Phone Tag: Interview with Kate Newby

Kate Newby, They say you’ve got to live there for a while, 2016. Bricks, coins, white brass, pink silver, yellow silver, bronze, stoneware, porcelain, glaze, bottle top, paper clip, nail, glass. Courtesy of Michael Lett Gallery. Photo credit: Alex North

I speak with Kate Newby about her practice and current projects in this Phone Tag interview. From landscape and everyday materials, Kate brings a sensitivity to her environment to create what she calls “situations.” The New York-based artist is originally from New Zealand. However, she has been in Texas on a residency, and so we recently Skyped about how her approach to objects is informed by her surroundings, how art became a profession, life in New York, and her need for the female voice.

 

Phone Tag is a generative interview format, where I ask each participating artist five questions (plus others as the discussion meanders). At the end, I ask him or her to introduce me to a working artist whose attitude and work they find interesting and inspiring, who I then interview with the same five questions.

*****

Kate-Newby, Not this time, not for me2017. Mortar, concrete pigment, silver, white brass, bronze, porcelain, cotton rope, blown glass, glass, stoneware. Courtesy of Michael Lett Gallery (exhibited at the Sculpture Centre, NYC)

Linnea West: “So, you’re in Texas now for a residency. Could you tell me a little bit about what you’re doing?”

Kate Newby: “I’m in San Antonio at Artpace. It’s my first time in Texas. It’s also my first time doing a residency since I did one on Fogo Island in 2013, so it has been quite some years since I’ve been in a residency situation. I’ve only been here a few weeks, but I think the time is going to fly. The residency is set up in a way where you work in a studio for two months, which then becomes your exhibition space for the following two months. There are three studios and three artists in residence. So there’s the pressure of an exhibition at the end but I came down here quite conscious that I didn’t want to think about that, that I wanted to be more involved in the processes.

One of the things I do is, I work in clay. I’ve worked in clay for quite some time. It’s gotten to a point where I’m bored with it. Being down here what I want to do is to get outside more. Digging clay. I want to experiment with firings. Barrel firings. Pit firings, and building my own kiln. And I kind of think I’m more interested in experiences than outcomes, and I think work will naturally arise out of that process.”

LW: “So you’re trying to give yourself two months to breathe and explore?”

KN: “Yeah, I want to breath and explore. I’m realizing that that it is actually more work. I’m getting up at 6 am to do firings and other stuff, but it is good. There are people here who can help. In New York, I feel very singular; it’s just me. It’s nice to have people around who say, ‘Can we help? What can we do? Do you need this?’ ‘Yeah, I need a half cord of firewood, please.’ ”

Kate Newby, Ah be with me always2015. Colored mortar, brick, porcelain, bronze. Courtesy of Michael Lett Gallery (exhibited at Laurel Gitlen, NY)

 

LW: “Yeah, that’s a great thing to be able to say. From what I know of your work, I do see that you work a lot with clay, but not traditional ceramic vessels and that you work with other material as well. Could briefly describe what you make?”

KN: “Sure. I think what I do is, I create situations. I think about things like atmosphere and weather, being outside. Things that I absorbed and paid attention to, and I want to reflect that back out in my work. So my work is never a singular object. In fact, it might be several hundred objects in the case of some of my studies of rocks, or it could be as simple as using a piece of rope, which is what I just did at the SculptureCenter. I used 600 feet of rope to go from a puddle I had made on the ground, out of concrete, to weave into a tree, to weave across the building, and to hang down the very front of the building. I like to call peoples’ attention to these discrete actions. They don’t give a lot away, but they try to belong to a site in a way that is not too foreign. The materials I use, concrete and clay and rope, are never totally removed from what I’m looking at when I am installing.”

LW: “How site-specific are these? Would you reinstall the work somewhere else using the exact components or is it unique to that site?”

KN: “It’s both. It’s totally specific and I’ll use the same components anywhere. But they would change and I would want them to change and I would want them to be responsive. I think about site-specificity versus site-responsiveness—No, I don’t think about any of it. I just think about, what am I looking at? And what do I respond to, and what do I think is curious? I try to trust my instincts more and more. Just see what is happening and make works that responds to that.”

