Posted on June 24, 2009
Okay Street Art fans!
It’s a winning artist combination that you look forward to, and that Ad Hoc is getting nearly famous for – a new show featuring two of the strongest allegorical voices in street art together in one space this Friday, Imminent Disaster and Gaia.
The two use a similar palette (black and white), have an ardent respect for the hand drawn, and both make reference to mythology and symbolism. They even labored for this show in the same studio in industrial Bushwick/Ridgewood. That said, these two wheat-pasters have styles quite distinct from one another.
First glances will draw comparisons to the work of some of their peers on the scene, Swoon, Elbowtoe and Dennis McNett come to mind. After a moment you can also see two distinct styles that are clarifying and evolving and, in the case of the piece-de-resistance by Imminent Disaster, breath-taking. For his part, Gaia has his hands in the bushes.
Brooklyn Street Art visited the gallery a few days before the show while both street artists were preparing for the opening. Ms. Disaster was on her knees, literally, cutting long curving slices into a black swath of backdrop paper mounted on a muslin canvas, partially hanging from an overhead pipe. The central figures, Persephone and Hades; sinewy, sexual, and heroically strong, share the boldly ornamental ironwork with a spread-winged eagle, stallions, flying bats, and what might be an arched church window, all afloat in a foaming undulating sea. It is not clear at once what the scene depicts, but I.D. is not bothered by the idea that you may not understand immediately. This is a long path she has almost completed, and she is pleased.
Brooklyn Street Art: So how long did it take to do this giant piece?
Imminent Disaster: Like 400 hours. The first part, with the main figures, was about 200 hours, or 3 solid weeks. Then it was spread out over time. Total time was about 6 weeks.
The first three weeks it was February, it was really cold. I was mostly alone except for my studio mates. I find it hard to work when people are around, at least really work. Like all the cutting, I really need to be in my space for. The finishing work, like some of the sewing (tacking the piece to canvas) was much more social with my friends because we would chat while doing it. It was more of the “repetitive motion” work that didn’t require as much careful thought so it was easier to do with friends.
Brooklyn Street Art: You were also cutting 4 layers, which can more difficult and tedious.
Imminent Disaster: Yeah, it’s thicker but with a really sharp blade…. I probably went through a thousand open tips.
Brooklyn Street Art: Do you work also on a smaller scale?
Imminent Disaster: Occasionally, but I don’t enjoy it as much. Like I don’t think any of my “real work” is the small stuff. The stuff that I’ve been doing small lately has been the photo collages, but it is a totally different process. There’s very little drawing involved.
Brooklyn Street Art: Can you describe your process a little? You’ve said that these days you are not pre-thinking the work as much as just “letting it happen and develop”.
Imminent Disaster: Right. I think some people call it “the muse” – like you are channeling “the muse”. I don’t at this point have a fixed idea or intention of what I’m doing before I make it. Like a lot of times I can’t explain why things are in it. It’s just that I knew it was the right thing to be there and that it doesn’t have a narrative or a purpose or a thing that is trying to communicate. It just happens.
Brooklyn Street Art: Is it important to you that someone understands a piece in any particular way?
Imminent Disaster: No. I think that most people aren’t taught how to understand art anyway. They are used to art that does communicate a message succinctly like Banksy, who uses that as a huge element in his art. I think that is a kind of idea of art that is dangerously close to advertising and what society has reduced art to, something immediately communicable. If people don’t want to spend time with the piece or really look at it and get more out of it then what I have to say doesn’t matter to them anyway – if they don’t want to try. I spent 400 hours trying to make it, and if they don’t want to spend an hour trying to think about what I made, then they are not invested in what I have to say.
Brooklyn Street Art: If we were to apply those same values you just described to your human relationships outside of the artist-viewer relationships, I would imagine you also feel that way about who is a friend and who isn’t.
Imminent Disaster: I’d say that yes, that’s also true. I don’t have many close friends, but the ones that I have are actually paying attention to what I’m saying. They actually care about it and we have conversations about emotions, so it goes a little bit deeper than just hanging out at a bar.
Brooklyn Street Art: Are there a lot of women doing street art today?
Imminent Disaster: Street Art, like a lot of things, is definitely male dominated but there is a solid handful.
I know a lot of the “New York” crowd personally, but internationally, not so much. But I do know from other friends that have traveled internationally that once you get kind of “tapped in” to the street art community internationally you get taken to places like Italy or Brazil or Chile and you meet other street artists and they’ll take you around to all the cool spots and give you a place to stay. Internationally, the community is tremendously welcoming and there is a lot of helping one another. But I haven’t really traveled a whole lot since I’ve been doing this. I’ve kind of been staying in the hood – it’s all about Brooklyn.
Brooklyn Street Art: You’ve talked before about feminism and the role that it plays in your work previously. In what way is feminism involved here?
Imminent Disaster: I think women in general are not expected to do work that is as time consuming, large, or ambitious as this. Female artists are always working with textiles, or kind of “cute” things – that’s a pretty broad stereotype and it not true… for example women like Kara Walker do huge ambitious things, and good work, that disproves the stereotype. I think there is something in working at such a large scale and dedicating so much time to my work that is empowering to me.
