Interview with Cheryl Mukherji

I know that the last two terms have been very stressful for you. All your equipment and hard drives with your works have been stolen right at the start of the second year. Can you talk about how has it been having to develop new work?

I don’t think I had the luxury of time to mourn the loss of my older work. As surreal as it sounds, it happened one day and the next day I was already thinking about what was I going to do for my thesis. I work under stress really well so that worked in my favor. In a way, losing photographs made me break out of my fixation of understanding things only in terms of photographs. Last fall, after the robbery, I enrolled myself in a pottery class, I learned how to screenprint, I taught myself how to embroider. I opened myself to a lot of materials that I did not reach out to instinctively because I was always tied to the image. I am still attached to my older work, I still miss looking through my hard drives and editing a series on a whim that I had shot 3 years ago but it doesn’t beat the excitement of having new materials to work with. I am still fixated on the image but photographs have become the raw material for something larger. 

How did you decide to start working with archival materials?

After the robbery, the only thing that was left with me that were the family albums I had brought with me to New York when I first moved here. I was always interested in working with the album but I could not find a starting point until when I wasn’t left with a choice.


You also make your work in different mediums, can you tell us about the process?

Every medium has a different process. None of them are mediums I have used before in my visual work: embroidery, sculpture, ceramic, screenprints, text, so process, for the most part, is learning how to sit and work with the materials and incorporate them in my visual work. Screenprinting, for example, requires an elaborate set up if you’re doing it on a large scale professionally, but my station is very bare-bones and every print is far from perfect and picking it up after a gap for some weeks feels like teaching myself how to screenprint all over again. Pottery is a completely different ball game. I call it humiliating–you walk into a studio and struggle for weeks to center the pound of clay on a wheel, but you go back in there again and fight with it all over again. It is ultimately very rewarding. Sewing was never considered domestic labor in my family, it was aspirational. In a family of surgeons where someone was always sewing something back up, it was a skill that one learned in order to fix something. I picked up sewing and incorporated it into my work because a lot of my work was about healing, fixing, and staying connected to my family. 


How do you define your practice? Is your approach more intuitive or analytical?

It is difficult to articulate what my practice is. My approach has been firstly intuitive and then, always analytical. I am a compulsive note-maker. I analyze too much sometimes. I think about something as small as what the gesture of drawing a line across a paper means. I’m not saying analysis has always helped me because sometimes I do things for the pure joy of it. But I also understand that all gesture in art, whether thoughtful or joyful, is political and no matter how instinctively I follow a chain of thought, I am ultimately responsible for it when I am putting it out in the world. 


You often turn the camera on yourself. Could you speak about this? What does it mean to you to be your own subject?

I started as a photojournalist, even during my personal travels I would photograph other people because I was always in familiar environments and always had control over the narrative as a photographer. Turning the camera on myself happened much naturally after I moved to New York. I started thinking a lot about representation and control and how New York was an antithesis of everything I had control over. As an immigrant and a person of color, I did not–and still do not–think that I have the cultural authority to point my camera at someone else. Being new to a country made me feel so alienated from everything that the easiest thing to photograph without a confrontation and being true to it, was myself. It probably means that I am responsible ultimately for my own representation and people who are like me. With respect to my current project, which involves turning the camera to my mother, I made self-portraits alongside to bring myself into work and understand my role as a virtual caregiver and a surveillant and someone who is navigating a relationship through distance. 

Your mother also became your subject, and you worked with archival (family) photographs of her. Did it change anything in the way you see her as well as your relationship to family photography?

My mother and I have become very close ever since I moved to New York. We have almost transcended our customary mother-daughter roles. Bringing her into my work did not change my relationship as much as it changed the work I was doing. As an artist, I looked at her very objectively sometimes, sieving out details of our relationship that did not serve the story but I was connected with her enough to know how much it meant to me to be able to articulate my relationship with her. I learned so many different ways of looking at the same photographs of my mother from the family albums. I looked at them grammatically, structurally, aesthetically, in terms of the color palette, in terms of what resembled more amateur photography and what followed the precise rules of a professional photograph. I looked at the photographs in terms of their function, whether it was a matrimonial photograph or just an outing with friends; one where the photographer was the family member or an unknown person. All these subcategories helped me move through the albums in more than just a linear way and ultimately lent themselves to how I articulate it in my work. 


What are your next steps after graduating?  

I want to work in publishing, specifically in the editorial department. Ideally, I would like to have a balance between personal art practice and writing about photography. 