Kate Newby, Crawl out your window, 2010. Concrete ramp, rocks, crystals, cotton fabric, wall, yellow paint. Courtesy of Michael Lett Gallery (exhibited at GAK Gesellschaft für Aktuelle Kunst, Bremen). Photo credit: Peter Podowik

 

LW: “Now that you’re in this new space in Texas, what does an ideal day in your studio look like?”

KN: “Hmmm, I know what an ideal of what that would be like… I don’t have a studio in New York; I have a small room in my apartment that kind of acts like an office and storage area. Now I have a huge studio that would be awesome to utilize, but I don’t quite know what to do with it.
I’m definitely a morning person, so I’m trying to get up at 6 am, which is actually a little too early for me, but ideally I would be up at 6, shower, eat, and be in the studio before anyone is around so I can get my head into it. My ideal day is to do everything. To have practical, hands-on work. It would be to finally do my taxes; it would be to do some deep reading and research. It would be to eat properly. But it’s never like that. I wake up, I have 30 good minutes, and then I’m just walking around with a bit of paper in my hand, just trying to fumble through the day.”

LW: “What about time for email, does that factor in?”

KN: “It’s funny because that’s something I do everything morning in New York, and here I don’t and I’m really behind on email. It’s chronic; it’s terrible. But I’m here now, and I just want to get out of the apartment. I just feel like I’m so excited to get to the studio and to get to work. And I’ve got all these time constraints because of firings and drying times. I’ve been very physical and doing all this other stuff, where in New York I do email all the time.”

Kate Newby, The January February March, 2015. Porcelain stoneware, earthenware. Courtesy of Michael Lett Gallery (installation view: Margaretville, The Catskills, NY)

LW: “That’s great. That sounds like freedom. When did you first think of yourself as an artist?”

KN: “It developed incrementally. I had this moment when I was 15 and I thought— ‘Oh, this is a way I can look at things and make sense of the world,’ and for the first time I intentionally became involved with art. It became my full focus when I was in high school and then I went to art school and then I went and traveled for several years. I wasn’t exhibiting—I wasn’t traveling as an artist. I was traveling just as a person. I was ironing sheets; I was waitress-ing; I was whatever. When I came back to New Zealand, I thought about it, and that’s probably the moment I became an artist, because that’s the moment I basically looked at art and thought, ‘What’s here, and what do I want out of it, and what do I want to do with this, if this is what I am going to do.’ Before then, art had been something that I carried around like a backpack. In my mid-twenties, it became something bigger and harder, and not so convenient. This is the minute that things became quite alive for me.”

Kate Newby, Try it with less pennies and direct light, 2017. Glass, Jute. Fabricated by Jake Zollie Harper. Originally commissioned and produced by Artpace San Antonio. Photo credit: Adam Schreiber

LW: “Is it more important for an artist to be in a big city with a strong cultural scene, opportunities to show their work, lots of people, etc. or to be in a place maybe more like San Antonio or even quieter where you’re just focused on making?”

KN: “I think it’s both. I’m from New Zealand and I grew up at a beach and in a valley with a lot of trees. I grew up with a lot of solitude and I really need that. Strangely I get a lot of solitude in New York still. But what I do really need is the landscape. I need my work to be involved with the landscape. When I think about my work, I don’t think about it in terms of galleries; I think about it in terms of how can I take it back outside to where it came from, and how can I work these elements that are so crucial to my thinking back into the work.

So, that’s not answering your question, but I’ve done some really remote residencies, like Fogo Island, which is off the coast of Newfoundland in Canada. You can get more remote than that, but it’s very remote. Once I was in a town called Worpswede in rural Germany, which is this tiny little village. I was there for 5 months alone while I worked on an exhibition in Bremen. It’s weirdly exhausting, because you just have so much to do with yourself. But I think it’s both. I love going back to New York. I wouldn’t change that and I love leaving just as much.”

LW: “I’m interested in this idea of landscape that you mentioned, especially if you’re going to such different landscapes and then going to a place like New York. Are you think of an abstract, generalized idea of landscape or does New York City as a landscape feed into your imagination?”

