Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Habitus - Dirt Palace Interview with Lu Heintz

 Habitus (Artist Statement)
The work aims to articulate the embodied experience of being contained within a structure, be it a garment, furniture, or architecture. Over time our experiences living within and through these frameworks become repeated habits. These habits carve and form—the shoe affects the stance, the chair bends the back. Structures mimic and reflect corporeal physiologies while simultaneously restricting their possibilities. Still, the threshold wears under our feet, a belly spills out, the chair can break. We press back—stretch things out, crack things and re-form them. I have been noticing the affects, contemplating the feels. I have been seeking the sites of leakage, splitting and overflow. What would the frameworks look like if they accepted these possibilities in advance?

 

*************************************** 
Dirt Palace staff, Xander Marro, in conversation with Lu Heintz.

 





X: In the write up that you’ve shared you express an interest in “structures” which you name largely as material objects that intersect with the body in a repetitive way. You don’t specifically mention the body, but the body is everywhere in this installation. It lurks in places that it is implied that it would go (but isn’t), in oversized intestines sewn out of glistening fabric, in the gloves for arms of different lengths, in a two dimensional leg, a spleen casually hanging out in the corner.  In the comedy of a very stretchy, yet actually totally stiff and solid sock. We make the object and then the object makes us? Or is it possible that human bodies are objects in dialogue with other objects? Are there bodies in the window? Sorry if my first question is delving too straight into the abyss of the questions of philosophical materialism. 

 

L: Yes, we make objects so objects make us. And then there is the question of distinction between what is a body and what is an object. I am not sure where that distinction lies. I am interested in their mutual constitution and how, because of this constant interplay back and forth, the line between bodies and objects does shift around and blur.
One of my favorite experiences with the window installation was when I was inside working on it. I took my time in there, placing things, trying different ideas, cleaning, erasing or leaving traces of previous configurations. It is a narrow space and the objects are odd so I was crouching under, leaning with and reaching around the work. One of these days a man walked by and stopped and looked for a long time. At a certain point I realized he was trying to get my attention so I leaned toward the glass to hear him. He said “I didn’t think you were human!”  He was so excited about this, that I actually was human. I don’t want to presume too much about him but he didn’t seem like the type of person that spends a lot of time with art-making, still, he totally dug in. I felt very rewarded by his experience of the work. The objects insinuate the human and become body-like to such a degree that among them my own body was in question. Also he gave me two thumbs up, so that was nice.

X: The materials and their shapes, except for when glaringly not, are of another time: wood, cotton, metal, grey paint. These are juxtaposed with a few weird and resiny moments. Safety orange. A green rubber glove.  It seems that there is a conversation about history, industry, and domesticity hovering on the edges, peering out of the mirrors. How did you go about selecting materials? Colors? 

L: The work is new so I am still sorting some of this out and adapting. I am interested in what you call the resiny moments. Some colors and pieces become muted backdrops for stickier punctuations. But much of the pallet is influenced by clothing that relates to gender and labor. I am attracted to grey work-gear, uniforms, canvas, denim, the industrial green of welding jackets and dishwashing gloves. I have been doing research on button down shirts and their white, blue or pink collar designations, while also looking at feminized blouse variations where both the hues and shapes shift slightly. These research projects influence a base of colors but then I am adding in the fleshier, saturated, and tackier stuff —trying to find colors and textures for interiors and feelings. The industrial safety orange I have selected verges on a hot pink, and that is intentional, it moves from an outside to an inside feeling.

 


A lot of the wood components are repurposed from discarded furniture that has spilled out of actual homes onto the street. I do a lot of cutting, carving, and rejoining to make what I want, but there are histories of previous domestic lives in there.
I am also remembering the department stores and odd window displays leftover from a crumbled era of Providence that I observed living here in the ‘90s and early ‘00s. I know you remember the Men’s stores downtown with mannequins in pseudo-prosperous scenarios, the medical apparatus office on Atwells Ave, and the uniform store that also sold lingerie. I’ve observed residual window displays in other post-industrial towns and cities. They felt obsolete, lagging behind the current thrust of capitalism, but they indicated trace lines of our current constructions.

 




X: The majority of the objects at first glance could pass for something in an austere New England house in the early days of the industrial revolution. What do the historical moments that you’re playing with want to tell us about bodies in the here and now? 

