Studio visit with, Janelle Iglesias
Amanda B. Friedman: A lot of your materials are found. I remember coming over your studio at LMCC and hearing about the wood you dragged up from the East River, you located nature so close to the financial district. Has moving to Provincetown, MA shifted your work?
Janelle Iglesias: A lot of my practice is about engaging with how we move through space, what we are attracted/curious about, what we take for granted. How can we have a more intimate experience with things and the natural world? One of my new habits is to empty the sand out of my shoes when I come home. So I started collecting this sand to see how much I’m displacing each day. I’m also collecting rocks that have a strong line through them so I can seam them together. I like when my practice bleeds into creative daily habits or feels like a science experiment.
It’s funny because even though I was in the city I was still seeking out and collecting a lot of materials that had been processed by nature—the driftwood you mentioned from the East River, sea glass and ceramic shards from Dead Horse Bay in Brooklyn, in addition to things found in the street such as ladders and pallets. Even though I was in this urban environment, my practice still brought me to touch these edges of nature around the city. Since moving to the Cape––well I’m still dragging things up from the water. I resisted for a little while, but I can’t help myself! My current favorite is this bone-of-a-tree with much of the root structure still intact that I found on a hike through a tidal flat. I loved it so much I carried it a few miles, wrapped around me like a tuba.
Perhaps in moving to the Cape these habits are more centered around nature than before and I’m feeling less the hustle of the city and synching up to a different rhythm here, although I do love New York, especially Queens.
ABF: Is it important to you that your sculptures are easily disassembled, travel well?
JI: I think it is something that started out as very practical but has come to be very central to my work—this question of wanting the work to speak to and come from a place of resourcefulness vs. one that speaks more of resources. I haven’t had the means to transport or store large works in the past and I work alone most of the time so logistically this has been my solution. At the same time, sometimes I really enjoy the sort of before/after that happens because of this when installing and de-installing. It is almost performative. I’ve thought a lot about documenting this through animation but I haven’t gone there yet beyond animating sole objects.
I also frequently reuse materials in another piece- so being able to take a thing apart means that I can put them back together differently the next time, and learn/try something new. I’m interested in used materials as they speak to re-imagining, reinvention, alternatives. It feels so relavent in more than one way: economically, environmentally, conceptually.
And I’ve always been really drawn to things that fold up: ladders, umbrellas, folding chairs, bellows, scissor joints, folding rulers, ironing boards. I like that they spring to life and then go to sleep. My current obsession is tent poles. I love them. They make me feel like a magician (I admit to having a thing for Mary Poppins.) There is something to this kind of simple magic that I really enjoy.
ABF: This focus on the utilitarian and emotional function of objects is rich. Will you go in depth with one object – how about umbrellas Mary?
JI: Umbrellas are portable shelter from the sun and the rain. Umbrellas are ancient––their design hasn’t really changed that much since their inception, they are kind of like the object version of a horseshoe crab (a living fossil.) In some cultures they were signs of social status. Umbrellas can be super fancy (designer) or made super cheap and relatively disposable. They are intertwined with fashion and design and are sometimes gendered. They are symbols for good weather (beach) and bad weather (rain.) People lose them all the time and seldom fix them when they break.
I had a favorite umbrella that was clear plastic with a sharp curve so that it came down in front of you but you could see through it. I brought it with me to Skowhegan, and that summer it rained for 6 weeks straight- I carried it everywhere. Much later it broke and I realized how attached to it I was- it felt like a tangible memory of that experience. My sweetheart just gave me a new one just like it, and I’m so comforted to have it around.
I’ve been reading about the use of umbrellas in Surrealism and one of the post-its on my wall reads:
umbrellas= accomplice of universal rebellion
umbrellas= accomplice of love
ABF: That reminds me of when you told me during a studio visit to “love my problems.”
JI: That is a bit of wisdom that has stuck with me from one of my professors at VCU, Elizabeth King. She encouraged us to think of our problems in the studio as truly specific to ourselves, and to love them, as they are as much a part of us as anything else. I’ve extended this into the realm of trying to keep perspective on all of it – that art problems, studio problems, are great problems to have in contrast to other problems like health, disaster, etc…
ABF: It is all quite a thing. What is your current direction, large installations, smaller works?
JI: A bit of both. I’ll be having a solo show in New York at Larissa Goldston this September and it is a large space with room for a few larger sculptures/installations. It will be the last show in that building before it is demolished in October. I want to take advantage of the space as much as I can muster.