KN: “It’s just whatever experience I’m having. In New York, it’s a huge influence on me in terms of how I work, because I’m pretty obsessed with sidewalks and the residue from people and the residue from wear and tear of us just being alive. I’m not looking at nature too much in New York City, but what I am looking at is this experience that we have every day. Even the tilt of the sidewalk or something, I find these kinds of things interesting. I don’t know why, I just do. These tiny, tiny things. The first time I made them I put them in this community garden in Brooklyn because it was kind of protected and they could be outside. They lasted for several months and they didn’t break and they made a sort of gentle sound. I like this idea that my work is a collaboration with weather and with elements and with these things that come in to complete the work. I’m only half making the work and then I’m putting it in a situation where these other things might come in and infiltrate it and work with it. So, when I say landscape, sometime it is a big general thing, like being on a ranch in Texas, but it doesn’t have to be.”

Kate Newby, Let me be the wind that pulls your hair, 2017. Assorted clay and glaze, bronze, cotton, wire. Originally commissioned and produced by Artpace San Antonio. Photo credit: Adam Schreiber

LW: “Who has influenced your practice?”

KN: “That’s a tricky questions. I don’t know. But I will say that less than a year ago I went on a trip from Los Angeles through Nevada up to Utah and I saw a lot of these land art pieces. I was blown away by this Nancy Holt piece called Sun Tunnels, which was phenomenal but also really challenging. She worked on it for four years and she was out there in the desert working on this thing. It’s a totally deep meditation. I come to a site and I could bang a work out in a day, that’s the way I work. It was interesting to think about what if you just made one thing but made it really, really well while keeping it simple. That was the thing, it was just really simple. She’s come to me at a really good moment—it’s making me question things a lot more. Especially in New York, where I feel like I’m exclusively making work that could fit in my backpack.

Roni Horn is really interesting. She also has a type of this deep awareness of what’s going on. I want to be careful about that, because the last few years for me have been very busy and I’ve had to perform for these deadlines. I just want to be aware, keeping an eye on my work in a way that the thoughtfulness, the considered rigor of both of their practices is something that I absorb and keep in mind.”

LW: “Is it a coincidence that they are both women, or is that something you think about as well?”

KN: “It’s something I think I need; I really want that. I listen to a lot of music, and more and more I want female voices around me. It’s because they make phenomenal work and it’s because I need more female voices around me.”

Kate Newby, Let me be the wind that pulls your hair, 2017. Assorted clay and glaze, bronze, cotton, wire. Originally commissioned and produced by Artpace San Antonio. Photo credit: Adam Schreiber

 

LW: “What’s next—you have two months in Texas and then you’ll be back in New York—what does your upcoming future look like?”

KN: “Someone mentioned to me years ago, ‘Kate, how are you going to keep working like this? Turn up somewhere, make a show, and move on. How are you going to keep doing that?’ My next year is already feeling a bit like this. But I’m doing things I really want to do. I’ll go to Stockholm for an exhibition at Index, which is great, which is phenomenal, and the project is the second extension of a project I did two years ago at the Arnolfini in Bristol, by the same curator Axel Wieder. He’s doing the second chapter of an exhibition called The Promise, and it’s all in the public space—that’s a dream come true—when you can gain permission to work in public space and have support to do this. You’re not making necessarily public sculpture, but you’re able to work outside with the support of an institution. How do you utilize that? I’ve just got a lot of questions. How do I keep doing things with integrity? That’s the stage I’m at. How do I maintain this, and how do I keep it honest? Funnily enough I have a second residency this year in Texas at the Chianti Foundation in Marfa. I think this will be an interesting opportunity to re-visit a lot of the ideas that I may open up while working here in San Antonio.”

LW: “But that’s a great place to be, because it’s a sign that what you’re doing is working, right?”

KN: “Yeah. I think so. I’m just aware that the work has to lead. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but this time here is good.”

LW: “Well, thank you. This has been great.”

KN: “Thank you for talking to me.”

Phone Tag: Interview with HaeAhn Kwon

Sock, 2016, sock, human hair, feather, paper, plastic wrap, string, wooden fruit crate, 7 x 11 x 12 inches

Just before the end of 2016, I Skyped with HaeAhn Kwon. HaeAhn is an installation artist whose work with sculpture and assemblage uses common and inexpensive materials to attempt a poetics of space and relation. Previous Phone Tag participant Walter Scott knows HaeAhn because they both began the University of Guelph’s MFA program this past fall. Before her recent move to Guelph, Ontario, HaeAhn has lived in L.A., her native Seoul, Korea, and New York City, where she did her undergraduate degree. In the interview, we speak about her recent interest in ritual, a manner of working with perceptive responsiveness, and how moving has changed her relationship to materials.