Interview with Danny Peralta

Link: http://www.dannyrperaltaphotography.com/

After the experience in documentary photography and MFA program. How is photography as a medium for you now? Is it different to treat photographs as materials than others? 

Photography no longer my main medium. I still shoot things here and there as I see them. But I don’t think I’ll shoot a doc project anytime soon. At least not one that is linear or solely relies on a flat image to tell the story. Manipulated works seem to offer better information nowadays. At least for me, maybe I will change my mind in a couple of years again, but it’s how I feel.

It is still different to treat my images as materials as I still have rules in mind about what my previous work needs to look like in a finished manner. I think the more I create images that I don’t mind cutting up, or that are intended to be less precious, that bad habit will break. But I usually make work with the materials in mind and have yet to begin to go back into my archives to deconstruct images for reinterpretation. My efforts moving forward will reflect that looseness I hope. I will continue to use the camera in this way now. Although I have been taking pictures regularly, I have not seen or edited anything in almost 6 months. But when I do, I feel as though they will be less about the single image, and perhaps more montage, collage or even as a reference for something else TBA.   

How do you feel if the audience focuses more on the resources instead of your approach?

At this point, I don’t mind the focus being on the resource instead of the approach, or even the apparent message or meaning I am trying to make because quite honestly, I am not able to make meaning with them just yet. For example, the best abstract paintings still point to something – internal, external, they serve as monuments, etc., but I am not that keen yet, and I have not been able to get to that point just yet. The meanings of these things are still developing because I am still in awe of the paint itself. Every piece I pick up from my piles of paint is a revelation to me. I am still very curious about the visible colors and how I might be holding a small part of a masterpiece by an artist of esteem. Just this past week alone two important graffiti writers passed away – LAVA 1 &  2 and NIC707. Both of those writers painted on the very train that my surface material comes from, and I think a small part of their work might be sandwiched between all those layers of paint. I take pride in the potential of holding and reworking important relics related to the history of graffiti in NYC. Aside from jazz, modern graffiti is the only other truly American art form in my opinion. I might be more archeologist than an artist in this instance. And I am okay with that. Until the work matures and goes beyond experimentation and offers a voice from the core, I am okay with it just being a bunch of random paint chips glued onto the surface of wood panels that take me days to make. 

Considering your background is in education and community building, how do you balance individuality with the service for the community?

I balance by looking at my work as part of the larger solution. Even though I’m an artist I exist within a larger ecosystem. This why other materials are important at this time. I can probably say more now without the camera. If I’m good, then others around me are also good. Not an easy balance but it’s one that I am conscious of for sure. 

Your works have been addressing political issues by various media. Now you are experimenting with clay, do you want to talk about it?

I see politics in everything. There are a lot of examples of politics in art. From access to materials to workshop spaces and exposure to certain mediums. I think about the politics in clay. The clay is part of the earth and sustainable. I have found there are few kilns in NYC that are owned or operated by people of color. It’s an expensive hobby that many people can afford. It also has a history in slavery and world culture. Look up someone like David the Slave who was an important potter who was born into slavery and was literate. There are politics in the cultural appropriation of techniques as well. Much of the videos I see online feature outsiders talking about traditional techniques from Asia or Africa. 

I find there might be a lane for me in there too. Similar to how I was able to find a voice with journalism that I might have some opportunities in this area as well.

Many of your works have the element of absurdity. For example, you taught birds on the street with a deep prez song, Wolves, featuring a speech by Omali Yeshitela, you made a container that needs three people to hold together. How you will go on with it? Do you have any plans after graduation?

The absurdity is necessary for me. It leads to more questions because it makes no sense. I have another song that I want to use similarly. But this time it’s intended for stray cats. I’m noticing a proliferation of cats in the street now that fewer people are outside. Let’s train them to make better choices starting now. So when they take over after our extinction they don’t copy the bad habits that got us humans killed off. I have more hope in them than my neighbors at times! 

I’m not sure about the plan after graduation. Besides going back to work and creating more art, I have no real idea of what I will do. My wife has been trying to get us to leave NYC for years now and was basically waiting for me to finish school. I’m not 100% sure what will happen. I’d like to give my children a healthier place to live. The rest will settle itself. 