This is the first time I’ve lived in a place where you can see so many stars, all year I’ve been trying to learn how to identify constellations. I really wanted to make a piece about this and then I read about a minor constellation in the Southern Hemisphere originally called Sculptoris Appartus (the Sculptors Studio) later shortened to Sculptor. Each of the stars of Sculptor are mimicked by lights within this new installation piece I am working on. And a display of all sorts of made/found/collected objects making up the piece is suspended and connected with tent poles, umbrella parts and metal beach chair frames I sourced at the metal scrap pile in the neighboring town. This is one of the first times I’ve used so much metal and I’ve been playing with these earth magnets for a lot of the connections. Within the Sculptor constellation lies the Cartwheel Galaxy, the namesake of the upcoming show and the inspiration for another piece I’m reworking at the moment, a sort of cartwheel of wooden ladders.
ABF: What are you reading, what artists have you been looking at lately?
JI: My sister Lisa and I were just looking at images from Miguel Luciano’s project making kites with kids in Kenya. We tend to engage with people more in our collaborative practice and this project was one of the best community based projects I’ve seen. It is so simple, powerful and joyful.
I just started reading Jeannette Winterson’s “Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?” Then I stumbled upon a recording of her giving a talk about the importance of art as being a vehicle for connectivity. I think I’ve listened to it about 10 times in the past few days.
And my beach companion this week is Jimmie Durham’s “Material 100 Notes-100 Thoughts No 049 for DOCUMENTA (13).” I’m interested in how materiality holds meaning and in these notes he wanders through musings, observations, anecdotes and research about our understanding of different things from trees to mathematics. He ends with, “Our knowledge of the world comes from the way we are constructed. We construct the world as we are constructed.”
ABF: I just got sucked into this BOMB interview with Jimmie Durham. His words on architecture triggered a relation to your thoughts on the subject in connection with bower birds.
JI: I’ve always been really interested in informal and animal architecture. Much of the work I was making in school was a sort of repetitive gesture with a material that produced something nest-like. But it sort of made itself and lacked room for me to push ideas. It felt too safe, it always produced something pleasing in the same kind of way. –– this older work transformed something manmade into a seemingly organic result but the gesture was almost too much of a crutch that I felt like I relied on. After I graduated I really wanted to privilege improvisation in my practice, and work within some kind of structure that allowed a lot of freedom.
When I first found out about bowerbirds I was so dumb-struck. As part of their unique courtship behavior, male birds build these incredible structures decorated with very particular arrangements of objects in an attempt to attract a mate. Each species build, collect and display in different ways. Some species even paint with mud or pigment from fruit pulp they grind up with their beaks. Depending on where the bird is located, different items will end up in their bower. Upon becoming somewhat obsessed with these birds, I allowed myself to follow these very instinctual parts of my practice–– collecting and curating objects from my local surrounds and placing things next to each other in the studio, arranging and rearranging, juxtaposing natural and manmade objects, thinking about how people move through space and luring them in with a kind of display. I don’t think my practice is a bound to them, but it is certainly intertwined.
I’m so excited to have received a Jerome Foundation travel grant to go birding in Western Papua next summer! I’ll be visiting the Arfak Mountains where one can see the most sophisticated bowers of all—and this is also a natural habitat to many of the birds of paradise. I was just reading that when the first specimens were brought back to Europe they were declared fakes as no one could believe that such fantastical creatures could actually exist.
Speaking of birds, I’m also living with these very silly lovebirds. They are mostly free-range at this point. I’ve been collecting their feathers and some of these baskets that they like to tear apart to use for my sculptures and then also building them perches and toys. It all feels very connected– it all plays into shaping the work and my shifting practice.
ABF: Have you made friends with any whales in Cape Cod?
JI: Whales are so majestic, I can’t seem to wrap my head around them. It is so exciting seeing one from shore—and I’m really interested in how you only see a portion of them at a time, your imagination completes them. It is amazing to live somewhere they frequent.
My most memorable experience living here so far was a few months ago, riding my bike at sunset to the beach and hearing the whales as I got closer and closer. It was completely still, windless and the water was like glass. There were all these whales so close to shore, frolicking around and spouting off and making the most amazing sounds. I felt the sound come up through my toes––and it felt very far away and very close at the same time. I keep going back to that moment in my head asking myself if it really happened?
To learn more about Janelle Iglesias, visit her website.