 

Phone Tag is a generative interview format, where I ask each participating artist five questions (plus others as the discussion meanders). At the end, I ask him or her to introduce me to a working artist whose attitude and work they find interesting and inspiring, who I then interview with the same five questions.

***

Bread Rolls, pipe cleaner, paper maché, oil pastel, road salt, 8 x 7 x 9 inches

Linnea West: “Could you briefly describe what your practice is? What do you make?”

HaeAhn Kwon: “I’ve been making sculptural installations using provisional materials that are found or cheaply purchased. It’s hard for me to summarize…not least because it’s in flux…but more recently I’ve begun incorporating a ritualistic approach. It’s ritualistic in the sense that American poet CAConrad puts it: ‘It brings a heightened awareness to the present moment.’ I think I’m using the provisional materials to think through the time we are living in, this waste culture, and the rituals in the work are about not taking the materials or actions for granted but to recognize something of their material abundance…”

LW: “It seems like there is also something humorous about the objects.”

HK: “Yeah, humor is a big part of the work. They’re lowly materials, discarded or discardable, and through quiet arrangements they bring a sense of humor and…attentiveness, maybe.

My work used to be much more spontaneous, but I’m changing the way that I’m making. It used to be more intuitively responsive to available materials. But these days I’m much more involved in taking a premonition, like instructions for myself from my subconscious, so that’s why I’m having a hard time trying to bridge these two methodologies…”

Bag, 2016, bag, marker, straws, 15 x 8 x 4 inches

LW: “Is this something that has evolved because of your time in grad school, or was your work already shifting this way?”

HK: “Earlier works from 2014, from Korea, are installations made using industrial materials that are readily available. Those were about encounters on the streets of Seoul where you see private gestures and arrangements of objects that people make for their personal use in public space. Like, an ad-hoc parking stop or a rack repurposed to dry food on. The particular way that they engage with materials in Korea, I think, has to do with the generation that experienced war and poverty like my parents’ and grandparents’ generation. They have a specific, more attentive relationship to materials that are around. Then I moved to Los Angeles, where I became very isolated not only in terms of attending a disjointed MFA program at University of Southern California but also living without a car in a city which I felt was built on the scale of cars; I totally shifted gears from walking around and salvaging materials from the street to working in a ceramic studio and working with relatively traditional art materials. That time was also such a weird pressure cooker for me because I had to constantly negotiate with myself and others about reasons and meanings for being in the school, which was under scrutiny from the art community.  The recent works seem to really speak about my desire to break from all the rationality or valorization, validating why I’m making them or what’s good about it. In that way, L.A. actually really changed the way I work with materials and my attitude toward materials.”

LW: “I could see that. To go from Seoul, to L.A., to Guelph…I can only imagine if you’re paying attention to everyday materials how intensely that could change things…”

HK: “Exactly. I was paying a lot of attention to the way people use materials in Korea, and L.A. changed that for me.”

LW: “What are you working on now?”

HK: “I’m working on sculptures that I now see as discrete objects. Previous works were a series of objects that became an installation. There were mostly fragile gestures that had to speak to each other to become more of a dialogue in the installation itself. Nowadays, they are much more autonomous. I see more separations happening in between them, although I still use impoverished materials, like pipe cleaners, papier mache, or mass-produced food items, like ramen noodle packets or bread. What I’m working on currently are sculptures that incorporate exchange with other people, such as somebody’s handwriting or a collection of hair. Something that the person I know has or is capable of attaining that is particular to them only, and I would have the idea of using that specific material. But they don’t necessarily connect overtly to their identity. It’s a weird state of making an amulet or talisman that is charged in between the maker, the collaborator, and the viewer in a way. It’s not neutral, the way that the object gets charged with meaning.”

From the series Parasite and Ghost, 2016, ceramic, instant ramen noodle, spray paint, rock, sleeping eye mask, dimensions variable

LW: “So the object itself has this kind of energy?”