Interview with Hana Zhang

ICP-Bard is pleased to announce the Thesis Show of Hana ( Yejiao) Zhang on March 19th, 2020.
Born and raised in Liaoning province, China, Hana Zhang came to America for her MFA study
for photography in 2018. Before she came here her interest was mainly photography. It was in
the open environment of New York City that Zhang started to explore with various media
including sculpture, video, installation, fiction and documentary film. Exposed in an extremely
different culture, Zhang realized how her experience of traditional education and the conventional social norms in China had shaped her. In her work, Zhang explores how social
environment, opinions of the “others” and the pursuit of ultimate perfection could shape each
individual’s life in a dramatic way.

  • Tell us about the title  “Tiny Little Visions”. What are the visions? And why tiny?

I’m thinking about the limitations of each individual, how you feel, how you see things. The experience is always limited. I chose this title because the main project that I’m showing is fiction that consists of little characters. I always think that they want to change their appearance because they can’t figure out something. I’m really intrigued by the limitations that I have, because how I see the world is always based on my personal experience.

  • What made you decide to be an artist? And how did you start your art practice?

I started as a photographer when i was in college, my major was english language and literature. In my third year in college I read a book called “what I talk about when I talk about running”, i suddenly realized i don’t need to be an english teacher. So i asked my parents if i can study abroad, they refused. I was really rebellious at that time, so I borrowed some money. And stopped going to school and I started a coffee shop, at the same time I started taking photos for friends, and freelancing. After i graduated i worked as a wedding photographer for several years while working in the cafe.wedding photography was not what i really wanted. I applied for ICP MFA. i started doing some projects in 2017 to prepare for my portfolio to apply. At the end of 2016, I quit my job and I went to the public library in Shanghai everyday and I studied art history and photography history. It was just reading and doing projects for the whole year of 2016.

  • How has your practice evolved since then? What are some significant factors that influence your work? Has the process of making art also changed your everyday life?

When I first started to make work, I thought art was a way of expressing myself. My first project is called a room of her own, where there are mostly self portraits of me dressed up as different female characters. Photography is not a powerful enough way, so I lost interest in photography. Because of my background in English literature, my mind still functions in narrative and language. It is not how photography works, there are a lot of symbols. So I started working on films and video, then I realized there is a lot of narrative and texts involved, so I shifted into video structure, fictions.

Significant factor:

The most significant factor is my daughter. Being a mother adds more layers to my life, sometimes i feel a lot of responsibilities, and im doubting myself very often. If I make a mistake, i can’t go back. The relationship with my daughter is irreversible.

Another factor is being a female. I used to really care about how people look at me and how my appearance represents me. I try to think about why i care so much about these things, why i don’t want others to think i am a typical asian/chinese girl. 

I’m making a documentary of my last semester at ICP. i was thinking about making this film because i was really frustrated with the third semester, and i was trying to anticipate how the experience would affect me being an artist, my later career in life, so i started filming my classmates when they prepare their shows, and interview them. And then a week before my show, it got postponed. Now i realized i can’t change anything besides constantly checking the news. I just installed my doll house before getting the email. I try to not make myself feel so bad, so i decided to use the camera to document the setbacks.

  • How was the making of “Calling the Flowers”? What was the most difficult thing during the process? Was there anything unexpected?

It was a very sudden decision. I had 2 video classes in my first semester, so i decided to do something video during the winter break. I used a 5d mark ii and a microphone, and I went back to my hometown to live with my aunt for 10 days. It’s a story of my rebellious aunt, she ran away when I was in primary school. One day her son was waiting outside my grandma’s apartment, and later he started staying everyday because my aunt disappeared. I didn’t know how to ask her, so i decided to make a movie to find out the truth. The process was not so awkward as my aunt really wanted someone to talk to. The most difficult thing is to find out something you didn’t want to know. When i was looking for something, my aunt started to talk about something else about my mom, and things when i was a kid. I remember there was one time I was filming, but she started talking about something I couldn’t take. During the stay, i couldn’t sleep.

“Coming out Party,” an Interview with Alex Remnick

Alex Remnick’s thesis show, Coming out Party, opens March 12. Alex uses a variety of media to explore issues of identity, body, and emergence. Just months ago, the artist came out publicly as queer; his recent work explores and abstracts the emotional process of questioning the way we define ourselves. These revelations also offer new context to earlier work on display, as the artist emerges from a series of hiding places and obfuscations. 

We chatted about the work before he installed the show this week. 

JY: Alex, when did you start your artistic practice and relationship with image making? 

