to me. However, its being pushed to extremes by both technology and academia, which I think will force it to change and grow, but not be killed. Abstract painting has been fed a steady diet of brains for decades, and if we apply the cliche “You are what you eat,” Zombie Formalism makes sense. Instead of stabbing it in the head and pronouncing it dead, maybe we could feed it some heart and guts to revitalize it as a hero / savior, instead of fueling the zombie by feeding it more brains. Collectively, if we focus intention on reviving abstract painting through a more inclusive, receptive, and feminine approach, and if art can be liberated from academia I think that would be helpful. It seems like things are shifting as more and more art students are struggling to be baristas with huge student loans.
A: It's no doubt that interdisciplinary collaborations as the ones you have established with experimental musician Christina Diamond and performance artist Clara Diamond for The Q: Entity are today ever growing forces in Contemporary Art and that the most exciting things happen when creative minds from different fields of practice meet and collaborate on a project... could you tell us something about this effective synergy? By the way, Peter Tabor once stated that "collaboration is working together with another to create something as a synthesis of two practices, that alone one could not": what's your point about this? Can you explain how your work demonstrates communication between two artists?
N: Collaborating with Clara Diamond on The Q: Entity has been a profound experience in that our way of working together generated an enormous amount of information. We spent almost nine months conceptualizing and building The Q: Entity and along the way were confronted with numerous opportunities to evaluate output as valid or not valid. At one point, a sequential pattern of numbers emerged which we initially mistook for zip codes suggesting physical locations. Through Clara’s methodical way of processing information we were able to recognize that the sequences actually desired to be expressed as musical notes and this led us to work with her partner, experimental musician Christina Diamond. Having the ability to check in with each other, and to easily respect each other’s perceptions, helped refine our focus and resulted in a literal voice for The Q: Entity.
Another dynamic between Clara and I exists in that we are both mothers and have each experienced the birthing process, so we were able to understood the conception and gestation of The Q: Entity as very literal. Drawing parallels to the birth of our children facilitated our reverence for The Q: Entity and this resulted in a tangible sense of growth, personality, and and recognition of a miracle. The final performance paralleled the physical birthing process in that together we each entered a similar introverted primal trance state and were able to give over personal control to the powerful instinctive force accessible to woman during childbirth.
A: Over your career you have exhibited around the United States, showcasing your work in several occasions, including two solos. One of the hallmarks of your practice is the capability to create a direct involvement with the viewers, who are urged to evolve from a condition of mere spectatorship. So before leaving this conversation we would like to pose a question about the nature of the relationship of your art with your audience. Do you consider the issue of audience reception as being a crucial component of your decision-making process, in terms of what type of language is used in a particular context?
N: Keeping a clear focus on my process and an authenticity to my intention means that I don’t direct much energy into involving myself with how my work might be received by viewers. By holding the belief that viewership is best dictated by the viewer, a more powerful and integrative experience can happen for viewers as this allows them to remain in control of their own experience. For now, I maintain a dedication to my instinctive nature and to be exempt from considering audience in my decision-making process. I feel good about entrusting viewership to a cosmic power.
A: Thanks a lot for your time and for sharing your thoughts, Nina. Finally, would you like to tell us readers something about your future projects? How do you see your work evolving?
N: My way of working is very prolific, in 2015 I completed over 50 large scale paintings and I’m continuing to produce work at that pace. I spend a lot of time in the studio and always take exhibition opportunities seriously.
My studio is located north of New York City in the city of Kingston, NY. As artists are having a rougher financial time in the city they are relocating here, and I hope this will lead to new opportunities to connect my work with a larger community. Recently, Jill McDermid and Erik Hokanson, founders of Brooklyn’s Grace Exhibition Space, began a performance art residency program and exhibition space here in Kingston called The Linda Mary Montano Art / Life Institute and it’s been really awesome to see national and internationally recognized artists working in their space and to be able to perform there.
My future plans include expanding my studio and I’m looking into buying a building here in Kingston. I’m learning about the realities of balancing art with finances and would like to connect with business and marketing people who can generate money so that I can keep working in my studio. I’m fervently motivated to continue my deep, authentic, and thorough studies of painting and performance, to generate relatable material, and to exhibit and perform as opportunities arise.
Thank you, ARTiculAction for engaging with my work and for offering me the opportunity to articulate my art and action!
The Cult of Painting
by Nina Isabelle
Painting is a visual, psychological, or metaphysical study or exploration of an object or non-object, a place or non-place, an inner, outer, or simultaneous multiple psychic dimensions, something other, all, or none of the above. Various viscosities of liquid or paste suspending colored pigments in oil, wax, synthetic polymer, or other, are sometimes but not always laid down, poured, sprayed, or applied by the hand as an extension or non-extension of the wrist, elbow, arm, shoulder, hip, body, outer-body, aura, transcended-self, future-self, or by proxy with either a brush, tool, or other, onto a solid or canvas surface in either multiple or single opaque or transparent layers or strokes resulting in a tangible visual object manifest in the physical dimension as having weight, height, depth, mass, and occupying an amount or volume of time and likewise resulting in an equal to, greater than, or less than physical, psychological, or spiritual impact of understood or non-understood ethereal consequences within an inverse unquantifiable psychic dimension. The conception, execution, and result will or won't be quantifiable by subsets of verbal language, written or spoken, which may or may not contain specialized terminology.