 

L: There is actually a bit of vector drawing, laser-cutting, 3d printing, and vacuum forming embedded in the processes of these objects, but like you say overall there is a bizarrely Amish vibe. Marshall McLuhan talked about how we tend to analyze the technology that is behind us and that current technology is like the air we breathe. Technology is now changing so rapidly that people and theorists have had to pick up the pace and we reflect more immediately on our shifting experiences. But still we have a tendency to review, and often revive, what is 20-30 years behind us. So why am I also looking back 100 years? I am intrigued by antique objects that I encounter but do not know their purpose. I get to view them just as form and infer possible relationships. I love ergonomic tools and prosthetics that were handmade from materials like wood and metal— I see the immediate circle of the body making and extending the body. There are currently massive technological shifts and important philosophical questions about where bodies begin and end, but the trajectory started long ago.

 

X: Over the course of installation, you re-arranged things in the window. What draws you to rearranging objects? What do you learn from moving things around? How often do you rearrange the furniture in the place where you live or work? 

 

L: I don’t see any one of the objects as being its own individual finished sculpture; each thing feels like it is in a state of becoming and is a part of a larger whole. Many parts nest or plug into other parts, and many have multiple ways of interacting. In the making process I might make one form in relationship to a specific component but then displace it. The window installation has been a time for me to gather all these fragments into the collectivity I imagined, but I never imagined that collectivity as static, finished or clearly defined. I wanted to use the time in the window partly as creative studio time—to try out, observe and feel these shifts.
I am inspired by affect theory and particularly the writing and thinking of Sara Ahmed, how she conceives of bodies as extending and compressing in the presence of objects, how objects contain accumulated history and culture, how repeated gestures shape and organize bodies. I wanted to physically be in the space with the objects for a sustained time, to allow for the possibility I mentioned earlier where my body became part of the installation. I did not want to do an exhibitionist performance, but I wanted to allow some of my physical labor to surface alongside the objects.

 

The labor of my art practice reflects ideas I have about economies, everyday chores and care. Rearranging the installation also required cleaning and painting, so my body was not at rest in the space but was visibly at work—bending to satisfy the needs of the objects and other mundane tasks. I wore my denim coverall suit that has a similar hue and texture to some install components. I think of that suit as fairly androgynous but my labor could still be gendered—moving from construction or assembly to scrubbing the floor under a table. You brought up the domestic earlier. Domestic spaces, forms and practices consistently emerge in my projects as sites and experiences of work. It is one way to situate philosophical questions around labor and care. The processes and relational interdependencies of care-work are present in habitus, but in an ambiguous manner compared to some previous projects.


 

X: What the heck are the socks in the sock pile made of? Maybe that should have been the first question. 

 

L: The socks are made of dryer lint. I save my dryer lint, sort it by color and make paper pulp. The mold for the castings was made from socks that lost their mates. Loose lost socks. You know, the ones that lie around on the floor, left behind after the work is done? But eventually I have to pick them up. But sometimes I decide to just look at them. I have so many drawings of socks it’s absurd. I love the scene in Jan Švankmajer’s Alice with the worming socks eating through the floor.

 

X: What’s your favorite object that you’ve encountered that was never intended to be appreciated as an art object?
What’s your favorite tool? 

 

L: Well yeah, I love those antique tools that have become obsolete and therefore abstract. These types of tools include specialty carving tools, unique shuttles, forms like shoe-horns (but for other parts of the body). One of these that I have and love is a porcelain vessel with a handle. It looks like an inverted bodily orifice. It is an ergonomic chamber pot, but it took me a little while to figure that out. It is also sort of shaped like a whale.

 

 


X: What’s the most interesting story that you’ve pieced together from a tool or built object. 
L: That’s a great question. I might use that question to develop a future project.

 

X: Has your love of tools affected your sense of gender identity? And if so, how do you think this plays out in your work?  

L: Hmmm.  Maybe it is worth mentioning that I was driven toward mastering certain tools because I was bothered by being left out of experiences due to socially assigned genders and roles. I have an early memory of working with my father and feeling frustrated by not being able to wield a hammer like him. That is not a problem anymore, I spent years hammering stuff and gaining proficiency in various fabrication and construction skills. These skills inform my work but those aspirations were from an early stage. I have stopped trying to measure up to ableist, masculinized ideals and try not to play into competition or reaffirm binaries. I do spend a lot of time thinking about feminized labor practices and their histories of feminization. Over the years I've been increasing my work in threads. Recently I’ve been experimenting with garment construction and weaving. I mostly wear clothing and shoes categorized for men but go to studio to sew muted pink ruffles. So perhaps my work is one outlet for varied gender performances and expressions.