Brooklyn Street Art: Do you tire of the subjects after working on it for so many hours?
Imminent Disaster: You have to be really, really dedicated to an idea in order to spend so long on it. There were definitely points during making this that I was like, “Why am I doing this, what and why am I doing this. Why did I just spend two months doing this?” But you have to have the confidence in yourself that it is worth it, or will be worth it and know that and it has to keep you going.
Brooklyn Street Art: When you talk about working by yourself a lot, how important is personal independence to you as opposed to working collaboratively for coming to decisions?
Imminent Disaster: When I do work collaboratively I kind of have an understanding that the project is a different “thing” – like it’s more of a social reason to be doing it. But the work I do by myself is my best work and it’s because a lot of times when I’m working I can’t communicate why or what I’m doing. Any kind of interference would ruin the whole process. Like this big piece – I would never, ever even consider having another person telling me or trying to participate in it.
Brooklyn Street Art: You have done some collaborative pieces on the street, is that right?
Imminent Disaster: Yes, I’ve done some murals collaboratively but that was just like “fun”, you know. It was fun to hang out with my friends and do something I would not otherwise do. For the most part, I think that work is far less developed. I’m not a painter! I have horrible “can control”.
Brooklyn Street Art: So for those people who care about these labels, you would never call what you do “graffiti”?
Imminent Disaster: No, I mean, I’m definitely not a graffiti artists. If you talk to a real vandal, they are really into being a vandal — they just want to f*ck some sh*t up and destroy some property. I’m glad they are doing that, but that’s not my intention, I just want to put up beautiful things on the street because they are beautiful. (laughing) So I guess that is kind of the opposite reason.
To catch up with wildly talented Gaia, BSA had the pleasure to go with him and a friend out to the freight train rails and help with the harvest of “weeds” to complete his installation in the gallery. Foraging in the overgrowth that blooms among urine-filled water bottles (don’t ask), we snapped dead weeds (someone thought they were wild asparagus) and piled them on the tracks for pick up on the way home to Ad Hoc. In between swatting flies under punishing sun and yelling over roaring airplanes, Gaia talked about his work as a street artist and this show:
Brooklyn Street Art: So why are we out here anyway?
Gaia: We’re collecting weeds for the show at Ad Hoc.
Brooklyn Street Art: What are the weeds going to be used for?
Gaia: Hopefully they are going to be used to establish a nature-like feel in the gallery. Logistically they are just going to be used for framing the pieces.
The subjects of the pieces are these strange mythological creatures that marry human and animal form. I thought it would provide a nice setting for them.
Brooklyn Street Art: Aren’t you afraid of getting poison ivy?
Brooklyn Street Art: The figures that are part human, part animal amalgams, what are they about?
Gaia: They have a primary stake in the body of work on the street. They are becoming these figures that convey an open narrative. It’s like encountering a piece on the street. You see this piece and it is about this moment of discovery.
Brooklyn Street Art: Does that mean you know what they are, and no one else does? Or are you discovering it too?
Gaia: I have this sort of romantic feeling about these things… like there was once a point where animals and man had a deeper connection but I feel like there is a sort of contemporary drive to romanticize what it means to be connecting with nature.
For me the human (in the gallery pieces) becomes the emotive symbol for the animals, they signal toward the thing that is being expressed by the animal.
The animal carries it’s cultural significance and the hands sort of direct it toward something. Hopefully the hands are pretty clear.
Brooklyn Street Art: How do you choose a location to put up your work?
Gaia: Usually just by biking around, looking for a spot. Obviously I look for that aesthetic of neglected space; It’s something that attracts me. I look for that space that has been forgotten and can be re-activated.
Also, sometimes it’s just a spot that gets a lot of traffic; like in a place like Williamsburg that everybody goes to. Also sometimes I look for something that is specific to that place, like where the composition mirrors that of a shadow that appears at a certain time, or like a doorway that is adjacent to it, and sometimes it’s just a perfect rooftop spot. It does seem like, for the most part, site-specific work that works in tandem with the location is something that is more appreciated. I appreciate it too. I also think there is a lot of interest in finding new locations… It’s a lot of different strategies.
Brooklyn Street Art: What do you learn from other peoples reaction to your work?
Gaia: Listening to people’s reactions allows me to understand my strategies and the paths I’ve lead someone on; which ones lead to a dead end and don’t necessarily open more doors and which ones continue to reference things in peoples lives and allow them to connect. So I do understand that connectivity to other peoples’ references and other peoples’ capacity to understand the work allows me to take it back to the studio, so in that way it is a refining process, definitely.
Brooklyn Street Art: Have you ever happened upon someone looking at your work and listened to what they said?
Gaia: Yes, definitely.
Brooklyn Street Art: Do they tell stories that you never intended?
Gaia: Yeah, that goat guy with the triangle that I put up once, this man told me that it was all about the Illuminati. He told me about this story about King Joseph and how King Joseph had some kind of connection with the goat and that it was a symbol of the Knights Templar. I couldn’t disagree because it was close to a Mason meeting place. He was positive that he was right.
See them both at Ad Hoc this Friday, June 26, 2009 from 7-10.