Whether We Dance or Not

Liz Jaff is a Bushwick based artist who has rigorously explored the structural and aesthetic possibilities in ephemeral materials, specifically paper. AIB interviewed Jaff about her work process, her development as an artist, and the genesis of her current show at Robert Henry Contemporary.

Liz Jaff , Plugs and Fuses, 3rd Iteration at Montserrat College of Art, Photo Courtesy Liz Jaff
Liz Jaff , Plugs and Fuses, 3rd Iteration at Montserrat College of Art, Photo Courtesy Liz Jaff

AIB: Tell me about your affiliation to Bushwick.

Liz Jaff: I moved my studio to Bushwick early in 2014.  I had been splitting my time between New York City and Southampton, NY and was beginning to prepare for a show with Robert Henry Contemporary.  The gallery and I agreed it would work well to be close by. My studio is part of Brooklyn Brush studios, a supportive environment- clean and quiet- with the most exceptional people who run and maintain it.

AIB: “Wallflower”, your current show at Robert Henry Contemporary features a recent body of work. Altogether I see your drawings and installation in the gallery as a meditative space with dark undertones, as if the emotional undercurrents that have always existed in your work are gushing into the surface. This brings to my mind Freudian terms and some political context—are you thinking along these lines? Tell me about the relationship between this body of work and your previous work.

Liz Jaff: When I close the studio door, and am by myself, the freshest, most authentic place to go is inward.  I would be happy if some of that feeling of contemplation carries over into how the work exists in the gallery.  Most of what I do starts from a deeply personal place. I then set up a physical structure within which my thoughts and ideas can live in a physical one.  With the Wallflower works, I have let some of the formality drop away.  It was necessary here partially because of the less controlled process of making the Black Magic drawings.  In my previous installations, I took my experience from one place and distilled it down to a simple unit or form which can then be repeated, installed, and used to create a new space.  It is left to the viewer to interpret; to find their own experience. Having the opportunity to watch people interact with past works, I recognize that the objects or installations find their own unique relationship with the world.  With “Wallflower”, I wanted the works to be performers of sorts, and I step away no longer a part of the party, so to speak.  Showing the work is an opportunity to be generous and I hope it can offer a moment of reprieve from some of the anxiety and stress of recent events.

Liz Jaff , Plugs and Fuses (detail), 3rd Iteration at Montserrat College of Art, Photo Courtesy Liz Jaff
Liz Jaff , Plugs and Fuses (detail), 3rd Iteration at Montserrat College of Art, Photo Courtesy Liz Jaff
Liz Jaff , Wallflower, detail of Heartbreaker, ink, plastic bottles and tubing, Aquasol, dimensions variable, 2017, Photo Courtesy Paul Takeuchi
Liz Jaff , Wallflower, detail of Heartbreaker, ink, plastic bottles and tubing, Aquasol, dimensions variable, 2017, Photo Courtesy Paul Takeuchi
Liz Jaff , Wallflower Installation view with Black Magic drawings, ink on paper, 84” x 45” each, 2017, Photo Courtesy Paul Takeuchi
Liz Jaff , Wallflower Installation view with Black Magic drawings, ink on paper, 84” x 45” each, 2017, Photo Courtesy Paul Takeuchi

AIB: Tell me more about “Wallflower”. I am curious to know more about the dripping ink installation and how it relates to the drawings on the wall.

Liz Jaff: “Wallflower” includes a group of ink drawings called “Black Magic”, and an apparatus/sculptural object called “Heartbreaker”.  The Black Magics are an evolution of a practice I have had in my studio for more than fifteen years.  A lot of my work is slow and repetitive to make, but the ink on paper is fast and less predictable.  The drawings have become larger and more high contrast than in the past and are influenced, among other things, by Flamenco and Butoh performance, which I enjoy quite a bit.  The drawings feel as if something is recorded in motion and we do not know at what stage.  Time is captured for an instance.  Together the group references film strips or photographic contact sheets, and suggests documenting a larger motion or action.  I wanted to combine these with something that could happen very slowly in the gallery, bringing together a record of something fast with that of something unraveling in front of you.  These two notions of time suggest longing and a desire to remember and sustain certain moments.

AIB: You reference in your work ideas of love and sacrifice, commitment, time and space. Can you elaborate on that?

Liz Jaff: Love is so good.  I think we all want to sustain it.  Sacrifice and commitment are longer, slower ideas, which require a different kind of patience and time.  I think it is important to find visual ways to talk about all of them, give a feeling of their own character and how we experience it.  I think I could find a lot of ways to talk about this for a long time.

