Friday, January 23, 2009

Art Space Talk: Andrea Cote

Andrea Cote is a multi-disciplinary visual artist living in New York. She has exhibited her work both nationally and internationally at venues including The Philadelphia Museum of Art, Islip Art Museum, Rotunda Gallery, Delaware Art Museum, Abrons Arts Center, Jack the Pelican Gallery, The Rochester Contemporary, Maryland Art Place, Art Center South Florida, The Print Center, The Moore Gallery, and 911 Media Arts Center.

Her performances have been presented at The Philadelphia Fringe Festival, The Neuberger Museum, Chashama, Scope Art Fairs, The Dumbo Arts Festival, and Photo Buenos Aires . Her work has been reviewed in The New York Times, The Miami Herald, The New Times, Newsday,, and Wynwood Art Magazine.

Andrea received a video residency from the BCAT/ Rotunda Gallery and a Fellowship from the Center For Emerging Artists. She is represented by PanAmerican Art Projects in Miami, Florida.
Cathexis Series, Digital Print, 20" x 30"2007. By Andrea Cote

Brian Sherwin: Andrea, you studied at SUNY Purchase and at Florida International University. Can you discuss your academic years and the impact they have had on your development as an artist? What advice do you have for students who are interested in studying art at those schools?

Andrea Cote: Both FIU and Purchase are state schools with strong art departments and loose structures that can work well for a self-motivated student. All the resources are there, but you have to figure out how to make them work for you. I’ve always preferred a flexible structure that allowed me to pursue my varied interests and explore different disciplines.

At FIU I was very involved in their renowned creative writing department, and studied with John Dufresne, Jim Daniels and Campbell McGrath. Some of my best critics were poets. I discovered early that I was often trying to speak in the language of one medium through another, testing the limits of each - I recall trying to create a visual work that might read like a poem, or through writing conjure an image impossible to paint– a challenge that guides my current work.

FIU, being in Miami, also has students from all different backgrounds and stages of life. For my thesis show, I worked on my first collaboration with seven other women, from Peru, Mexico, Cuba, Columbia, France. It was there that I first discovered the challenges and surprises that arise from collaboration - that sense of working on something larger than any one of us.

At Purchase I worked with the music and dance conservatories, and was involved with different areas of the Visual Arts department- printmaking, video, sculpture. I developed many personal and lasting mentor/friendships that continue to this day with Warren Lehrer, Margot Lovejoy, Phil Listengart, Dede Young and many others. I really saw that community as family.
One of the advantages Purchase has is that is in a rural and secluded setting - great for focusing on your work, but it's just an hour from the city, with a great pool of visiting artists and professors. One very special class I had was "Field Trips" to the NYC galleries with Irving Sandler, who has the most infectious enthusiasm and reverence for art and artists. Whenever I looked at art with him the work seemed to open up in an ever-expansive and magical way.
Cut, Video Performance and Installation, 2007. By Andrea Cote

BS: You have experience as an instructor as well-- having taught at the Eugene Lang College, The New School, SUNY Purchase and University of Washington. Have you found it difficult to find balance between teaching and creating your personal work? Or would you say that one feeds of the other, so to speak?

AC: I find that together they create balance. When I'm in the studio it's very intimate and personal, I can get quite self-absorbed. That's just the kind of work I do. When I teach I lose myself and am there wholly for the students. In the classroom I try to create an atmosphere that encourages all of us to go beyond ourselves, our preferences and preconceptions, to take risks, engage in dialogue - this is important to be reminded of. There is a personal space and then the social space - and I am very much a creature of both.

BS: Andrea, you have stated that your work questions the boundaries that traditionally divided artistic disciplines. You achieve this by taking on multiple roles using your own body as subject, object, and medium. Can you discuss the thoughts behind your art and why you feel it is important for art to have crossroads, so to speak?

AC: I think discipline is important. I want to learn the language of each discipline, pare it down to its essentials - whether you are working within printmaking, sculpture, photography, or for that matter dance, there is a language unique to that medium. I take each and explore what it's like to inhabit the process, its tools, its methods, its history. I look for the central metaphors embedded in the medium and where they overlap with the body’s experience.

