Update From Mana Studios | Dominic Sansone

At first I thought I was hallucinating, too much time spent in the basement of Mana had me seeing things. I needed some fresh air. Slowly it dawned on me, this was a birthday party for some kid and they had rented out the cafe and dance studio on the fourth floor. Of all the weird things that had happened over the last two months, somehow this was strangest. Clearly I was spending too much time in the building.

Speaking of strange, the building is full of some really strange and wonderful people. I’ve had a lot of interesting conversations and made some new friends that I expect to stay in touch with long after this is over. Getting to know my co-resident Christina has been entertaining. She’s a bright young artist with very interesting ideas. She never disappoints with odd non-sequiturs or statements of fact about how she sees the world. So far it would seem we’ve both fit pretty seamlessly into each others spheres, me enjoying an evening at the Newark Print Club with her crew and she a night out in Manhattan with my friends. We’ve had a chance to get out and see some of the famed New York art world scene, visiting galleries in Chelsea and the Lower East Side. Despite the heady allure of such rare materials as “Italian Stainless Steel”, paint spattered blue tarps, and fabric swatches with grommets; I’ve found the scene lacking. No joke, a gallery in Chelsea actually had pieces labeled as Italian Stainless Steel. As my basement neighbor at Mana, Luke Ivy Price would say, “they could talk a buzzard off a meat wagon”.

I came to Mana with five pieces in my head. I could see them in my mind’s eye as a collective group of works that made up an exhibition. Grey, black, and white would be the palette; a marked difference from my recent forays into brightly colored Predator drones and giant-sized handguns. The only color of note would be red on a single piece, otherwise a very monochromatic group of work. I also wanted to build on the themes that were started in an interactive installation I exhibited last year in Jersey City as part of a group show. These works at Mana would be about the future I see based on our current national trajectory. Themes of urban decay and a crumbling infrastructure. Border walls and blasted landscapes. Oppressive architecture and visions of a regime gone mad. A tall order to carry out with a van load of supplies and the goal of only using materials from the hardware store. So far, it’s worked out and I’ve been pretty satisfied with the work I’ve made. Luckily December was a very productive month so it’s made socializing a bit easier in the new year.

As mentioned in my first blog post, some of my ideas were about scaling up work I had done in the six months prior to arriving in New Jersey and I was starting with some concrete castings. I think allowing things to evolve and not always being rigid with an idea can work out for the best and this was the case for my concrete pieces. While I initially had a very formal idea for them (a couple stacked together on a steel plate base and atop a pedestal) as I made more, my plans shifted and I preferred the idea of a more installation-style approach. For a short while I toyed with the idea of trying to make one for every day of my residency, but eventually the reality of trying to transport nearly six thousand pounds of concrete back to Illinois sunk in and those plans were scrapped. If it’s not apparent to viewers, this work is about the President’s calls for a border wall. Less a commentary on his specific immigration policies, it’s more about the shift in our political approach to the world. In my childhood our leaders were calling for other nations to tear down walls and now we build our own. This work is about the United States losing its way and drifting to becoming a fully realized paranoid security state.

I’m just about finished with a triptych of works made out of roofing felt (aka tar paper). These pieces are inspired by the Cormac McCarthy novel “The Road”, which the ever insightful Christina picked up on immediately. The limitations of working in a shared environment and with a limited budget have created some interesting challenges with these particular pieces, namely adhering the layers together. In the past at home on the smaller originals of this idea, spray adhesive worked great. When dealing with sections of paper that are eighteen square feet, not so much. Also considering the fumes, overspray, and cost factors; I’ve had to make adjustments. However, not having a dedicated spray booth area has caused me to experiment with some new finishing techniques on other parts of the work and I’ve fallen in love with an oxidizing paint that turns almost anything into rusted steel. Going back to the inspiration for these landscapes, we can add the President’s irresponsible use of Twitter in his escalating and provocative war of words with North Korea. I see these pieces as a view of our future, desolate blackened landscapes, devoid of humanity.

Sometimes a work’s evolution has to be a scaling back. With the concrete work I scaled up in terms of the number of pieces, currently sitting at seventeen. On another idea I’ve had to scale back. Over the early fall I had made this small collection of roughly carved dilapidated buildings, glued them into a mass, and plopped them onto some cutoffs of rebar I had lying about. When my six year old quipped that he, “liked my city” I felt like maybe I was on to something. Mana seemed like the perfect place to scale this work up with it’s cavernous spaces. The process has been quite laborious and the things have turned out just like I saw them, but the original plan of making three of these constructions has become more and more unlikely as time marches on. There’s only so many hours in the day and even with gloves, my hands can only take so much abuse. One is nearly complete and maybe with time remaining I’ll get a second slightly smaller one finished or close to it. This work is where I’ve continued the past themes I’ve made work about in Jersey City, urban decay and crumbling infrastructure. Driving, train riding, and walking through this urban center takes me past many buildings and roads that are in deplorable states or in the process of being destroyed. It’s terrifying to me that our government pours a ceaseless stream of funding into the military, always more more more, all while the things they are tasked with defending fall apart around us. Someday all the military will have to protect is piles of neglect.

The other work I’m making is more about symbols and in an obtuse way about faith and worship. Not so much in a religious sense, but in terms of nationalism (in a weird religious way). They are the newest ideas in these five pieces and I’m still thinking about them and how they fit, so I’m not really prepared to write much about them. Maybe next time.

Well, it’s back to the salt mines for me. Christina and I plan to take a day off soon and visit the museums in New York. Hopefully they have more to offer than what we’ve seen so far…

Dominic Sansone

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