X: You end your description of this installation with the question: I have been seeking the sites of leakage, splitting and overflow. What would the frameworks look like if they accepted these possibilities in advance?  There is something playful about this...like maybe the deconstructed fiddleback chairs hanging on the wall are grown up cousin’s of Chairry (from Pee-wee’s play house). Still asking questions about the possibilities of objects having agency and intentions, and being characters in their own right.  But without the overly obvious flopping arms and roving eyeballs.  Will we get to know the characters in this installation more? What will happen to them next? 

 

L: I was way into Pee-wee’s playhouse growing up, so thank you for helping me realize this influence. My work is rarely funny like ha-ha, but it is funny as in being almost familiar but odd, like feminist and queer. I would like my work to be funny ha-ha sometimes, to be able to reveal the complexity of the everyday and also offer joy. That silly joy occasionally happens in my work, but more often there is aestheticized somberness. More and more color has been building into my work over the years though.
Incidentally I have been using some of these objects to experiment with video and stop motion animation.  The vibe lingers in the surreal. I’ve been shooting in my studio but imagining an abandoned house, if you hear of one. I also intend to keep adding to the habitus collective, allowing for future additions and reconfigurations. I look forward to making things that can interact with bodies other than my own and in-person, in embodied space together.




The Storefront Window Gallery project is made possible in part by a grant from the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, through an appropriation by the Rhode Island General Assembly and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. 




Thursday, February 25, 2021

Arthur Cayo Interview

X: Over the summer, anyone with eyes in Providence started to see your work popping up all over the city. Mostly in Downtown, and around Olneyville. Your work on the Uniroyal tire building, which has now been demolished (a portrait of Breanna Taylor surrounded by neon stenciled hearts) became one the most posted images on RI Social Media of the summer (with many people not knowing who was behind it). I think for many this mural spoke very clearly to the pain and rage at the injustice that’s been built into the core of American institutions, but also expressed other emotional things that resonated with many. People posted on social media things in response to it like: “after this week I needed to see this' '.  Your Instagram account is @artforsociety.  From this and other things that you’ve posted I’ve taken this as a pretty straight forward description of what your project is. Making art for society (obviously this has an extra layer, since your name is Art!).  How did you get started making art, and was there always a social component for you? 

A: I mostly paint portraits. Most of the people I paint I know and use painting to get to know people as well. The social component is a recent thing. It's a tool. You know Art can be used in many ways. As you know I could have painted a bunch of people that lost their lives to the hands of the police but Breonna's Story stood out the most. She was sleeping. 




X: Did the paintings on the Uniroyal building get demolished with the building?


A: The paintings did get destroyed on the building. I asked if they could not demolish them and they said that they couldn't stop. 




X: It seems like painting portraits was your main thing for a while, but at some point stencils and geometry started to work their way into your compositions. How did you get interested in stencils? 


A: So when the riots and the looting happened I put out a FB message saying that I would paint a mural on any boarded up business. Little did I know every business downtown was boarding up. Got a ton of action, rolled up my sleeves and got to work. I came up with the heart stencil because it was a good quick effective universal message. 



X: Many of your portraits have a red stripe or section across the bottom. This creates a really visually striking connection between them all when looking at them as a body of work. I’ve been curious about this red since I first saw your portraits! Do you see your portraits as connected to each other and does this red area play a role in connecting them? 


A: At first the red bars on the bottom of my work were for measurement purposes then they become my style. Red is my color! 



X: It seems like your portraits are a mix of people who you know, and others who might fall into the category of “personalities” or celebrities. In the exhibit in the Dirt Palace Window, there is a portrait of Audre Lorde & Buddy Cianci, you’ve also done paintings of Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Harriet Tubman, Andre the Giant & Gina Raimundo. How do you decide who you’re going to paint?  


A: Gina, RBG, Buddy, Harriet all those paintings came about or resurfaced due to timing relating to black history. Gina leaving. People hate Gina. It was Buddy’s birthday around the time I dropped off work for the installation. 


X: You paint on canvas, but also plywood when you’re doing murals. How do these experiences compare? 