AR: I was born in 1990 in New York city. I’ve grown up here most of my life. I went to college in Philadelphia, where I studied art with a concentration in photography. I’ve been taking classes at ICP since I was about 15. In college, I was juggling art and photojournalism; I worked at the college newspaper as a photo editor. When I graduated, I shot for a newspaper for about four years. Eventually I burned out, and moved into digital media; I didn’t pick up a camera for almost a year. Out of nowhere, I started shooting again. I was taking myself on these little road trips and revisiting projects and ideas that I had started at the newspaper.

JY: How has the program at ICP-Bard informed your idea about art making? How has your work evolved? 

AR:  The biggest thing that ICP did for me was reopen that door of permission. For years, I didn’t really know who I was making work for. Part of the reason I got interested in performance was because I had a professor that I admired whose practice was based in performance and who was enthusiastic about getting his students to enter that world. A lot of my early performance work I think I made to impress him.

When I came here, the lid just popped off. Performance offered me the opportunity to trust my instincts and be impulsive with what I was making. Now, the downside is that I have to go back later and find the cohesive narratives in what I’m doing. An idea comes to me that I find interesting or sort of intriguing, and because I’m in art school that is deeply permissive (in a good way), I’ll just go for it. But then I have to explain it later and I don’t always know. That process of interpretation can feel really arbitrary. Making my board book last year was all about looking back at six to nine months of disparate, impulsive works which were not intentionally connected, and trying to find a throughline. One of my classmates, Hana, mentioned that she kept noticing that I was trying to disappear or to hide. 

I’ve been using the term obfuscation; it manifests differently in different work. There’s a photograph that I took last year of me wearing one of those clay face masks. Outside of the context of everything else I did, it’s just me doing some self-care, but in the context, it becomes something else, an obfuscation, a way to hide.  

This year has all been about the opposite: emergence. Both in my work, my personal life, and public life, as a queer person. In terms of my willingness to show “myself” in the work. I’m still interested in that tension though, between wanting desperately to be seen, and never really fully revealing yourself. Is the act of wearing makeup a revelation or is it another form of hiding? There’s an image in the show where I’ve taken a coat hanger and pressed against my face. In a way it’s me putting something in between my face and the lens. But it also reveals something far more genuine than I could show if it was just me staring at the camera. 

JY: I’ve noticed that you made a lot of collage recently. How did you come to making collages? How did it come to take such an important role in your show? AR: Actually there were a couple of situations where I found myself collaging. One of the graduates from last year, Gen Fournier, hosted a zine making workshop during her solo show. I found that process really exciting. Then, a couple of months ago, Justine Kurland did a similar exercise in one of her classes, where she brought in a bunch of her old photo books, and invited us to cut them up.

In my first advisory meetings with Justine she said “you should figure out what you wanna do with yourself for the next month.” So the past few weeks I’ve just been diving into this new way of making work. I’m starting to find a consistent visual language.

I’m always trying to find a balance between working impulsively and pushing myself out of my comfort zone. Maybe I like collage is because it offers a new way to try to achieve that balance. You can work really instinctively, each piece of paper could just as easily go somewhere else. You’re trusting your lizard brain to put pieces where they should go. At the same time, finishing a collage is a really gradual process, so you also have to plan a bit for the end result.

JY: Right, collage is something you can do really instinctively and yet it still needs preparation. I am curious about the preparation part, where does the source material come from? Have you been collecting them? 

AR: They’re mostly from magazines and catalogs. It’s not a personal archive really. My sister likes to read magazines and tear at pages so I’ve been taking some from her and just sort of grabbing what’s around. One of my next challenges will be to figure out ways to make the source material matter as much as the images they create. The wall piece is starting to do that, because it’s so explicitly about bodies, but it’s also a reflection on what types of skin we see in media. 

JY: You’re also a musician. How has that factored into this show?

AR: Elements of sound design have started to creep into the work. Last year I made a couple pieces that involved electronic instruments that responded to touch. I have a piece in the upcoming show that’s partially a sound installation.

I’m also hosting a “music day” the Saturday of my show. I’m bringing in my studio monitors, a microphone, and my crappy MIDI keyboard, and I’m just going to work on music all day. Whoever comes through Saturday is invited to collaborate; we can record stuff, track stuff, etc. I thought it would be fun to show this other side of myself, and to try to break down this arbitrary barrier I’ve built between Alex the artist and Alex the musician.

JY: What are your next steps after school? 

AR: That’s a mean question.

The Vocabulary I Learned Today

mascot (n)

a person or thing that is supposed to bring good luck or that is used to symbolize a particular event or organization.

amulet (n)

an ornament or small piece of jewelry thought to give protection against evil, danger, or disease.

oxymoron (n)

a figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms appear in conjunction (e.g. faith unfaithful kept him falsely true ).

empirical (adj)

based on, concerned with, or verifiable by observation or experience rather than theory or pure logic.