HK: “That’s how I think I operate, with these everyday materials that aren’t imbued with significance. They get charged in a specific way that is not necessarily accessible or readable right away.”

LW: “Who has influenced you as an artist?”

HK: “I want to answer in two different ways:  I am influenced by those I am around, like who is in my life at this time. So, Walter Scott is influencing the way I look at words and narrative, and my partner Paul Kajander is a constant influence in how I make and see art, and Kirby Mages, my friend in Chicago who is in touch almost daily, always thinking and sharing about art in text messages and snapchats…

Kim Beom is an interdisciplinary artist from Korea, who has been a great influence. He wrote a book called Noonchi (2009), which is about caring for an imaginary dog. The narrator is a mediator; he is introducing you, the reader, to a dog and asking you to be introduced and be responsible for this dog and become the dog’s owner. ‘Noonchi’ is a Korean word that doesn’t have a direct translation in English, but it’s a kind of perceptive intuition. It also has a connotation of response, as in a social intelligence and responsibility that calls for a certain response in a given situation. His work is very specific in its cultural context yet he doesn’t didactically draw from the cultural identity per se. His relationship to language and to this idea of care and perceptiveness has been a great influence on me.”

Installation view of “What You See Is What You Make”, Samuso Space for Contemporary Art, 2014

LW: “When did you first think of yourself as an artist?”

HK: “I have a really bad memory…as if I’m pro-forgetting. Because of that quality, I have a sustained feeling of fleeting moments of being an artist. It’s kind of like when you’re aware of the banality and brutality of life but at the same time have a heightened awareness of the materials around you, the people around you, the gestures around you—those moments feel so precious to me. And that’s when I feel I can call myself an artist. Because I have a very ambivalent position about this title of artist, my doubts and convictions all get mixed in.”

LW: “What’s an ideal day in the studio?”

HK: “My studio is always in a mess. I tend to meander a lot. It’s a lot of inefficient, time-consuming labor that doesn’t really get anywhere. So the ideal day is similar to what [Phone Tag participant] Tiziana said—she starts working and wants to work for as long as she wants, and that’s how I work too. I do a lot of different things all at once almost to the point of distracting myself in a way, and I would have these surprising encounters. That’s the spontaneous thing in the process, where I’m surprised by things that I didn’t know I was going to do. It’s definitely more than six hours at a time, starting in the afternoon, because I get overwhelmed with daily tasks in the morning. So after lunch I get in the studio and meander for a while until things start getting loose. I’m listening to podcasts or talks or lectures online and doing things with my hands at the same time. At the end of the day, there’s something that you didn’t think that was on your agenda. That kind of thing.”

LW: “So you don’t plan out a specific outcome…”

HK: “There are plans, but more often than not they don’t come out as planned. That’s what the perceptive response is….you’re responding to how things are different than you expected.”

LW: “It sounds like you would have to have a lot of faith in the process. And that you would have to have the patience to sit with it.”

HK: “Yeah, I spend a lot of time waiting. It takes time for me to intuitively do something that I’m happy with.”

LW: “Is this ever in conflict with having a deadline, like for a show…?”

HK: “Yeah, I think so, but it’s kind of funny. I think I’m built on crisis, like South Korea is built on crisis. I really started thinking that I have this dualistic mode of being that is constantly in crisis. Somehow deadlines just push me to break down more often, maybe more efficiently.”

Which One Slab, 2014, 31 x 23 x 1 inches

LW: “I think you’re in a great position to speak to my final question, given how you’ve moved around lately. Do you think it’s more important for an artist to be in a big city where there are cultural institutions and chances to show your work, but it is busy and intense and expensive, or to be in a quieter place where maybe you can focus on just making?”

HK: “I’ve lived most of my life in mega-cities. I know that cities have vigor and diversity in communities, which are great. But having experienced these hubs, I’m really enjoying time away, having a distance from cities, especially because I understand now that I have a hard time listening to my own voice. I think it depends on the person and the kind of phase that the person is in, and I think our relationships to cities change. At the moment, I’m really enjoying more of a focused time in my studio, where I don’t have to worry about getting somewhere to be in the right place at the right time.”

LW: “Do you know what you’ll want to do next?”