Liz Jaff , Snitch, (exhibited at Volta NY), hand cut paper, 19 ½” x 12 ½”, 2016, Photo Courtesy Paul Takeuchi
Liz Jaff , Snitch, (exhibited at Volta NY), hand cut paper, 19 ½” x 12 ½”, 2016, Photo Courtesy Paul Takeuchi
Liz Jaff , Big Black Venus, (exhibited at Volta NY), ink on hand cut paper, 87” x 46”, 2016, Photo Courtesy Paul Takeuchi
Liz Jaff: artwork photographed at her studio in Bushwick.

AIB: You are coming from painting (RISD). How do you see your work in relationship to painting?

Liz Jaff: I liked painting but I do not think I communicated well in paint.  When I reached a place where I began to know what was important for me to talk about, I realized the language I was using was not working.  So I changed it. When I speak with friends who are painters, there seems to be a relationship to how we talk about space and ideas, but not specifically to medium.

AIB: Where do you see your work in context of minimalists like Sol Lewitt and Agnes Martin?

Liz Jaff: Well, they both have simultaneously underlying and visible structures.  For them it may often be a geometric grid. For me it is the circle used in repetition. I see Lewitt as being grounded to the floor and architecture, while Martin found all the spaces in between.  I think I am looking for a balance of both.  I am acutely aware of many of the lessons from other artists, and often like to reference these quietly in the work.

AIB: It seems that your preferred medium is paper. Tell me about the genesis of that fascination and how do you see it in relation to traditional origami?

Liz Jaff: Using paper came from necessity and realizing that the how and the what of the work needed to be the same.  I wanted something that could exist as a two dimensional plane and also be manipulated to define three dimensional spaces.  It needed to suggest something ephemeral and basic, or fundamental.   Paper has a great range of structural and aesthetic possibilities.  My first large scale installations were conceived first in a hotel room and then on a folding table in a small studio apartment. Paper was light weight and the forms could be folded and stored away easily. When some other material speaks more effectively, then I will use it. Origami has its own particular rules and complexities very different from my own.  I purposely avoid it as to find my own way into using the materials.

AIB: Tell me about your process. (how do you come up with compositions, are you drawing on narrative-emotion-event, etc. your technique)

Liz Jaff: I often start with a basic feeling or sensation of something – an experience, a place, a person. I think about where it came from.  It is pretty simple.  This takes me on a daydream of storytelling, creating a kind of personal narrative.  I then envision formally what I think would resonate with the viewer physically and visually.  There is usually research at this point. The idea takes form and goes on a journey.  I like to use fast and slow processes depending on my mindset balancing activities which require more quiet focus with those that are executed more immediately.

Liz Jaff , Wallflower Installation view, Photo Courtesy Paul Takeuchi
Liz Jaff , Wallflower Installation view, Photo Courtesy Paul Takeuchi

AIB: You have the most intriguing titles. I am curious to know if you see the title as a poetic counterpoint to your visual syntax; are they meant to be a challenging clue; or maybe both?

Liz Jaff: Language is a remarkable thing both visually and verbally.  I like to play with the interaction of the two and titles are a great way to do this.  Poets are so good at this.  I like words with multiple meanings, which suggest an action or motion.  Some titles are quite literal to my experience, while some are more encoded and less obvious.  It is important to me to leave space for the viewer’s own interpretation.  Titles are often a great opportunity for humor.

AIB: What are you working on now? Would you like to share upcoming projects?

Liz Jaff: I am in the planning phase of an outdoor project to be done in Boston in the early Fall of this year and will have a solo project in Maine after that.  I am thinking about video….and sewing something for my mom.

AIB: Anything else art-related you would like me to ask?

Liz Jaff: You have asked quite a bit.   I wish there were space and time for more conversation.

Liz Jaff: Wallflower, through April 9, 2017

Robert Henry Contemporary
56 Bogart St
Brooklyn, NY 11206

 

‘Bushwick Tales’ Exhibits Urbanism through Art and Artifact

The group show Bushwick Tales exemplifies a Bushwick urbanism while conjuring up whimsical tales.

Bushwick Tales was a gallery show curated by artist and writer Etty Yaniv, a contributor to this blog, featuring sculptures, paintings, drawings, photographs, collages and a performance the night of the opening, which was opened at 117 Grattan Street over the weekend of Bushwick Open Studios and closed October 16, 2016.

