Nechama Winston in Conversation with Lauren Taubenfeld

Nechama Winston’s solo show: Static Test at the ICP-Bard MFA Studios in Long Island City, on view from April 13 to 16. Opening Reception 6pm-9pm April 13.

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Lauren Taubenfeld: How did you come up with the idea to make these five videos? What connects them to each other?

Nechama Winston: There was a script I was working on in the fall – it was a project I wanted to finish in time for the solo thesis show but because of the timing, I turned the project into an installation of five smaller videos. I also made this decision because I felt like I wanted to try to work more with installation. Fragments of the original narrative remain, but in a different form, through the space, and not within a continuous text visualized and projected in one location onto one flat surface. In this case, now, I am trying to not rely so much on the use of text to carry out a story, and attempt in some places in the installation to subvert the weight, role and meaning that text tends to have over image.


I still intend to finish making the film I started, but I would like to have more time to develop my ideas and work on the script.


LT: So would you consider the videos exclusively interconnected?


NW: They are not dependent on each other, but they are connected. They tell multiple stories, simultaneously in a non-linear way. There is no correct beginning place to enter the story, but there is a story carried out between the individual components.


LT: I intentionally haven’t read your press release yet, if you had to explain your work to someone who doesn’t come from an art background, how would you explain it to them?


NW:  I would like this to be a show where you can walk in without needing to read anything prior to looking at the work. The press release basically just gives you a visual description of what you are going to see in the show, which is a montage of footage I shot and found footage collected over the past two years. I am trying to break down the way we see and experience, and understand images and I’m trying to break down this notion of having the urge to make sense of things.


LT: What is your sentiment about your transitions between video and photography?


NW: I reached a point last year where I stopped trusting images, even my images – for images not being able to completely tell the truth. What does “truth” even mean? Reading narrative through images became difficult for me to trust because of all the concentrated “construction” and effort that went into producing one or several images. I found video and installation to be a way for me to make work when I was having problems with still photography, and as a way to expand on the theme of distortion, deception and misinterpretation. My process always begins with making still photos. I use them to think through ideas. However, when I go out and shoot I think like a filmmaker. Everything is continuous. When I take my camera my intention is not to just try to make or find that one image.


Coming from a science background and as someone who is used to a more literal way of thinking and working with research, data and information…it was not a comfortable thing for me to do at first – take one thing and then make it something else out of its original context.


LT: Could you tell me a little bit more about your background in science and how it influences your work.


NW: I was an undergraduate psychology major with a concentration in behavioral neuroscience and double majored with art history. I am interested in memory storage and recall, together with image processing, perception and formation. I think neuroscience and art overlap in many ways in exploring this.


LT: I could sense in your videos that you’re attracted to the notion that they be somewhat anxiety provoking and that there is also a very strong connection to science and the human brain. It’s very evident. Do you have any other influences besides psychology and neuroscience?


NW: I spent most of undergrad intending to go into medicine and wanted to focus either on neurology or psychology. I am fascinated with the biological and psychological processes that play a role in memory and perception. Growing up, I felt I was surrounded by a reality that could be perceived in so many different ways and was amazed at how this could affect the way you document things and tell stories, and what that documentation may look like or how it may be interpreted later on. I relate this biological way of seeing and perceiving to the mechanical process of photography and image making in general. I mainly am interested in the notion of the perceptions and the multiplicities that exist between realities, and exploring the nature and experience of feeling the clash or conflict that exists between our subjective understandings of things. Everything that we believe to be truth is an illusion. I work in a non-linear form as a way to question the notion of a “true reality.”


LT: What are other interests of yours that may or may not feed into your work?


NW: I look at a lot of art, especially drawing, sculpture, animation and film (Chris Marker and Agnes Varda have been my favorite throughout most of the program…). I usually turn to books and essays for direct inspiration. I am more inspired by words and their syntaxes. They’re so beautiful. I like to think of my work very much as a research oriented practice but I don’t want to make sense of this research necessarily through my work. I don’t want any one idea to be contained. I am interested to find and create new meaning or ideas with disparate things I associate together.