HK: “I really like Toronto. I think I’ll stick around Ontario for a while. I’ve been jumping around; I did an undergrad in New York, went back to Seoul, then went to L.A., before finally coming to Guelph. I want to see what it’s like to be settled in one place—nurturing my practice, caring for those around me, and supporting a community.”

Bruce Nauman revisits Contrapposto at Phildelphia Museum of Art

Video still from Bruce Nauman’s “contrapposto studies, i through vii,” 2016. Credit Bruce Nauman/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Sperone Westwater, New York

In 1968 American artist Bruce Nauman created an important early video work, Walk with Contrapposto, in which he walked down a corridor while jutting his hip out step by step, in an exaggerated and animated demonstration of the classical Greek sculptural pose contrapposto. In the past two years, Nauman returned to this subject matter in a series of seven works now featured in the exhibition “Bruce Nauman: Contrapposto Studies, I through VII” at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The museum also exhibits the original 1968 video work, and the contrast between the earlier and later works is stark.

Installation shot at Philadelphia Museum of Art, Bruce Nauman, Contrapposto Studies, I through VII

Installation shot at Philadelphia Museum of Art, Bruce Nauman, Study in Contrapposto, 1968

The original experiment in contrapposto is shown on a TV screen in the center of a small, darkened room. On the tiny screen, a fuzzy black-and-white image of a youthful, lithe body is seen awkwardly and methodically pacing down a tall, narrow white corridor, one hip jut at a time. The viewer observes the figure’s back as Nauman walks to the end of the corridor away from the viewer as well as from the front as he walks toward the viewer. The spectacle is simple and slow, making sculptural conventions ridiculous and exploring how video could be used by an artist to implicate the audience in uneasy relation. The viewer is not confronted as directly as in some works Nauman would make in the following immediate years, such as Live-taped Video Corridor of 1970, but the voyeurship of watching the artist and his body presented in new terms the relationship between the viewer and traditional sculpture. Using the then-new medium of video makes the relationship more circumspect than that of, say, performance. That is especially true today, when such grainy small footage reminds the contemporary viewer more of security cameras than televisions. Overall, the impression is stilted and highly focused. Tension comes from the way the body fills the narrow corridor, which directs him along the only possible path he could walk on. The performance is durational; if you watch carefully, he tires over the course of the hour–the length of video cassette tape at that time. The only sound is that of his footsteps in the otherwise empty space.

In his recent works, Nauman again walks back and forth methodically jutting out an opposing hip, step by step. In both the early and later works, the same person walks in the same way in the same nondescript outfit of white t-shirt and jeans. If his earlier body resembled that of the classical Greek sculpture, his aged body is by comparison less nimble and heavier. But the more arresting difference is the technology used: Nauman has updated to large color digital projections that he manipulates. The simple moving image of 1968 becomes compounded into several similar but competing images in the same field, projecting across from competing images, sliced through horizontally more and more while the sound of footfalls is layered to build into a cacophony. In some of the works, Nauman shows the image in color and its negative. The overall effect is a blurring of action and sounds, complicating the action of a single body in motion as if someone had made video collages from a Muybridge strip of a man walking.

Installation shot at Philadelphia Museum of Art, Bruce Nauman, Contrapposto Studies, I through VII

Certainly, the works reflect the technology of their times. One could argue that these new studies as merely translating the original 1968 video into new technologies. However, the meaning of the work itself also splinters under such digital manipulation. Where before the viewer had to wait to watch Nauman pace first down the corridor, and then back, here he approaches the viewer simultaneously, rendering his movements in positive and negative, forward and backward, within a single field of vision. The relationship of the viewer to the artist is easier, somehow, because your vision is free to roam over the many iterations of Nauman’s figure rather than limited to an unending tunnel. The viewer is now immersed in the large-than-life projections, implicated in the scene by the presence of some stools scattered throughout the gallery. The change in setting from the corridor to wide room loosens the sense of constriction; in the newer work, there is a sense of freedom and play. Where the young body became tired, the aged body seems in perpetual motion of recombination. What you gain is a kind of humanity alongside the deadpan, unblinking honesty that characterizes much of Nauman’s work.

Bruce Nauman: Contrapposto Studies, I through VII” is on view at the Philadelphia Museum of Art through April 16, 2017.