For example, with printmaking I think about “trace”, replication, the indexical mark, and loss of the original (the plate, the body, the moment past.) I use this critical language as a guide to form the work and also stretch it to see where it's boundaries lie, where might it cross over and become something else. What does printmaking share with photography, with sculpture? In the end I'm often operating in the space between mediums- it's not quite this and not quite that, or both this and that. At the same time I am crossing these structured languages with the direct and sensory experience of the body, which slips around and evades language.

You could take Hairbody, a performance I created that I wanted to read like a painting. There's a flattening of the figure-ground relationship, a very frontal point of view, a square "frame" the piece takes place within. The movement is continuous but excruciatingly slow. I wanted the viewer to have the experience of stillness and mesmerizing contemplation I associate with sitting before a painting- the way one can go deeper and deeper and enter into an image, but it requires time.

So there is this formal investigation that creates a framework inside of which I play. Once I had the structure for that piece, I practiced before a video camera to find the body’s movement and imagery. I freed my body to discover the gestures very intuitively, through improvisation. I have to surprise myself. In the end I can speak about a work like Hairbody through all these different lenses, but at its core there is a real mystery to the piece that still stuns and astounds me for its sense of true feeling beyond words.

Hairbody Performance, Video Stills, 2004. By Andrea Cote

BS: You have also stated that your paintings both honor and defy the physicality of the canvas or surface that you work upon. Can you go into further detail about this? Also, would you say that you have created a personal philosophy as far as art is concerned?

AC: It is only over the past year that I feel I have begun to explore what painting is. I kind of stumbled into it while intending to create one of my hair drawing installations. At the last minute I couldn’t paint on the walls so I brought sheets of MDF to the gallery and created the work on site over 5 days. In the end I realized it was a triptych painting- in that I had to respond to this format.

What is it that makes a painting a painting? It might be illusionary space versus real three dimensional space, it might be something about the picture plane, the window of the canvas, the wall versus the floor, a painted line versus one drawn in space with hair. The lines spill off the canvas and run onto the floor, it has a scale and "theatricality" like installation or performance, but it's still the canvas format I am responding to.

Over the last year I have been compelled to explore painting further, and am currently in the middle of several paintings. I have been thinking a lot lately about the process of painting - that it requires a different kind of studio practice and commitment. I don’t know if I can articulate this yet because it seems so new to me, but painting asks for a deeper sense of space and materiality than drawing – I feel that I can’t get away with certain things that I could when drawing on paper or walls. It confronts the body in a different way. And it really demands a regular studio practice- I can’t jump in and out of multiple projects the way I have in the past. This will all probably sound very naive to long-time painters out there, but I’m really in awe of the process.

As far as a personal philosophy, I aim to create something that is impossible. I know I will fail many times in the struggle to create it- and I have to, if that project is worthwhile. I have to make work that is vital, and I have to be surprised.

Refrain, Mixed Paints and Hair on Board, 72"x 132", 2007

BS: I understand that you have also worked as an artists’ model. How did that experience impact the direction of your personal art? Can you explain the connection if there is one?

AC: I worked as an artists model full time for a number of years after undergraduate school, and it completely affected the way I approached my work. My subject matter had always been the body, very sculptural, inspired by artists such as Kiki Smith and Leslie Dill. Through working as a model, I discovered the need to inhabit the work more directly - it became more performative, and my vision became clearer.

The artist's model resides in an interesting space. You are fully exposed – literally naked – and at the same time sort of invisible. You are the object in the room everyone is focused on, and yet also ignored. The artist’s model represents "The Figure," or "The Human Body," and yet when you look at the drawings, something of the specificity of the individual escapes through.

In my work you often see this struggle- both to assert one's identity and remain anonymous. My body is at once seen and hidden, a kind of camouflage that dresses the body with itself. There is something about disappearing inside oneself that recurs in my work- it's not something I focus on, and yet it always seems to emerge.

In addition, many of my performances occupy a kind of movement within stillness, explore different aspects of "the pose,” experiment with the myriad ways a body can be represented, and express the desire of the artist/model to fully merge with the artwork itself. The model is the bodily link between the studio, the process, and the work of art. Once the model asserts her place as creator, it completes that circle.

