Lindsey Wolkowicz is a visual artist whose work primarily lies in drawing, but also utilizes sculpture, video and performance. Through the intersection and interruption of figures and abstracted spatial elements created by lines, color, geometry and planes, her work on paper examines the way the body occupies space. Her three dimensional work is set up in a way to physically connect with the viewer. Often starting from the personal and biographical, the artist constructs scenarios that are both evocative of specific places in time, as well as universal in their ability to elicit associations and empathetic or emotional responses from the viewer. Wolkowicz earned her MFA from Pratt Institute, NY. She has had solo exhibitions at Manette Fine Arts, Portland, OR; Bosque Gallery, Cypress, TX; and the Milwaukee Gay Arts Center, Milwaukee, WI. She has also exhibitied extensively in group shows, including Public Assembly, Brooklyn, NY; Johannes Vogt Gallery, NY; Dashboard Co-Op, Atlanta, GA; FADO Performance Art Center, Toronto; and Nes Residency, Skagastrond, Iceland. She lives in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. - Interview by Banyi Huang
BH: In your artist statement you say "My work examines the relationship between architecture and the body, whether constructed or felt." Can you give more background on how you came to discover the subject of body in architecture, as well as how that interest became the focus in your practice? LW: I had the experience as a child that seems pretty universal to all of the people I know in the world seriously making art as adults; I was always the artist in my family, always drawing. But I have been seriously committed to my practice for twenty years now, and in that time drawing the figure has been a consistent interest in the studio. Along side my pull toward rendering the human form is a lifelong fascination with architectural spaces and all that is contained within them. Part of this interest in built space is a direct result of growing up just outside of Detroit's city limits. Consistent exposure to such a grand city full of vast empty boulevards, houses that have been burned out from the center next to homes occupied by the same family for generations, buildings that are full of both memories and debris, graffiti and layers of time piled on top of each other is probably my most powerful visual influence. I indulged my curiosity and began to explore my own relationship with architecture through a lot of trespassing as a teenager. These buildings began to feel like people with all of their sadness, triumph, hopes, loss, potential, and with a past full of stories that can only be uncovered through the investment of time. There was fear in encountering these spaces, their instability, and the possibility that by getting close you could get hurt somehow. It was the unknown. A frontier. And yet so familiar. Around the time that I began trespassing I lost my mother in a car accident and found myself alone in her house dealing with my feelings. And herein lies the micro and the macro of this relationship to space for me. There was a kinship I felt with these abandoned structures, and in the process of grieving I felt less alone by exploring them. That opened me up to all of the ways that a space, especially one with a roof, holds time, memory, associations and is defined by the experiences we have inside of it. I found that an emotional or psychological "location" could be expressed by putting the body in a spatial relationship with a constructed space.
What do you think about when you conceive of space? Space in reality or intangible space, such as memory and imagination? Or both? I usually begin with references to actual experienced places, architecture, structures in order to ground the compositions by providing some kind of reference point for the viewer. There is usually a personal component for me that comes into play during the process of combining elements and deciding on a composition; memory perhaps, something I am struggling with internally or externally at the time, a conversation I recently had. From there the actual construction of a space, whether actual or two-dimensional, is the result of reacting to those initial moves and attempting to produce in them a sense of feeling or atmosphere. So it is part planning and part being open enough to change and reacting to what is actually happening on the surface or in the room.
You mentioned in an interview that bodies in architecture help you achieve emotional results without being tied to an image. In a way you are implying firstly that it is a way to deal with traumatic experiences and then secondly that you want to figure out a way to explore the scope of emotions outside of conventional expressions. Can you talk about that more in detail? Emotions are often assigned symbols or signs produced in the body. When I was younger I definitely went to these symbols or gestures as a way of expression, but they always fall short because they are both closed and generalized. Some experiences are traumatic sure... but some are joyful, some are confusing, some are just complex and multi-dimensional. But it all starts from a very personal place and I believe in "the more personal, the more universal." Some of the dynamics I am interested in addressing through my work are related to conflict or communication between two people, the examination of a location, raising a child, feeling insecure, stuck or comforted and content. It is often the intersection of those complexities, whether harmonious or conflict-inducing, that produce the most interesting conversations.
Do you intend for the viewer to experience various ways of occupying space, tension, and struggles visually? Yes, absolutely… or ease or comfort or that feeling of being in between… but more as an associative or an empathetic response, a connection, a memory. And it is not that I am trying to elicit a specific type of reaction. I am asserting my perspective and then they are approaching it with their own.
Women and the female body figure primarily in your drawings on paper. Any specific reason for that? Surely it is partly self-reflective. I occupy a female body and identify as female therefore my figure is female. I have done one major body of work using a male model but his body type served a conceptual purpose in that work. Otherwise, I have very little connection to the male body so I don't use it. However, my figures often ride a line of gender ambiguity through their musculature and the lack of emphasis on anatomical indicators of gender. I have used my own figure in the past and found that limiting, so I have been working with dancers for about seven years now. It has opened up my work enormously because of the amount of control they have over their bodies, as well as their rich and expansive vocabulary of movement and that fact that I am not in control of how they move or express physically. I simply offer a prompt or share what I am thinking about and they are reacting to me in their own language.