Yaniv explained that since the show took place during BOS weekend, she decided to go with a large group and diverse work. After several conversations with various artists she selected artworks from Fanny Allié, Nancy Baker, Dasha Bazanova, Noa Charuvi, Jaynie Gillman Crimmins, Ashley Garrett, Michal Gavish, Peter Gynd, Liz Jaff, Amy Mahnick, Anki King, Eliot Markell, James Prez, Evan Reehl Ryer, Bob Seng, Patricia Satterlee, Natalie Simon, Fedele SpadaforaTrish Tillman, Jeanne Tremmel, Brian Wood, Mary Ivy Martin and included one of her own. All these artists are staples in the Bushwick arts community in some way. She said she wanted to avoid a salon style exhibition and made an attempt to provide each artist a distinct presence, “opting for a mélange of sculptural work and wall work to engage the whole space.” 

Attending the invitational exhibition reminded me of morning walks through the neighborhood. One of my favorite paths takes me past the small manufacturing district along Waterbury Street then over to Newtown Creek. When the metal garage doors are open I get a glimpse into the mysterious going-ons of each business. When the doors are rolled down, it’s the remnants along the curbs, the stains on the concrete and the things stuck in the gutters that provide hints about what happens inside. For me, this show captured the industrial-urban essence that surrounds Bushwick, through forms, choice of palettes and overall aesthetics.

For instance, in The Carrier Series, the silhouettes created with black plastic bags, hand-sewn on fabric by Fanny Allié, looked like the familiar and unfamiliar figures carrying their burdens along Morgan Avenue. As you stared at these figures the feelings oscillated between lonely and heroic and then each became dark compositions that engaged one’s sense of structure. Even though pieces were static, a lenticular approach also projected the quality of breathing.

James Prez showcased several sculptures from a larger body of work called Booktures. The artifacts from these artfully composed objects could have easily been taken out of a waste bin from one of the nearby toy distribution centers. Some are fastened atop old books. All of them strike your imagination and random narratives begin to build – or memories of familiar toys, like horses and ducks, quickly flash by. Unlike the narratives implied by Prez’s work, Amy Mahnick manipulates industrial found objects, like tissue boxes and egg cartons, for their design affect. How they are situated in space is also important.     

Fanny Allié, Woman Wheel (TheCarriers), plastic bag hand-stitched onto fabric, 2014-15, 14" x 19"
Fanny Allié, Woman Wheel (TheCarriers), plastic bag hand-stitched onto fabric, 2014-15, 14″ x 19″

 

James Prez, Composites from Booktures, 2016
James Prez, partial installation view
Amy Mahnick, Quatrefoil, carryout coffee tray, 2016, 7.5”x7.5”x2”
Amy Mahnick, Quatrefoil, carryout coffee tray, 2016, 7.5”x7.5”x2”

The little ceramic creature, Misunderstood, by Dasha Bazanova lives underneath the bridge at English Kills, between Morgan and Varick Avenues. It is kind and humble and it’s main job is to bless the tiny school of silver fish that swirl in the creek so that they eventually make their way to healthier waters. Go ahead, go out there one early morning and it might grace you with its presence. Not far from Misunderstood is Pompeii on Parade #1 skiing its way down Flushing Avenue in the winter. Elliot Markell creates imaginary characters from found objects. In this piece, the anthropomorphic shape is wonderfully executed with the use of concrete, rebar, paint, old gloves and found wood.

Michal Gavish goes weird science with Nano Portraiture, creating large petri dishes that capture the biological structures of the polluted creek or the composition  that can be found in the nearby oil refinery. That’s not really the case, but it is, when your imagination is walking through Bushwick.

The day of the opening, guests passed an old Christmas tree with two brown boots popping out of the end. At first glance it looked like a prank but then you realized there was a person embedded in the tree. Mary Ivy Martin stared straight up into the sky that night while people mistook her for trash. Her performance and subsequent documentation reflects on the blurred lines between people and nature in urban environments.

Yaniv explains, “She was lying motionless on the sidewalk outside the space in pouring rain, tucked in garbage bags and a Christmas tree. It was quite amazing to see how passersby were mostly ignoring her presence, at times even throwing garbage at her (accidentally I hope).”