LT: But I thought you wanted your work to be very non-linear and not make too much sense I guess in that way you or the viewer are walking a very fine line perhaps?


NW: Yes, but at the same time I don’t want the viewer to be lost. You have to give some form to the raw data. I think of this installation as a test for a way I want to start working. It doesn’t have to be totally resolved either since I am still working out some ideas and new ways of working with space. I do want my work to become more specific and not have my work live in this general pool of content.


LT: Speaking of the installation aspect of the work, (this was leading to my next question) you specifically said earlier that you are projecting your work onto different materials and that these are not sculptural installations. Could you elaborate a little bit more on that?


NW: First I realized that projecting, instead of using a monitor, for example, has been an interesting thing for me to play with in itself. It’s interesting to see the difference in what it means to project an image, something that’s not really there, but is there. I wanted to experiment working with other materials as well so that the projection wouldn’t exist as a flat image on a wall. I wanted to use materials in a physical space that would elongate, break and distort the images. The Plexiglas in the installation, for example, reflects and diffracts the images being projected. The process of fragmentation is something I have found myself very interested in, in a literal way with the space, to complement the fragmentation I am doing with image splicing in my video editing and with the sources I pull from for content.


Materiality of film is also something that I think about to work through ideas of fracturing. Last year when I would scan my film, I would start to scan incorrectly, distorting and breaking the frame. This idea of distortion felt more real and freeing to me and spoke more to some of the experiences I was having while I was out with my camera. Incorrect scanning helped me to think about not keeping an image precious – one that would ultimately fail to communicate the experience I had at the time when I took the photo.


NW: I also want to add that now I think I found a way to work with my interests between psychology, art and neuroscience all together instead of keeping these things compartmentalized in my life. In some ways, my process is about learning how to mix and combine my interests in a more fluid way.


I am using content, but I’m not necessarily using it for what it was intended for. I can abstract it in the most horrendous way.


LT: Why do you say it’s horrendous?


NW: Well, because it is. I am purposely taking things out of context and it makes me a little uncomfortable because it fights with my nature and tendency to stay true to documentation. But, this is one example I use to reveal that no documentation is objective truth to begin with. With this project, I am dealing with an extreme case using data obtained from a lab, for example.


LT: Is there a reason why you are doing that or is it just for purely aesthetic reasons?


NW: It’s not purely for aesthetic reasons. The science-based footage in some of the pieces has all been specifically chosen. They are selected from neurological research studies relating to sensory perception and memory. I chose specific ones that study the mechanical process of receptors on your skin.


LT: There is a lot of different kind of layering in your videos. I was wondering if you could elaborate on that?


NW: I layer to further distort what you are looking at and also to expand ideas. I mostly wanted to do that with my own footage. I didn’t want the images to look too obvious. Maybe they seem too obvious to me because I’m too close to the work. In terms of layering, I wanted to get you away from what you were actually looking at as much as possible but also didn’t want the work to be completely devoid of meaning in this process.

I work intuitively as well so I am allowing the work to help me make the next decisions in where to go as I edit.

what is scene at night

LT: I’m really interested in this idea of sensation that you speak about, for example, the video with the spiders especially gives you a very certain kind of sensation where as you feel a totally different kind of sensation when you hear and see the sounds of the beach and the waves crashing in your videos. Could you tell me more about this concept of sensation?


NW I do have an affinity for the water and even last year I noticed I kept returning to water and recording water, but I’m not really sure why. The sea is something I’ve always been drawn to and I’ve never really thought about questioning it before. Last summer I was living by the beach so that’s where a lot of my still and moving images of the water come from.


LT: Was there a specific intention when you made the decision of using sourced material, your own footage as well as family archival footage?


