Friday, June 30, 2017

Q&A, Part 2: Artist-Run Culture


with Patricia Miranda

By Nancy Natale

In Part 1 of this interview, Patricia Miranda spoke about her investigation into the materials of art and the poetry of translating them to create a new and deeper meaning. Here we begin with Patricia’s cultural influences and expand our conversation to discuss her role in building artist-run culture by sharing her knowledge of materials, culture, and history with other artists. She supports and assists artists by curating, educating, and encouraging artists to develop their own artistic expression and empowered vision.


Aucassin & Nicolette, 2016; vintage book colored with cochineal insect dye, freshwater pearls, 
thread, 8 x 8 x 6 inches

Nancy Natale: How do you see art connecting with the world around us?

Patricia Miranda: The connections in an artwork are an intricate web. The artist’s intent, the materials and their language and history, the collaboration between the artist and those materials, and the context within which that artwork sits, all constitute the world-making space of an artwork. We are never outside of nature, never outside of culture and history. In my own work I am continually exploring this idea of being inside, embedded, rooted with nature and culture as an active participant--a citizen--with all the ethical concerns and responsibilities that come along with that.

NN: Let’s look at one connection for you: the book. What is the role and purpose of books in your work?

PM: Ah, how much can I say about my love of books? I love them both as a reader for their content, and also as an artist for their objectness, their sculptural nature. They are endlessly fascinating, conceptually and physically.  Books are performative, four-dimensional, kinetic, conceptual objects; they have multiple sides, interior and exterior, and language both symbolic and visual. Every time you open or close a book or turn a page, you have a different form, you enter a new place, perceive a different meaning. Books are held in the hand, close to the body; they are intimate in their scale and in how they are used and read. My books are real friends, and I know I am not alone in this feeling. E-books are great, but in important ways they are significantly different beasts.

Florilegium, 2006, vintage book dyed with cochineal, bamboo skewer, 7 x 5 x 13 inches

At a wonderful residency, Weir Farm in Connecticut, I made works using books. Both I-Park [the subject of conversation in Part 1] and Weir Farm are close enough to where I live and work to have made it possible to attend each of these residencies for an entire month, something that is such a privilege but can be enormously difficult to do. Like I-Park, when I went to Weir Farm I had a group of possible projects to work on, not knowing exactly what I might do, but I had  really concentrated studio time day after day, time to experiment, take risks, to daydream, and brainstorm new things into being.

One of the things I brought was a box of de-accessioned Victorian religious books from the Community of St. John Baptist, a historic Episcopal convent in Mendham, New Jersey, where for years I led painting retreats. These castoff books included instructions for the life of religious women, meditations for the liturgical calendar, and exegeses on sacred texts. I began slowly deconstructing the books, pondering their contents, which were often poetic, compassionate, and insightful, and sometimes distressingly dated—especially around the role of women.

I began altering and dying the pages with oak gall, cochineal, and indigo dyes, to reconstruct and re-contextualize them into new forms. I sometimes dyed entire books, or masses of individual pages. With several small books, I sewed freshwater pearls between the dyed pages. I explored the books as fascinating sculptural beings, and as conceptual objects carrying information over time. I began thinking of the ways I could explore their book-ness as a deconstruction, an idea, a totality. It was a great conversation, and ended up both preserving and transforming their form in unexpected ways.

Beginning of Sorrows, 2015, vintage book dyed with oak gall dye, thread, brass plumbobs,
 75 x 75 x 6 inches

Fear & Trembling, 2015, one of 30 vintage book pages, oak gall ink, 7 x 5 inches

NN: Religion as an aspect of culture and history is one of the subjects you have researched and used as a basis for your work. I saw three examples of Virgin Mary projects on your website. What makes her representation so intriguing for you in connection with contemporary society?

PM: Mary remains a potent and complex figure for me. I was raised Catholic and perhaps it seems like a cliché, but it's such an image-based faith that these images can endure through a lifetime. Mary loomed large in my childhood among other potent images.

Mary is an occupied body, a contested and fractured architecture. Centuries of power have been written on her body; she is a reflection of female agency in any given time. The role of women is always measured, always in conflict, always in tension with the powers that be. So, she is enormously complex, and endlessly interesting to me.

Frail Clay, statue of the Virgin Mary covered in layers of graphite and glue, then gold leaf.
A poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, The Soldier, 1918, was inscribed and then sanded away, leaving the poem's text inscribed on the body of the sculpture. Says the artist: "This represents the language of war as inscribed on women's bodies, in particular the body of the Virgin Mary." [Note that Patricia displays the sculpture upside down to change the perspective and create a different vantage.]

These images represent a few of the many places where Patricia placed Mary statues. The encounter is between the sculpture and the finder. Says the artist: "I returned to the sites of the statues later, often multiple times. All the Marys were gone within hours or days, with one exception, a Mary placed by a friend on a pathway in the woods, where she remains today."