16.Michal Gavish, Nano portrait 2 (Protein); acrylic on fabric and paper; 2015,12" diameter (20X20 framed)
Michal Gavish, Nano portrait 2 (Protein); acrylic on fabric and paper; 2015,12″ diameter (20X20 framed)
Noa Charuvi, Rocks and Drums, oil on canvas, 2016, 14”x18”
Noa Charuvi, Rocks and Drums, oil on canvas, 2016, 14”x18”

The paintings by Noa Charuvri capture construction details, material vignettes that are ever present as a result of the rapid reshaping of the urban landscape that is happening in Bushwick. Jeanne Tremel’s sculpture-installation, “Mindful / Landfill”, deals with displacement directly. According to Yaniv, “Jeanne’s ephemeral sculpture embodies, in a poetic way, the very essence of this Bushwick tale. It’s both sad and life affirming.” It was conceived in the artist’s old studio a few blocks away, dismantled and stored when she had to leave, then re-appeared at Venus Knitting Art Space. The sculpture-installation appears to be loosely constructed with a dense amount of debris, dirt, plant material and found objects woven in an empty mattress wire structure. This metal cloud of debris is propped up approximately 24″ from the floor. Scattered below is a light layer of dirt that seems to have fallen from the cloud. 

All these works captured a kind of Bushwick urbanism. Curator Etty Yaniv further explains, “I definitely wanted to establish an underlying sense of place in this show, particularly of urban spaces such as Bushwick. In my own work I am very drawn to the idea of place and time specificity, so that is inherently part of my thought process when I am curating as well.”  

The Art and Craft of Paper

Drawing-Rooms-Victory-Hall
Victory Hall in Jersey City; all images by the author

In the Drawing Rooms of Victory Hall, a former convent building in Downtown Jersey City, curator Anne Trauben has invited ten artists—Etty Yaniv, Sylvia Schwartz, Jaynie Gillman Crimmins, Anonda Bell, Alex Paik, Margaret Weber, Liz Jaff, Austin Thomas, Diane Tenerelli-June, and Ryan Sarah Murphy—to show their work in Paper Constructions. In individual installations that embody the character of the space, the artists have created mini worlds that demonstrate how each works with paper. Approaching the central theme of “paper” in a diversity of ways, the work comments on the ease with which the material can be modified, constructed, and deconstructed.

Drawing-Rooms-Etty-Yaniv
Installation view of work by Etty Yaniv
Drawing-Rooms-Jaynie-Crimmins
Installation view of work by Jaynie Crimmins
Drawing-Rooms-Alex-Paik
Installation view of work by Alex Paik

Etty Yaniv’s work embodies these possibilities as her sculptural installations are built from hundreds of torn pieces that grow into layered, biomorphic,and immersive environments. The work of Jaynie Gillman Crimmins follows a similar process yet on a smaller scale. Her sculptures composed of shreds of paper sewn together to create complex creatures that are reminiscent of the natural world. Relating his artistic practice to his initial love, music, Alex Paik writes, “these paper constructions mimic the way that the voices of a fugue are continuously repeated, transposed, inverted, and folded into themselves.”

Drawing-Rooms-Liz-Jaff
Installation view of work by Liz Jaff
Drawing-Rooms-Slyvia-Schwartz
Installation view of work by Sylvia Schwartz
Drawing-Rooms-Ryan-Sarah_Murphy
Installation view of work by Ryan Sarah Murphy

Attracted to paper for its versatility, artists Liz Jaff and Slyvia Schwartz respond to this quality through alteration. Jaff folds her paper: This transformation from a flat surface to a three-dimensional object is what captures her interest. By contrast, the unfinished product, the pulp, is what Schwartz likens to the process of sculpting, as she fills molds and builds two-dimensional, yet sculptural, work. Ryan Sarah Murphy is more interested in the inherent value and qualities that the material, in this case cardboard, carries, noting, “I am interested in how this simple, abundant and inherently impermanent material can be structured into quiet surfaces conveying both formation and dilapidation simultaneously.”

Drawing-Rooms-Austin-Thomas
Installation view of work by Austin Thomas
Drawing-Rooms-Margaret-Weber
Installation view of work by Margaret Weber
Drawing-Rooms-Anonda-Bell
Installation view of work by Anonda Bell
installpaper
Installation view of work by Diane Tenerelli-June; image courtesy of the artist

Working on the paper, rather than with it, Austin Thomas and Margaret Weber use mark making to create a flat picture, yielding vastly different results. Weber’s work shares a common naturalistic theme with Anonda Bell‘s cutouts of bugs, again taking advantage of the flexibility of the material. Experiencing the works of these artists makes clear the vast possibilities of an oft-unnoticed medium. Paper Constructions transforms the once mundane, reminding us to see again.

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Paper Constructions at Victory Hall Drawing Rooms is on view through this weekend at 180 Grand St, Jersey City, NJ. Hours are Thursday-Friday 4PM-7PM and Saturday-Sunday 2PM-6PM