The spectator has no empirical knowledge of the contents of the off-frame, but at the same time cannot help imagining some off-frame, hallucinating it, dreaming the shape of this emptiness. 

convergent (adj)

coming closer together, especially in characteristics or ideas

Using these strikingly convergent analyses which I have freely summed up, I would say that the off-frame effect in photography results from a singular and definitive cutting off which figures castration and is figured by the “clicknof the shutter 

cleavage (n)

a sharp division; a split.
Freud considered fetishism the prototype of the cleavage of belief 

patriarchal (adj)

relating to or characteristic of a patriarch.

relating to or characteristic of a system of society or government controlled by men.

Psychoanalysis, as Raymond Bellour has often underscored, is contempo- rary in our Western history with the technological arts (such as cinema) and with the reign of the patriarchal, nuclear, bourgeois family 

Mutilate (v)

inflict a violent and disfiguring injury on.

Mutilated face of victim was left unretouched by the mortician at the mother’s request. She said she wanted ‘all the world’ to witness the atrocity.”

“Ewai”, An interview with Ewai Hunt

Steve: Hi ewai, tell me about the process in which you have arrived, if I may use the word “arrive”, to your exhibition “Ewai”

ewai: Originally, I was shooting fairly unoriginal deadpan black and white film. That was what I applied to the ICP one-year certificate with. But that course was effective in breaking down my practice, and by the end of it I was doing everything but go outside and point my camera at things. Performance became something I was very interested in. And that trend continued into the first year of the MFA. I was using my past in endurance racing as a way to try and access something of the moment of artistic creation. I tried various things out, and some of it seemed to be going somewhere interesting. Key for me is the ascetic process. It doesn’t have to hurt, but it requires effort and dedication as well as discipline. When I started down that road with performance it was in the repetition, or rules that I could then find a freedom for something else to happen. I could start to work things out. I’ve read a lot of shamanic texts and Buddhist writing, as well as some Zen. In my 20’s I was experimenting with a lot of these ideas. But then life took over and I just worked for 20 years. But I think perhaps that was useful as a gestation period. The other thing I was trying to do with my work in the one-year was starting to work with formalism. It wasn’t super-generative at the time, but it’s informed a lot of the feel of my work since then.

So then when I started to think about the solo show and thesis at the end of the first year and I had this urge to work with sticks. I couldn’t explain it at the time, but it was there, and I started to think about how that may look. Then on a whim I picked them up I Prospect Park over the summer. Then I just introduced them into the assignments throughout the 3rd term. I wasn’t particularly interested in what happened in those outcomes, but I was zeroing in on something. And by Christmas I just had a plan to go into the studio for a month and see where they took me. More interesting things were happening. I was trying to control as much as possible and then do little mini “performances” with them on the rig I had setup. I had gone back to medium format and each roll of 12 was in essence a performance, then I would reset. I did all kinds of things. Shaving the sticks, painting them, arranging them. I was doing what I had been doing in the earlier performances but this time I was repeating the whole process and so now I could actually keep moving forward where before it was kind of “one-and-done”. Then I hit the darkroom and essentially did the same thing. I was looking for an outcome that was on the verge of appearing and disappearing. Something very empty but with emotional content. When I really started thinking about it, I realised this urge to work with the sticks was linked to an early childhood memory, it took a while for me to even admit that to myself. Then I just kept working like this until the Untitled Series M063 happened – the M063 is the roll number. I knew when I had the last few images in the stop bath that I had got what I had been looking for. It took a lot of attention and repetition to get there but I’m very happy with the end result. It has all the elements I’ve been trying to bring together for 2 years.

Steve: Are there any artists that you have particularly looked at in order to arrive at this process?

ewai: Agnes Martin and Anne Truitt have been huge for me. They taught me how to bring the right level of attention to things. That was what allowed me to keep working with the sticks and listen to what they were trying to tell me. That also allowed me to start to spot any inauthenticity in my work or writing. Also, Allan Kaprow for the performance aspect. Rudolf Anrheim is worth a mention for the formalism stuff.

Steve: What is next for you?

ewai: I’m early in the process of writing my thesis. So I’m now in an input and analysis phase. I seem to have to work like that. Output can only happen for so long until I have to stop and think, and writing has become a useful tool in that process. I’ll get the thesis done then I’ll hopefully just start the cycle again with new eyes.