NW: A lot of the material I use was collected and sorted during the time I spent writing the script for the original film. In general, I’m researching all the time and reading one thing always leads me to reading another thing, and I end up accumulating a lot of information that reflects what I’m interested in at the moment. I’m like a hoarder of information.


LT: What is the subjective self in your terms? (because this is something you mention in your videos.)


NW: Well, I think in the piece where I mention this term there is a connection that I am trying to infer between the individual and the collective and how the experiences of both can intertwine. How do they connect and how do they differ from each other?


LT: Lastly, why did you title the installation ‘Static Test’?


NM: I was thinking about the word stasis, thinking about being stuck, things having a fixed meaning or category, formed and perpetuated by objects, photographs, and ideas, and kind of really wanting to break the system of how we see and think about and perceive things. I think of the gallery space and turning it into somewhat of a laboratory test of notions and beliefs. There are so many different kinds of static; static electricity, static noise, etc. I wanted to also address the possibility of static existing as “noise” in the installation, while at the same time thinking about it as “information” to decipher. What are the moments we choose to ignore or pay attention to? How do we decide what is important to consider and what isn’t?



Nechama Winston (b. 1989, New York) is an artist who works with photography, video, and installation. She received her BA from CUNY Hunter College with a double major in art history and psychology with a concentration in behavioral neuroscience. Winston challenges the ways images appear to provide a linear form with which to measure narrative and reality. She distorts and de-contextualizes visual records she finds, makes, and archives. Through the process of rearranging and re-envisioning information in images, she addresses a person’s personal experience in time that either parallels or collides with the history, usage, and production of spaces, and the socio-psychological situations within them.




Richard Prince Just Showed Artists a Way to Fight Trump. And May Have Cracked Open a New Contemporary Art Code Too.

I always had problems with Richard Prince, but I think he just changed my mind.

Photo: richardprince4/Twitter

At 12:36 p.m., Wednesday, January 11, the same day as Trump laid down an almost Stalinist fist at his first press conference since the election, an artist took to Twitter to take what feels like the inkling of an effective action — against the Trump family. A teeny thing felt deeply resonant.

That afternoon, well-known artist Richard Prince posted a work of his own to Twitter — one of his “Instagram” portraits, each essentially an inkjet picture of someone else’s Instagram page (many of them are of young women posing semi-clothed). Each of the canvases measures about six-by-four feet, and when they were first exhibited, in 2014 at Gagosian Gallery, they triggered waves of internet hate: Prince, who had made his name as an appropriation artist in the 1980s, was called a fake, a flimflammer, a voyeur, a dirty old man, twisted, perverted, and more. The “portrait” he posted Wednesday was of Ivanka Trump — the first daughter taking a selfie in front of a mirror, having her hair and makeup done, and wearing an almost-open robe.

In the weeks before the election, it’s important to note, it had come to light that the Kushner-Trumps are collectors of contemporary art — surely this had been known by some in the art world before, but in the fever of the election the fact spread like a scandal. In their collection are artists like Prince, Joe Bradley, Christopher Wool, Nate Lowman, Alex Da Corte, Alex Israel, Dan Colen, and many other very famous artists. I don’t blame artists for who owns their work. But on Wednesday Prince took an unusual step against his own collectors, in this case Jared and Ivanka, who’d bought the Instagram portrait. In his tweet he flatly asserted, “This is not my work. I did not make it. I deny. I denounce. This fake art.” He later texted me that he returned the $36,000 that had been paid for the picture and wrote, “I’ve disowned the work. It is no longer my work.” I loved it.

This single gesture contains a lot, and works on a lot of levels — some of them almost alchemical. First, in disowning one of his own works to protest its new owners, Prince placed himself in a rare company. I can think of a couple contemporary artists who took similar steps, among them minimalist sculptor Donald Judd, who famously disowned a number of pieces owned by the megacollector Italian count Giuseppe Panza after Judd declared that the collector had violated terms of their agreement.