Can you tell us more about your working process? I construct in my head first, asking many questions before I move. Once I actually move in the studio I tend to execute my ideas quickly. The center of my work is drawing, in which I construct an architecturally-based space through line and flat areas of color. That space that is then either occupied by the figure or by the explicit absence of it. The body is both supported and interrupted by the structure, producing an interdependent relationship and expressing intangible conditions of being. These concepts naturally extend out onto sculpture, generated in part from architectural cast-offs, allowing the viewer to take on the role of figure. And in the last four years, I have begun working with my partner, artist and dancer Dillon Paul, who brings a very different perspective and approach to the figure in space. Our ongoing collaboration, "Movement + Stillness," has enabled me to move my work into the realms of video and performance installation, while also opening up my individual practice in the studio. Color plays a role in setting the tone of your work. How do you work with it and what is the significance of it? How do you configure architectural elements, both recognizable and unrecognizable, (such as ladders, stairs, windows…etc.)? What meaning do they hold for you, formally and thematically? Certainly, color has power – emotionally, psychologically, associatively. A lot of it is pulled from architecture, influenced by everything from commercial modern architecture to Victorian homes, early Americana to 1950's domestic house wares. These color associations with certain kinds of spaces help indicate intimacy or remove it, while allowing viewers to apply their own experiences to the situation presented. Similarly, the occasionally "recognizable" architectural elements in the work function as anchors or reference points so that the viewer can put their feet down in the work, so to speak.
There's a certain graphic quality to your drawings and paintings. How does that quality of drawing fit in with your navigation of multi-dimensional spaces? Partially, it is the way that I enjoy drawing in general. In relationship to conceptual ideas, the style of simplifying marks keeps the figures and structures from being representational in the sense of them intending to be realistic. They are meant to represent a sense of a moment, the feeling of a state of being, the experience of a place, etc. not the appearance of that location or the body within it.
Tell us more about your sculptures and installations. How is that different for you from the drawings? Since I have spent years developing drawing as a craft and concepts within a two-dimensional space, it is a realm that I feel confident and comfortable with but also a process that I have a consolidated sets of rules and expectations with. However with three-dimensional space, somehow my perceived limitations are freeing and I am more open to both mistakes and discovery with less self- judgement. Building objects and spaces also liberates me of the internalized pull toward incorporating the human form, because the viewer or myself is able to play the role of the figure in relation to structures. Besides, everyone approaches something that occupies space differently than they do a rectangle hanging on a wall. It is like being in a zoo versus being in the wild.
How do your collaborative projects/performances relate to your works on paper and sculpture? When did you start? Can you tell us more about your ongoing research and collaboration with partner Dillon Paul? When I first met Dillon around six years ago I was slowly introduced to the work she had done as a modern dancer, performance artist and video artist. She had done several performances that felt a lot like my work, visually exploding out into three dimensions. She loves being presented with a structure to react to. How much weight can I place here? How far will this go? Identifying boundaries, shifting weight, dancing WITH a space as much as dancing IN a space. I saw working together as an opportunity to give up more control. I would construct spaces that she could react to. In documenting those reactions I would then become a second figure in the space that she was in relationship with. Then we would become, in a way, two people standing next to each other having a completely different experience of the same space and then communicating about that experience. Dillon and I have very different personalities, coming from distinctly different worlds. Having been trained as a performer, she is very conscious of her audience's experience of a piece, thus she is accustomed to working collaboratively and turns her gaze outward when working, whereas as a painter I learned to pull everything inward and then figure stuff out alone in my own room. This sets up a great working relationship, because we do not step on each other's toes and we bring valuable input from opposite directions. When Dillon and I decide to work together, which is usually once a year, it opens up my own work in new ways while allowing me to realize other aspects of my concepts that are not resolvable in static objects or flat planes. The collaborative work provides visual, spatial or experiential opportunities that are unique to the meeting place between us.
How do you feel about being a working artist in Brooklyn? What do you like about it and not like about it? How does the environment foster a sense of community and creativity (or not)? I love Brooklyn. I have lived here now for almost eight years now and it is hard to imagine leaving at this moment in time because of jobs, opportunities, access, friends,… But the challenges with New York almost all revolve around space and money. While those challenges can be at times relentless, they can be also very empowering in a strange way. Being in a nexus, an intersection of cultures such as New York just makes you feel alive... in all its fabulous and challenging complexities. There are totally those days that I long for enormous, inexpensive studios of old days, a slower pace, a back yard… but then I take a breath and open my eyes, I know that I am where I should be for now. Everything changes so I might as well pay attention to where I am here and now.
Any favorite parts of the Brooklyn neighborhoods? I have lived in Bed-Stuy since I moved here—it is my favorite Brooklyn neighborhood. I also spent a lot of time in Red Hook. I feel pretty good about what is being done with Brooklyn Bridge Park – especially with having a kid here. Trespassing at Fort Tildon will always hold a special place in my heart. I love a good ham egg and cheese from a bodega, a pizza at Saraghina, and a cup of Stumptown coffee before heading to my studio in the Navy Yard. I will forever love brownstones, spotting Swoon wheat pastes half deteriorated on a painted brick wall. And the best part about brownstones in Brooklyn is during the golden hour when the sun begins to set and they glow pink at the top stories.
Interview compiled by Banyi Huang