A: Painting on plywood is coo! When I paint at home, i'm using oil paints. On the road i'm using acrylics and spray paint and the scale is a lot larger. Doing the murals I realized that oddly enough I work faster outside. 



X: So much of your work has people at the center, they’re either portraits, or people in movement, playing sports, skateboarding etc. But then there’s a body of work that is really geometric, almost quilt like in their complexity. And some pieces where these are styles are mixed. Do you feel like the storytelling is different in these two modes? What do you like most about each way of working? Some of your work circulates in a “public art” or “street art” context. Are there other folks doing art in public places, in Providence or elsewhere who inspire you, or who you collaborate with? Who you’ve seen from afar and wondered about (like I was about you before I learned who was putting up all of these amazing murals with hearts...lol)



A: The quilt looking piece - that's what the aim was. It came to be based off a heart mural. I met Eric who has ties to The Avenue Concept and they reached out to me about doing a mural. They loved the hearts and the positive vibe. I was teamed up with @_gregwashere_.  We talked about the quilt idea. I cut out some stencils and we made it happen. Greg is a very dope artist. I met a lot of dope artists over the summer. I don't know if i would have met so many art people if it wasn't for the pandemic. I'm pretty sure not. So i'm grateful for the artist community they really showed up and showed out and i'm glad to be a part of it. 



 

The Storefront Window Gallery project is made possible in part by a grant from the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, through an appropriation by the Rhode Island General Assembly and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.




Thursday, February 4, 2021

How Long

DIRT

PALACE

FEBRUARY 2021
how long will this winter be? 
 
 


 

 

WINDOW

 

FEBRUARY WINDOW ARTIST: ARTHUR CAYO




The works in the window are a mix of my portraits and some of the street art that I have scattered around the city over the last few months. I wanted to come up with something I could do quick and had a good message so I went with the hearts. Heats are just good vibes, it’s a universal sign of love that the world needs more of currently. The portraits of people that are inspiring me to paint all the time. I know all of them except for Freda Kendall and Audre Lorde.  Looking forward to the spring in the summer so I can do more murals around the city and hopefully do more work with other art organizations in Providence and across Rhode Island.



I am providence based right here in Olneyville was born in Brooklyn raised in Rhode Island. Been living in Providence since 2004. Most of the art I do are portraits, this is fitting because I fancy myself a people person. Every Job I've had in my life had to do with working with the public. The last year has been difficult for many with social distancing and so on. I'm grateful for the art because it's an outlet for me to release my energy in a positive way, wether it's painting at home or painting murals around the city. Over the summer right after the riots and looting downtown I started painting heart murals on boarded up store fronts then started painting them on pretty much any boarded up building I could find. I've teamed up with the Avenue Concept to do a pop up mural at Mott & Chace Sotheby's water place and now I'm currently their Artist. I change out paintings in their office every few months. 


DECEMBER WINDOW ARTIST: MONET SANDERS



"I have been designing for 10 years now and it wasn't until those final few years that I decided that it was something very special to me. I realized that I get inspired by so many things, a random thought while daydreaming, a song that completely takes my mind to another place or an oddly painted house that only through my own eyes, I could recognize the beauty and potential of. After attending the Textiles Summer Institute at RISD several years ago, I am currently pursuing a career as a fashion designer in New York City"

 



The Storefront Window Gallery project is made possible in part by a grant from the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, through an appropriation by the Rhode Island General Assembly and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

 
 

 BOARD NEWS!



The past 4 years, we were so very lucky to work with Deb Dormody and Mary-Kim Arnold as Co-Chairs of the Dirt Palace Public Projects Board of Directors. We've been consistently humbled by their wisdom and talents. We're sad to see them transition off the board, but are so excited for what they are doing as artists, organizers, and creative minds. We a very grateful to have had the opportunity to work with such amazing power houses. Thank you so much Deb and Mary-Kim!!!

We're also super excited to welcome new board members Lizzie Araujo-Haller, Becci Davis, and Cody Ross to the Dirt Palace Public Projects Board. More about these new board members below! Check out our full board here!