NN: On a different aspect of your practice, how do you engage with other artists to build an artist-run culture?

PM: I believe strongly in artist-run culture, in artists supporting and building community for one another, and for creating new structures that can assist artists in having sustainable practices within or without commercial structures. Art, like education, seems to be increasingly pushed into a transactional framework, you do this to get that, and as much as I understand that one has to function in the world as it is, I don’t believe that either of these flourish under that definition. I think that art is an essential part of culture, part of what makes us human. The job of art is to pose questions of culture, not to answer them.

Part of my work as an artist is to engage with my community, to share my own knowledge and enthusiasm whenever I can. The exchange with artists and with students has become an inspiring and important part of my practice. I teach primarily in the college environment in undergrad and grad programs and also develop curricular-based programming for K-12 and museums.

In my teaching I focus on art as a cognitive process, one that exists as its own form of intelligence (art-making), and also continually engages with other disciplines. Making as a form of cognition means that the hands know things in a different way than the mind, it is a nuance of knowing. When we make, we learn and communicate in a way that is ingrained deep in our bodies, as part of our muscle memory, in places and ways the mind cannot always access. This is an important kind of intelligence. Making art is a continual dialogue, one that engages multiple intelligences, a collaboration between mind, hand, and material.

In addition, I lead professional critique courses for artists in my studio. We spend extended time in rigorous critique and discussion in small groups of artists on a monthly basis, in a rich and deeply thoughtful environment. The critique groups have become amazing communities that are inspiring and invigorating intellectually, artistically, and personally. I am really privileged to work with the incredible artists in those groups.

NN: What is the import of visual and verbal language in developing meaning in art for your students?

PM: I am a stickler for language in my teaching. If we want to have a conversation about abstract ideas, we need to be attentive to language, and that means formally, conceptually, and in our responses. I have sets of rules for how we speak about art in critiques. These are not meant to restrict dialogue but to focus and deepen it—to be productive and push the dialogue to a higher level. Unproductive or subjective critiques or discussions are frustrating; I want the discussion to be fruitful. I also believe in collegial rather than hierarchical relationships, and that we meet where we are, that each person’s work and journey is their own. I don’t privilege one kind of work over another; I support excellence in any form. I can’t empower anyone; empowerment happens when we respect, listen, trust, and challenge.

Artists need strategies for pushing through the natural challenges of artmaking, to think outside the box, consider our work in context, challenge our biases and preferences in what we remain attached to and how we work. This means considering every element of the work—the ideas, the materials, the context and history of each—as having its own language, its own syntax, its own grammar, all of which contribute to making meaning. I am a strong believer in materials bearing content, and that it is necessary to be fluent (the knowing I spoke of earlier) in the various languages that are good communicators for you. If we want to do this “art” thing, we need to be willing to really push hard, to really question, to be creatively uncomfortable.

Screengrab from MAPSpace Facebook page illustrating how Patricia Miranda brings artists together to exhibit, exchange, communicate

NN: How does MAPSpace (Miranda Arts Project Space) in Port Chester, New York, function and fit into your practice?

PM: MAPSpace is a sole proprietorship, not a 501c-3 non-profit organization, meaning I am its owner and founder. We recently became a supported program of Fractured Atlas, a wonderful organization dedicated to offering fiscal sponsorship to artists. This means that Fractured Atlas functions as an umbrella organization, a re-granter of funds to individuals and to smaller organizations such as MAPSpace when funding agencies restrict direct grants solely to registered non-profits. Fractured Atlas’s support will allow us to do things that we might otherwise not be able to do, and I look forward later this year to launching more opportunities for artists.

Having a project space means I can be more nimble, can do things on a shorter time frame, and can also leave space for my own projects elsewhere. Balancing all these things is the challenging part of my practice.

NN: What are the criteria for exhibitions at MAPSpace?

PM: Exhibitions come about in different ways, through artists who come to my attention, through my own ideas about curation, through meeting artists and seeing their work. I am particularly interested in the intersections between art, science, history, technology, and culture. Not all of these aspects factor into each exhibition, of course, but I explore the ways that art and artists interface with ideas.

I am always looking for ways that artists can collaborate. One of these ways is the Collaborative Workspace Residency Program I implemented in 2012 (a new residency deadline will be posted soon). MAPSpace has also exhibited the work of artists in my Professional Critique groups, and of the artist collective, Murmurations, that I belong to with four other women artists. There are also exhibitions that are more formal in material and subject.

Curating is an extension of my practice. Bringing together diverse works in conversation with one another is another kind of meaning-making. Curating means I can work with artists whose work I love, am challenged and/or inspired by, to create and expand a  dialogue between the works that doesn’t otherwise exist. I have curated a wide range of exhibitions, from solo to thematic group exhibitions, on subjects as wide-ranging as art and technology, to environmental art. Curating can be a great thrill and challenge; I love to look at work, to find connections, to bring things together.

To continuing reading this issue click on Older Posts, below 

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