Community and Space – The relationship between artist/studio art practice and identity

At ISC Gala honoring Lynda Benglis and Tony Cragg lifetime achievement award gala.
From left to right: Me, Emily Nelms Perez, ISC member, Katie Hovencamp, Olga Alexander

First off, it is an absolute thrill to have been awarded the ISC residency at Mana  Contemporary, and would like to thank International Sculpture Center for this opportunity!  I had visited Mana Last Spring for an open house event last season and was immediately impressed by the communal artistic energy reverberating throughout its massive cavernous spaces.  I wanted so much to be part of it.

It has been almost 4 years since I lost my beloved studio space on Washington Street in North Tribeca.  It served as much as a haven for my artistic practice, a place where during the day I focused on commercial work for architects and designers as well as casting for fellow sculptors. At night, however, the place was mine to do with as I chose. I had a plethora of leftover materials to experiment with, challenge its limitations and play.    I would work for hours, napping occasionally but loved the quietness of the city during the wee hours of the morn.  It was animated occasionally by a catfight at one of the bars downstairs, which proved to be always somewhat entertaining. The long lines waiting to enter Don hill’s.. the beat of the bass that I unknowingly would move to as I would grind away and chase my latest piece. It connected me to a greater whole that was constantly moving, evolving, tapping into a literal and metaphorical pulse beating within my physical surroundings. Such awesome energy that served as my creative home  for over 10 years.  I loved the people who I worked with, artists of all disciplines and media that worked on the floor, and respected and enjoyed a immense sense of community that fed my soul.

At ISC Gala honoring Lynda Benglis and Tony Cragg lifetime achievement award gala. From left to right; Me, Emily Nelms Perez,ISC member, Katie Hovencamp, Olga Alexander

It literally hurt my heart that the building was sold and all of the studios would be closing. I was not only losing a space to make my commercial work, but was losing a lifestyle that fed my soul.  I had hoped that I would have shared that kind of communal energy at the universities where I teach, but as an adjunct, it is rare to be considered part of a greater whole.

I have learned to readjust and have found solace in the fact that I was able to create a studio space within my home in North Jersey. Snow in July? No, no.. its just the crazy neighbor  up the street carving a 6 foot block of Styrofoam with a sawzall in hand.   Now that I live alone, I find it fascinating that often my works in progress seem to migrate to the kitchen. Does anyone else find this as well? I find that cabinet doors are perfect for hanging waxes to cool, and kitchen counter tops work well for a surface to work on.  Anything is fair game, rolling pins, toaster ovens and crockpots are wonderful assets in any studio for sure.   Don’t even get me started on butter knives.. they are are the essence of versatility.  I remember Nancy Spero, at one point talking of kitchen art. So true.( more about her great wisdom and influence later for now I digress.)

Working from home has its benefits, and  I am reminded that it was only a few years ago that I was casting bronze in my backyard. With the  expert help of my dear friend, and comrade in sculpture, Kenneth Payne, we set up a foundry in my backyard.  I had purchased the complete set up from a sculptor who accidentally set fire to his studio in the city while attempting to run it.   Apparently there is a good reason why they have made foundries illegal in midtown Manhattan . With the trees as my barrier, It was easy to cast my architectural work and works for friends in the privacy of my backyard. My foundry assistants were my 3 kids all under the age of 13.  Union issues and child labor laws do not factor out here in the sticks, right?

TASK Party participant

North Jersey has an abundance of solitude which for some artists may seem ideal; Having it within my home can often be too isolating . I believe that for most of us, we depend on a community to interact with, especially sculptors!  I then begin to question why make work? I know it’s a moot point. We make work because that’s what we do..  choice does not factor. When working in isolation into the wee hours of the morn,  the  previous pulsing energy from the street below is  now replaced by the beating of the big fact raccoon trying to tear into my garbage outside the window.  After breaking into my studio on multiple occasions, we have now formed a truce- His name has become dammit as it is always the first thing  muttered upon our unexpected encounters.

This is the first year that I am able to begin focusing on my own work and applying for residencies for a variety of reasons and am thrilled beyond belief to get started at Mana.

The residency began May 1st and had to delay move in until I finished out the semester.  I know firsthand what it feels like to be at the starting gate biting at the bit anxious to get started.  This is the first time in my life that I can focus solely on my own work and artistic practice without splitting time between my commercial work often working 60+ hours a week, supporting  what turned out to be a very expensive  and guilty pleasure of adjunct teaching.

The last week in April was great fun, International Scupture Day, ISC gala and mana open house. The ISC lifetime achievement awards gala honored Tony Cragg and Lynda Benglis.  It was indeed a beautiful evening at the Tribeca Rooftop and  such a pleasure to see old friends and make new ones too!  It also provided an opportunity for us residents  to hang out and compare notes .

Open house at Mana  took place the following Sunday.  There were many events throughout Mana, including the opening of Katie and Emily’s  remarkable show Her:Here on the fifth floor, Oliver herring hosted a task party on the fourth floor,  where again many students from WPU signed up to volunteer . I arrived before 9 am to drop off signs, and was amazed to see superwoman and ISC director Johannah  Hutchinson already in the thick of it, coordinating the group of volunteers  amassed.  The day was truly an unforgettable experience.  I suggest you check out a video clip to get an idea of the event. Words do it no justice at all.   As the party progressed,  this overwhelming sense of unity and comradery elevated in response to the event.

“Goat Cart “ Jersey City May 5, 2017

 

I have since moved into my beautiful space at MANA. The physical space comes complete with 15 foot ceilings and a huge freight elevator. The people are lovely, and already meeting artists on the floor.  I am amazed at how this expanded space is already affecting my approach to form.    I need to ask Alex if I can borrow an extra tall ladder and will need to find out logistics of moving larger pieces!

It is wonderful to be back in a city where it is still in fact a city. Although there are neighborhood pockets tucked in and hidden from plain sight, Tribeca has become too pricey and much of the grittiness and raw beauty of reality is lost. Jersey city is quickly reminding me of how much I missed the absence of pretense and am thrilled to be back in the thick of it.

By Gina Miccinilli

 

 

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