“In positioning the work frontally to the viewer, I emphasize the idea of the art object as a kind of transmitter or receiver of information, the information itself being a source of energy that gets exchanged with the viewer. I’m interested in the capabilities of art as a kind of force, whose impact can be felt on so many different levels, be they emotional, or visceral, or spiritual. The nature of that force and figuring out what it is, is probably the thing that draws me to both make art and experience it in the world.”
Q&A Intro: With a career that spans over three decades, Michelle Segre is known largely for an improvisational form of sculpture. Her works, often created with such materials as yarn, paint, metal, and thread, represent a meeting of both accident and intent. As with most of the year’s pandemic interviews, delayed by technical difficulties over Zoom, Michelle Segre joins me on a video call to talk about her temporary Upstate relocation, using natural landscape as a backdrop for her sculptures and the lifesaving power of artists grants in our current climate.
CD: In thinking about the creative process as a ritual, the poet Derek Walcott described it as not unlike prayer. Do you feel like any of your rituals may have changed or destabilized because of this pandemic?
MS: I mean, the only thing that changed for me majorly is that the studio that I have here is connected to where we live. So I've actually had way more focused activity here during the pandemic than at any time than I've ever had. I think because there's not much to do where we are in the country. And I've just been able to go right to the studio every day and work. We’ve had very little socializing during this time so it's actually been like, in some ways, helpful to have that kind of extreme focus. In the city, I travel 40 minutes to get to my studio space and there's a lot of distractions. It’s slower. Like the times are slower. More time to zoom in on like what you're thinking about. It's been, in some ways, a helpful thing to go through. To know that I can be an artist who is secluded in that way. That I can actually gain enrichment from this experience.
CD: What are you thinking about creatively right now? What are you working on?
MS: I've been working on three large-scale pieces, like maybe the largest pieces I've ever made. I think that two of them are around twelve-feet tall, another around eleven-feet tall. I was able to see things outdoors as well as take some work outside. So it kind of made me think about that a little bit more; about what the possibilities could be for these pieces to exist outside of an interior, to interact with an environment.
CD: You speak about interior and exterior environments, and natural landscape as a backdrop for your work right now, as well as having lived in Rome and New York, and being born in Israel. Do you think that geography impacts what you make and how you make it?
MS: A little bit. I continued with a lot of the themes that I used in New York, combining props that come from nature and from the real world. I was using supermarket mushrooms as sit-in signifiers of something greater that exists in nature. But then here, because I'm actually in the woods, I started combining those mushrooms with ones I was finding in nature. And actually a lot of the materials are local anyway, that I bring back to the city. So some of the rocks and things have origins in this area, because I’ve been up here a few times.
CD: What does winning the Colene Brown art prize mean to you?
MS: Well it means a lot in terms of just feeling supported. Just an acknowledgement of support and to be included with all these other really interesting artists. It has already made me feel like I have a lot more freedom in terms of getting through this crisis, some financial peace of mind at least for a little while. To get a grant right now during this time, as an artist, is like a lifesaver.
Listen to the full interview:
Interviews have been edited for conciseness and clarity.
Interviews were conducted by Chenée Daley; a Jamaican-born, New York-based multi-genre writer, whose work encompasses poetry, prose, and song. Grounded in the tender narratives of personal histories where place and memory connect, her work has won the first place writing prize from the University of the West Indies, the Caribbean Small Axe writing prize, the Denis Diderot [A-I-R] fellowship from Chateau Orquevaux in Ardenne, France and was recently shortlisted for the Eddie Baugh poet laureate of Jamaica prize. Her work appears in The Wall Street Journal, The Jamaica Observer, Small Axe Journal, The Cordite Review, American Chordata, and BOMB magazine. She has an MFA in writing from Columbia University.