I also enjoyed this role of being a collaborator and a muse- a kind of inspiration for further creativity, which requires you to be fully present and giving of your energy. You learn how to create a presence, which is necessary for both a body and an artwork.

Cornerspace, Digital Print, 14"x 10.5", 2003. By Andrea Cote

BS: You have done several collaborations as well. Can you discuss one of those projects? Also, how does your mindset change when you are working on a collaboration compared to when you are working alone? Is there a change?

AC: Every collaboration is different and creates its own rules and challenges. There have been projects, like the BodySite piece, where the main vision was mine and I brought on a costume designer, Mary McKenzie, and a choreographer, Ann Robideaux, and encouraged their input. I collaborated with a Slovenian artist who uses hair, Elena Fajt, and that was more of a partnership. So was my work with Joelle Jensen as co-curators of the show “Posing,”– we had such a great rapport that one could write half a sentence and send it to the other to finish. Then there was the Gesture Jam,– a mash up of musicians, models, artists- it was really like a Jazz improvisation with everyone responding moment to moment to each other’s actions all in the name of a drawing session- pure process.

I probably learned the most about collaboration from my year-long experience with Robert Treat back in 1996-97. Robert and I used to travel all over Seattle presenting modeling as performance art. Between Robert’s years of experience as the best model in town, and my experience as a teacher and visual artist, we had a built-in trusted audience. And those audiences were always making art, so the worst that could happen is that they’d come out with some strange drawings.
We’d throw out ideas daily- practice shapes at home, try them out in class. Robert would discover an interesting piece of music or poetry and he would set a score for our poses, or he’d create interesting juxtapositions with the body like giant sculptural urns or bizarre rubber masks. I had a more conceptual approach – I’d introduce mirrors, clay, draw while posing -I liked to switch roles between model, teacher, student and artist (all these elements later became integral to my solo work, but emerged here.) We each indulged the other’s impulses and meanderings. We’d improvise and build on the ideas, which over time developed into “pieces.” We had a strong trust, and respected each other as artists.

I think the important thing in collaboration is to let go of your ego - you really have to give all of yourself, and it has to be equal. I have worked on unsuccessful collaborations where members did not communicate and bring enough to the table with each other. Some ideas are really worked out better solo.

In the work I do alone, of course, it’s quite different, though I feel I have many voices within myself. I often think of myself as a collaborator, especially in video or photography work, where I let the "other Andreas" out to play. You can see this explored in some of my pieces like “Dialogue,” that is about these multiple personas interacting.

BodySite, Mobile Performance, 2006- Present

BS: Andrea, your performances have been presented at the Dumbo Arts Festival, Scope Art Fair, the Philadelphia Fringe Festival and several other venues. Can you discuss your performances and the feeling you have when viewers are observing you?

AC: I try to be in the moment, aware of both how my body feels from inside and how it looks from outside, what each gesture conveys. I might recall my intention, stay with a score that's been set, or veer off on an impulse. I focus on my breath, try to move on the inhale, exhale. It can be thrilling, fearful, exhausting. I can suddenly feel very self-conscious and absurd, but have no choice but to keep going. It's a risk- but when the 
magic happens, you feel it, and the audience responds. With performance the work only exists in that moment, you create it and share it together with the audience, they complete the work.

Modeling at the Gesture Jam, Pratt Fine Arts Center, Seattle, 1997
Gesture Jam with Robert Treat at Pratt Fine Arts Center, 1997

BS: Your art has been exhibited at Jack the Pelican Gallery, Delaware Art Museum, and at several other spaces. Where can our readers observe your work in person at this time? Will you be involved with any upcoming exhibits?

AC: I have a two person show with my friend Etsuko Ichikawa coming up in March in LA at Tarryn Teresa Gallery. I will begin a printmaking residency at Robert Blackburn Studio in NYC in February and that will be followed by an exhibition. I am curating a show in July at Art Sites, a fantastic gallery in Riverhead, NY- it’s worth the trip! That's all I have on the calendar for now, but things are always coming up. If you want to be kept posted, please join the mailing list on my website.