Lizzie Araujo Haller - In her role as Deputy Director for the City of Providence’s Department of Art, Culture + Tourism, Lizzie facilitates, convenes, and connects - with an emphasis on cultural equity, social justice and policy. She previously held roles at AS220, Black Rep, Firehouse 13 and Fete Music Hall. Born and raised in the Bronx, Lizzie’s family moved to the Ocean State when she was 13. Her interests lie in transforming space through hyper local community celebration, providing access to resources, and supporting equitable cultural expression. She moves throughout her roles with respect, kindness, and humility. Engagement is a work in progress. All power to the people!



Becci Davis was born on a military installation in Georgia named after General Henry L. Benning of the Confederate States Army. Her birth initiated her family’s first generation after the Civil Rights Act and its fifth generation post-Emancipation. Becci is a Rhode Island-based interdisciplinary artist who finds inspiration in exploring natural and cultural landscapes, in addition to her experiences as a daughter, mother, American, and Southern born and raised, Black woman. After earning a MFA from Lesley University College of Art and Design in 2017, Becci was the recipient of the St. Botolph Club Foundation Emerging Artist Award in Visual Art, the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts Fellowship in New Genres, the Providence Public Library Creative Fellowship, and the RISD Museum Artist Fellowship. She was also featured as one of Art New England magazine’s 10 Emerging Artists of 2019. Becci lives with her family in Wakefield, Rhode Island and is currently an adjunct lecturer in the Department of Visual Art at Brown University.


Cody Ross is an indebted beneficiary of alternative cultural institutions, subcultural space-making, and radical political interventions at every scale. He has contributed to a range of projects and organizations, including collective housing experiments, worker owned cooperative businesses, art collectives, artist-run community and studio spaces, academic research projects, and youth movement organizing against incarceration. n collaboration with a collective of artists, he helped found New Fruit, an artist-run studio, printmaking, and exhibition space in Portland, Maine dedicated to supporting feminist, queer, and radical cultural production. Cody was awarded a Kindling Fund grant for his project Cathedral, an iPhone application and digital curatorial platform imagined as “a public bathroom on your cell phone.” His art practice is informed by a general ontological confusion provoked by queer, feminist, and affect theory as well as a faith in the space of encounter. Cody has worked for libraries, archives and museums throughout the northeast, including the Maine College of Art, Bowdoin College Library, the LGBTQ National History Archives, and the Leslie Lohman Museum. He currently tends to the preservation of digital archival material at the Brown University Library. He is grateful to have been a resident of Dirt Palace from 2018 to 2020.


 

 

SPECIAL ELECTION DEADLINES

If you got an application for a mail ballot delivered and were confused about it...here's some info!
Rhode Island is holding a special election on March 2 on a series of proposed bond questions. It sure seems like a good time to be investing in infrastructure and the people and jobs that help to build it!

The Bonds to be voted on range from supporting affordable housing, to arts, to education. Passage of Question 6 on the ballot will authorize the state to issue bonds of $7 million to support arts facilities and historic preservation efforts across Rhode Island. For more info on the Arts and Culture bond got to www.yeson6-ri.com.

Ways to Vote:
All voters were recently mailed a mail ballot application which must be returned by February 9th. Voting by mail is the easiest and most convenient way to vote YES! to Rhode Island. Voters also have the option to:
  • Vote early at their local City or Town Hall from Feb. 10th - March 1st.
  • Vote in person on Election Day, March 2nd 
  • Drop off your mail ballot at an official local ballot drop off box.


Completing your mail ballot application takes 2 minutes. Be sure to sign your application, and place it in the postage paid return envelope as soon as possible. Mail ballot applications must be RECEIVED by Tuesday, Feb. 9th.

Learn More

 

 

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The Dirt Palace will have slots open for new Artists in Residence at the Olneyville Square facility (DP Classic) April, May, and June. This residency is for a minimum of a 1 year term. Applications due February 13th. Please be in touch if you'd like more information or know someone who would be a great applicant.
email: dirt palace public projects at gmail dot com
 
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Friday, October 16, 2020

New Covid Relief Grant announcement AND window artists Kobe Jackson and Krystal Difronzo !!

 


DIRT

PALACE

OCTOBER 2020  
 
 



ANNOUNCING NEW

COVID EMERGENCY

GRANTS

 


Dirt Palace Public Projects in partnership with Providence College Galleries announce the Interlace Grant Fund (IGF). Generously underwritten by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, 2020 Interlace COVID Relief Grants provide emergency support to individual visual artists in the Providence-area.