But he may not be in such rarefied territory for long. It goes without saying that as many as half of all collectors could be Republicans or conservatives. And maybe voted Trump. We know the Kushner-Trumps did. Perhaps all the living artists in the Kushner-Trump collection might disown their work, say it is “fake,” making it instantly worthless (in addition to being an aesthetic and political slap in the face). I couldn’t help agree with all of them that having one’s work owned by the Trumps does somehow taint the work, almost negating it already. But even if this en masse disowning is only an isolated action, limited to those artists lucky enough to live off their work, just a drip in the middle of this building shitstorm of a presidency, I gleaned an artist trying to take back his name, his work, do something, anything. To do this in a time that is calling to us all to take action rather than to simply default, using our energies to criticize how others use their energy.

Prince’s act of disownership opens up an incredible window of resistance to artists, and, immediately on social media, he found himself explaining. “Redacting Ivanka’s portrait was an honest choice between right and wrong. Right is art. Wrong is no art. The Trumps are no art,” he wrote. “Not a prank. It was sold to IvankaTrump & I was paid 36k on 11/14/2014. The money has been returned. SheNowOwnsAfake.” Then: “Make Trump small again.” And finally: “This should not B confused with aesthetics. This is not a gesture. This is an action. Something I have control over. A yesOrNo.”


But whatever Prince says, I can’t dismiss the “aesthetics” of the “action,” or “gesture,” which I’m still trying to sort through. Part of that has to do with Prince’s history — he’s spent over 30 years culling subcultures, taking other people’s pictures, making almost invisible worlds visible via appropriation (which is really a form of declaration, “This is art.”). He was not the first in this tradition, of course, and several of those who came before even got into interesting tangles with their patrons over the matter of at just what point a particular work became a work. In 1950, after Duchamp’s original urinal readymade was lost, he authorized gallerist Sidney Janis to purchase a similar one in New York, date it 1917 and sign it, as his. Further afield in 1961 Robert Rauschenberg sent a telegram to Galerie Iris Clert in Paris with the words, “This is a portrait of Iris Clert if I say so.” All these artists were creating and uncreating by their will or word. Saying it made it so. This is using language as law, as in “I now pronounce you man and wife” or “I sentence you to five years.” Or Biblically: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God …” Whatever else these artists and Prince did they reduced art to some invisible essence, the will of the artist, making the artist primarily a conceptual creator or destroyer of worlds. A declaration of independence of the mind that rearranges molecules so that something goes from art to not-art or non-art. But on Wednesday Prince moved things in the other direction, using that biblical power not to make but to take away — not to bestow but withdraw the art content of the work. This drop-dead simple yet loaded act is actually a quite profound and radical innovation, one that immediately suggests there may be dozens of new conceptual gestures and possibilities in this strange new conceptual universe artists find themselves now living in.

Which brings us to Prince’s brilliant use of the word “fake”—and especially the phrase “fake art.” The phrase sort of made my head spin — is it possible Prince had just invented a whole new conceptual category of art? What could “fake art” mean? It certainly doesn’t mean “forgery,” and it can’t simply mean “bad art.” But it doesn’t seem to me simply to mean “work bought by someone the artist disapproves of” or even “work no longer condoned by the artist.” It seems — to me, anyway — to suggest something much squirrellier than that, some new way of thinking about how to navigate a news theater dominated by “fake news,” the disappearance of cultural, intellectual, and aesthetic authorities, and the rise of a disinformation state. If “fake news” is dense enough to change the world, think of what fake art might do. Perhaps be used as emotional time bombs, prestidigitation acts of refusal, ways of reclaiming power for the artist in this time when, to my way of thinking, ours is an era for foot-soldier actions. Large and small. Like Prince’s.

I can’t say for sure I understand how it all fits together, in Trump’s world or the art world, or exactly what kind of aesthetic war Prince’s gesture is declaring. But something tells me we’re going to spend a good chunk of the next four years working on lots more like this and figuring them out as we go.

*This article has been corrected to show that Wade Guyton has not sold a piece to the Kushner-Trump family.