BS: Andrea, I would like your opinion about gender issues in the art world. I have had discussions with several artists about the issue of women having a harder time finding exhibit opportunities compared to men. For example, Dianne Bowen and Nancy Baker both agree that women don‘t seem to have the same influence as men in the art world. Sylvia Sleigh mentioned that while the situation is better for women in the arts there are still issues that need to be dealt with. What is your opinion on gender issues in the art world? Have you experienced anything negative due to your gender?

AC: That is difficult for me to say, for I don’t know if I’ve been discriminated against in any way for my gender (to my knowledge not openly.) When I look at the artists I know, the men and women seem to be showing fairly equally. Now it may be that there is a disparity between my personal experience and the one that is “out there.”

I myself have been incredibly influenced by female artists, to a greater percentage than male ones. Louise Bourgeois, Eva Hesse, Joan Snyder, Ana Mendieta, Ghada Amer, Yoko Ono… these artists I find brilliant, moving. Curators such as Catherine Zegher, Olga Viso, Dede Young... the writers Peggy Phelan, Amelia Jones, Rebecca Schneider. They are part of my world. Whether other parts of the art world wish to focus more on what Damien Hirst has done lately… well, that’s a choice. We need to promote those whom we think are creating really important work, contributing to the dialogue around it. Look for those who want to have a dialogue with you. Last year when the MOMA hosted a Feminist symposium I believe it was the most attended in their history.

BS: What about gender as a way to define an artist? For example people will say "female artist" or "woman artist"... should they just say "artist" in your opinion? After all, when one describes art that has been created by someone who happens to be male they never-- or rarely-- say "is a male artist" or "is a man artist" when describing the artist in question. What are your thoughts on that?

AC: I suppose it depends on what the context is. Sometimes gender is relevant and informs the work or the context of a show, sometimes not. I was in a group show last year that included seven artists who all happened to be female. It was not a focus of the show, it wasn’t mentioned in the curatorial text. However it was an interesting note, especially since many of us were versed in feminist theory. We discussed it a bit at the panel, but it was more of an ancillary coincidence.

This is all not to say that there are not strides still to be made in the awareness and agendas of Feminism, but I do believe it’s happening organically- the younger generation is very much aware of it and we all need to continue to acknowledge and discuss these matters (a topic for a more complex and nuanced discussion.)

I have thought for some time of a curatorial project exploring the legacies of feminism that I see in the work of a younger generation of artists, and it includes both men and women. In some pieces gender is an issue, in others the lineage emerges along the less acknowledged lines of community activism, performance, and social and ecological issues.
Dialogue, Video Stills from Installation, 2003

BS: What other concerns do you have about the art world at this time?

AC: One of my main concerns now is how to be both an artist and a mother. I have a seven-month-old. In school I didn’t have many role models for this among my female professors, but I am heartened to see that the role of active artist mothers is growing and I hope becoming more accepted all the time. I know so many artists right now that are mothers or becoming mothers, and also a number of gallerists, curators, critics.
I think it presents challenges certainly, but I am in complete admiration of the artist mothers I know. And I think it is important to respect that some are able to get back in the studio right after birth while some take some time off but return later. I hope that residencies, grants and exhibition opportunities start to take family and child care into consideration. I am optimistic- I think it is inevitable and will have an impact on the art world.

BS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your art or the thoughts behind your work?

AC: I have been thinking a lot lately about risk and doubt. I’ve been reading a biography of Willem de Kooning. He lived in perpetual doubt, but there was a conviction in his doubt and you can read it in the work- it is alive with decisive uncertainty. With each painting, every day, he was willing to risk what he had already achieved in order to go further.
When he had achieved success with a work, he never chose to repeat it. He always moved toward the unknown. That is reassuringly unassurring to me. I have learned to embrace my contradictions, frustrations and fears as a fertile space in which to play. Maybe that’s part of my “philosophy.”
You can learn more about Andrea Cote by visiting her website-- Andrea Cote is currently a member of the community-- You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page--
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor
New York Art Exchange

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Andrea,
Looking at his works and I wonder how long you take to cirar an idea perfectly correct and also investigate the possibilities more amazing that his thoughts can carry you on so many doubts and so in a consistent way, and to feel the perfection of each installation to which you devoted every minute observation of type light, shadow and neutral spaces, where it allows you to enter human bodies and give grace to their real work,
congratulations dear you are really amazing.
Cordeiro .