Deadlines: November 8th & December 8th, 2020


For more info & to apply go to 

Interlacefund.org



 Follow  on instagram facebook

 

 

WINDOW

 

SEPTEMBER WINDOW ARTIST: KOBE JACKSON

To read an interview with Kobe about their work, check out our blog HERE



Providence based artist Kobe Jackson uses coded visual language to challenge the viewer’s perception of traditional subject matter and provides a counter narrative to the notion of basic. With the ability to skirt gender and racial classification, Kobe has found a sense of belonging and freedom through painting. As a mode of resistance to growing dependency on technology, Jackson’s practice meditates on the simplicity of applying oils to canvas by brush. Reappropriating discarded canvas, Kobe gives new life to that which was deemed worthless. With an energetic visual language, and transgressive air, Jackson’s work conducts psychic repair in a world which is defined by disassociation and disconnectedness. Jackson has exhibited at venues including AS220 (Providence, RI), The Living Gallery (Brooklyn), Pershing Square (Los Angeles), The Barker Hanger (Los Angeles). Jackson was a recipient of the Los Angeles Plein Air Festival, Arts Alliance Award, and has been commissioned by the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs to paint utility boxes on street corners.

 
 


AUGUST WINDOW ARTIST: KRYSTAL DIFRONZO

To read an interview with Krystal about their work (interview conducted by Keegan Bonds-Harmon) check out our blog 
 HERE

Messengers and Promises, 2020

“Animals first entered the imagination as messengers and promises.”- John Berger 

Time has proven to be a difficult thing to grasp in quarantine. The only moments it has felt concrete has been in observing the slow cycles of growth and death of plants and insects that I witness on daily hikes through East Rock park here in New Haven. Or on drives looking at roadsides in the height of New England summer at the towering mullein, the paper crepe blossoms of chicory, fanning Queen Anne’s lace and the already seeded dandelions cracking through pebble and gravel and thriving off exhaust. Feeling thrilled by these resilient weeds full of nutrients and medicinal properties, emerging on the fringes of construction sites, despite efforts to eradicate them. Similarly thinking about the beast of burden, like the donkey in Robert Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthazar. Its relationship with humans ranging from being lovingly adorned with flowers at one moment and tail lit aflame at another yet continuing on, only able to convey its anguish in a cry. Researching how butterflies feed off of rotting fish and dung for essential nitrogen and other minerals. Trying to find some solace, or a key in these means of survival, growth and endurance in an ever more toxic environment. Looking to the ass’s bray in its refusal to perform labor as a form of protest. 

Krystal DiFronzo’s installations of painted sheets and banners deal with pharmakon and the grey areas between medicine, poison, desire, illness, and its effect on femme bodies and labor through exploitation and myth. She holds a BFA from SAIC and an MFA in painting from Yale. She recently relocated from New Haven, CT, to Ridgewood, NJ. Krystal’s most recent installation, Messengers and Promises, graced the Dirt Palace window in the month of August. I had the privilege to ask about the installation, her process, and the many mining grounds in her work. For further investigation you can find more of Krystal on her website, and in past interviews with the Yale Herald and podcast, Tight Pencils

 

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The Dirt Palace will have slots open for new Artists in Residence this winter. We're working on changing some aspects of our program design and application process. Please be in touch if you'd like more information or know someone who would be a great applicant
 

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Interview with Krystal DiFronzo

Krystal DiFronzo’s installations of painted sheets and banners deal with pharmakon and the grey areas between medicine, poison, desire, illness, and its effect on femme bodies and labor through exploitation and myth. She holds a BFA from SAIC and an MFA in painting from Yale. She recently relocated from New Haven, CT, to Ridgewood, NJ. Krystal’s most recent installation, Messengers and Promises, graced the Dirt Palace window in the month of August. I had the privilege to ask about the installation, her process, and the many mining grounds in her work.



