Studio visit with artist, Alina Tenser

"Hug", 2012, t-shirt, wire armature, expandable foam, fabric, plastic tarp, spray adhesive, 82x63x42”

Amanda B. Friedman: I love “Hug”.

Alina Tenser: I am glad you love it, it is a big hard thing to love! This is one piece that I always call by name, “Hug”, or maybe “HUG”. It is dumb, one letter away from huge, and gives the viewer an immediate action, which lands them into the sleeves of this boombastic shirt. Did you know this was a shirt? “Hug” started out as a men’s shirt that I put an armature into so that it would stand up and hold its contours – pretty much the same contra posto that it still holds. Then I “grew” it with urathane foam for 2 months and melted lots of plastic tarp over it. All of the ins still go to the inside of the original T-shirt. I liked taking out my usual formal decision-making and letting it just “grow” into a piece, I stopped growing it when it transcended clothing/body size and became architecture (and was the maximum size to squeeze out of my studio gate). Other then that, the growth is potentially endless.

ABF: Endless growth?

AT: Yes, something about a steroidal hormone imbalance, maybe a perversion. Endless bulbous eruptions, a constant allergic reaction. Its a baroque fantasy or nightmare. Growth is frightening when one doesn’t feel in control of it.

ABF: What prompted your animations? Knowing you as a maker, it is a distinct change. I’m watching “Pong with Herself”. The floating skin toned shapes, mat purple backdrop and rhythm or anti-rhythm these forms inhabit is jarring, self-conscious.

"Pong with Herself" 2012, still

AT: One thing that just stood out for me was that you referred to the “Pong with Herself” video as animation – it actually exists in the video or video performance realm for me. Perhaps the imagery becomes so abstracted that it is in the realm of animation or maybe it is the stop and go nature of the shapes. I am interested in how this initial CGI or animation read gets interrupted by the human rhythm/pace of the actual performance. This thing, the performance I mean, was so slow and paced, I really had to practice my movements and calm my breathing to hold these postures and move objects through space at a steady pace.

I am also very interested in a play between dimensions, three dimensional life flattening out into two dimensional picture frame; and on the screen, the flat shapes open up into forms, they show life and bend. And, of course, the whole thing is happening in the forth dimension. I think there are kernels in this video and process that I will vibe on for a long time.

"Pong with Herself", studio set

"Whiff of Black Ice", 2012, Anderson Gallery, Richmond, VA, installation view

Within the Whiff of Black Ice” installation, “Pong with Herself” starts to inform the objects in the gallery, the placement and the relationships. Everything starts to orbit, attract and repel. I do not think I have ever had a repel in my work before, its a strange one. I guess that is in line with the issues of autonomy and dependence which I am also interested in, more on these to come.

ABF: What do you mean repel? Repeling the viewer? Creating conflict?

AT: I mean an unmuffled space, where parts of the installation are not in conversation with each other and the silence becomes a very specific space- a bubble if you will. For me, this space is not directed by proximity as much as it is by the surface and form of the actual objects.

ABF: Autonomy and dependence. Autonomy in relation to —

I really value both dualities, maybe favoring autonomy. I think autonomy is a brave little stance against reality and the powers that be! Meaning that there is always a reference, or at least a container, or even gravity, that will not fully allow for autonomy, and yet it still insists. Dependence is also beautiful because it is so much like life, it is representational.

ABF: When you say the word “dependence” I think of leaning, support structures, armatures. I know that is very literal. Can anything really be autonomous if everyone and everything projects and inhabits one world?

AT: Autonomy is imaginary, for sure, it is abstraction, it is formal, somewhat insular. I often have little formal battles. The two main arguments are “good formal is psychological” and avoids language, so the language that gets ascribed to it is a complementary thing (here I think of that Cameron Crawford poem, Elegance Is Refusal). The second part of the argument is like “down with empty formal moves! Nothing worse for art then a “move”” – I sometimes feel that a “move” is just an illustration –predetermined, it never really happend, never felt a blow or a caress. This is a back and forth thing, I believe both of them simultaneously. Its hard! So hard.

ABF: In the writing that accompanied “Whiff of Black Ice” you write, “awareness brought becomes the “about” in “my art is about””.

AT: My work doesn’t have a lot of outside sources, or readily available language – this might be a reflection of a somewhat insulated personality, but it is also a conscious decision. I don’t care to have a nameable aboutness, but I do care deeply about my content and imagery.

"Polymix" 2012, urethane rubber, pigment, residue, 31x22x10"

ABF: Arbitrary v.s. intent.

AT: Mmmm, arbitrary. Nothing is arbitrary — I have tried and it is just not there. However something can be too arbitrary, for sure. I think there has to be some sort of repetition or recognition in order for something to be too arbitrary – like the artist that uses geometry in a way that is no longer self aware, or when there is a lack of sensitivity to imagery. I would love to see some truly arbitrary abstractions though, or arbitrary choices, that would be wild!

ABF: What work of art or idea in relation to art do you often hold with you, the one that comes to mind when your head wanders?

AT: On good days I zone out so often that I have to try to catch my thought, or state of being – even if it is self doubt. Zoning out can be a quick way to understand what is really going on between me and the thing I am groping.  So much happens in the studio that is not product, or not aiming to be product.  It nice to consider those non product moments. I have been thinking of a piece by the artist Kudjoe Affutu, his work Fridge. I saw it at Matthew Marks last summer in the exhibition, La Carte D’Apres Nature” curated by Thomas Demand. It is a slightly larger then life refrigerator carved out of wood. The memory of being near it pops in my mind regularly. The artist is a young decorative coffin maker from Ghana (where he lives and makes coffins today). I presume the refrigerator is also a coffin. That thing was so heavy and so there, and the wood was painted and splitting due to various climate changes.  The warmest minimalist monolith- but a fridge, a coffin fridge. For me it was the most memorable thing in the show, it seemed to say ”built like a fridge” rather then being a representation of a fridge.

The following took place over email through June 2012. Amanda is an artist who lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.

Alina Tenser was born in 1981 in Kiev Ukraine. She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts from the School of  Visual Arts in New York in 2003 and her Master of Fine Arts from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2012, where she proceeded to be the Director of the Summer Studio Program. In her final year of graduate studies Alina was awarded the Dedalus Master of Fine Arts Fellowship from the Robert Motherwell Foundation.  Alina will be a Recess Sessions resident in October and November 2012.


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