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.