Messengers and Promises

“Animals first entered the imagination as messengers and promises.”- John Berger 
Time has proven to be a difficult thing to grasp in quarantine. The only moments it has felt concrete has been in observing the slow cycles of growth and death of plants and insects that I witness on daily hikes through East Rock park here in New Haven. Or on drives looking at roadsides in the height of New England summer at the towering mullein, the paper crepe blossoms of chicory, fanning Queen Anne’s lace and the already seeded dandelions cracking through pebble and gravel and thriving off exhaust. Feeling thrilled by these resilient weeds full of nutrients and medicinal properties, emerging on the fringes of construction sites, despite efforts to eradicate them. Similarly thinking about the beast of burden, like the donkey in Robert Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthazar. Its relationship with humans ranging from being lovingly adorned with flowers at one moment and tail lit aflame at another yet continuing on, only able to convey its anguish in a cry. Researching how butterflies feed off of rotting fish and dung for essential nitrogen and other minerals. Trying to find some solace, or a key in these means of survival, growth and endurance in an ever more toxic environment. Looking to the ass’s bray in its refusal to perform labor as a form of protest. 

Keegan Bonds-Harmon: Your work is incredibly immersive. The worlds you are building in your studio are dense with references to the occult, pharmacological, and mythological. I'm curious to hear about how you first fell down this rabbit hole. Do you have any early memories that feel significant to your work today? Or more recent experiences that drew you into your subjects?

Krystal DiFronzo: I think a lot of my early instincts with storytelling and my interest in mythical world building has been a need to explain indescribable emotion or phenomena. The most influential things that framed this type of magical thinking early on were movies like The Rats of NIMH, children’s encyclopedias on world mythology, and the saint iconography that was always sort of in the background in my Italian Roman Catholic family. I was an extremely sensitive kid and images like St. Sebastian strapped to a tree and pierced with arrows spoke so true to me. I saw not only pain but radical vulnerability as a way to communicate on another level. It’s a continuous hunt for icons, images, and histories that connect to my current lived experience or that I feel relate to each other in unexpected narratives. 

KBH: How did you come to your materials? What drew you to these transparent silks and natural dyes? And what's your secret to maintaining such delicacy and grace? 

KD: My current exploration of natural dyes was born last summer when I was working as staff at this undergraduate art residency run by Yale in the Berkshires. I had been painting large banner-like pieces on muslin with washes of Jacquard cold water dye because the bleed shook me out of my tendency for tight linework. I spent a day with one of the co-directors, Byron Kim (who has been painting with natural dyes for quite a bit), dyeing with gardenia, indigo and cochineal. I was doing a lot of work about bodies returning to soil and being in that wooded environment surrounded by rotting leaves, insects, and fungus put that more into focus. This processing of organic matter clicked with me as a way of finally connecting the physical material used to the work that felt fully intentional. I'm also a little bit of a control freak and the uncertainty of these dye processes adds a bit of chaos, chance and magic to the equation. I grew to love working with silk for its strength and transparency. There is also something so satisfying about drawing with resist. After the work is steamed you wash it out and the image literally becomes embedded into the material, not merely sitting on the surface. The secret is that silk is an unreal fiber with a life of its own, it does most of the work!


KBH: On the left hand wall of your installation Messengers and Promises at The Dirt Palace was a banner that read “Fools can enter where angels fear to tread”, an idiom from an Alexander Pope poem which is often referenced in music. Could you tell me about your relation to these words? 

KD: I actually got to that line from an essay in a Marina Warner book called From the Beast to the Blonde where she explores the roles of certain archetypes in fairy tales. The essay is on the work of Angela Carter. The full quote is : ”The Fool in Dutch painting deals in comic obscenity in this manner: as fools can enter where angels fear to tread, and thumb their noses (or show their bottoms) at convention and authority tomfoolery includes iconoclasm, disrespect, subversion.” I was thinking about the resourcefulness and scrap of the Fool, sort of transcendence through laughing in the face of the oppressor.



KBH: After reading your statement for Messengers and Promises I watched Robert Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthazar, a film you cite as an inspiration to the installation. The movie follows the story of a donkey named Balthazar, and his shifting owners. Balthazar is cared for lovingly, baptised by children, abused by farmers and misfits, and made to perform tricks in a circus. Balthazar’s life parallels that of the main character, Marie, and becomes a symbol of perseverance and burden. How did you connect with this movie? What does the donkey symbolize for you in this work? 

KD: I think I saw Balthazar for the first time probably around your age as well. Since then it has always got me straight to the gut. I’m sure it has something to do with my embedded Catholic guilt, labor and toil as cleansing of sin. Then, yes, there’s the beauty of resilience! I came back to this film because an essay in the same Marina Warner text sparked something. In it she describes the donkey’s bray as “ (it) speaks for the passion of the creature without language… In spite of the loudness and persistence of its cry, it is an animal that can not communicate: the very intensity of the bray conveys that condition of powerlessness, of exile from human congress.” I feel like the donkey becomes this icon of empathy and the effect imposed labor has on a body, a beast of burden that protests but continues on regardless. 


More Weight, 2019

KBH: You cite bodily experience as a mining ground for your work. In your statements you mention the boundaries between bodies and their environments, Thomasine Younger’s failed tooth surgery performed by a town cobbler, and your own experience in chemotherapy. Through transparency the figures in your tapestries are diffused into what feel like layers of mist. They float in space like apparitions. Could you speak on the tension between these very physical and ethereal aspects of your work?

KD: Those projects in particular ( Dogtown, No Shelter and More Weight) use transparency as a way to layer histories like ghostly sediment. Then I use writing, drawing, or objects like literal rocks to reground it into the physical and present. It’s that tension between the histories in the ground under your feet that reflect your own bodily experience in strange ways that I’m striving towards. Like how the specific mold used in one of my chemotherapy drugs was discovered in the ground mere minutes from where my grandfather grew up in the Apulia region of Italy. 


Dogtown, No Shelter (2019)

KBH: Your installations tend to imply a story: a resistant donkey, an owl on a mission, a tormented witch. I saw that you have a background in comic and zine making. How do you navigate storytelling in your work? What role does it play for you and how do you consider the audience's read of a zine as opposed to that of an installation? 

KD: I fell in love with comics because of the visual framework embedded in them. The toed line between what can be expressed in writing and what can only be expressed visually, as well as how time and thoughts are marked. I definitely see the influence of that in everything I make. The installations become an exploded version of the straight linear story.  Space becomes a tool to manipulate the interpretation of the narrative as well as time. The space of the shop window at Dirt Palace for Messengers and Promises became a single scene or panel while in a work like Divine Lady Owl the space between banners of individual images acts more the gutter in a comic but the direction of time and meaning of the narrative becomes complicated because the viewer experiences the work in the round and has to come to their own conclusions as to their relationship with each other. This is where meaning gets exciting and complicated, I’m less and less interested in feeding a direct narrative.















Homo Sapiens Non Urinat In Ventum, 22 pg. two-color risograph zine 2015

KBH: You recently graduated with an MFA from Yale in the midst of lock down, its dismemberment of our physical spaces, and our rapid and clumsy efforts reconstruct a semblance of normalcy. Has this experience left you with any new visions for a stronger reconstruction of arts' spaces, educations, or roles in our communities? 

KD: Woof! Yeah. It’s been a pretty rattling experience. Going through two months of online courses and critiques has been mostly upsetting and nerve wracking. I was on track to be teaching next Spring and thankfully can put that on hold right now because I honestly feel so uncertain about the role of higher education at the moment. I’m not shocked but so disappointed by the lack of support these institutions with huge endowments (that feed off predatory loans, investments in fossil fuels etc., underpaid admin staff and adjunct faculty) have given. What this has done, and I think a lot of people have had similar experiences in other fields, is it’s highlighted the importance of the immediate and local. The most faith I’ve had in education recently was living at Yale Norfolk and working directly and openly with students in a sort of dual role as mentor and peer.  I also recently moved to Ridgewood, Queens to be back with a community of peers I worked with in DIY spaces in Chicago and having that support again feels vital with so much uncertainty. I’m a big believer that things like mutual aid and unique accessible forms of education will be a saving grace in the months to come. 
KBH: Do you listen to things while you work? Do you have any music, audio books, or background-sound kind of shows you would recommend to any of the artists reading at home? Or do you prefer a quiet studio
KD: When I’m in research and writing mode I can’t do sound and usually cycle between walks and going back to the studio. When I’m in the groove of like weaving or drawing I switch between podcasts and music. I’m an October Libra and this is my favorite time of the year so I’m really leaning into heavy spookiness. The late Geneviève Castree’s projects Woelv and Ô Paon are hugely important to me and I’ve been revisiting those as well as getting into Chrysia Cabral’s Spellling and the excellent Oakland doom metal band Ragana. Also Kate Bush forever and always.

L: An Unformed Venus, 2019, Ink on paper (55 in x 42 in) R: A Rattlesnake Rotting In Your Well, 2019 Ink on paper (55 in x 42 in)

KBH: In your work I see a push and pull between forces of good and evil. Deities and demons, flowers and venomous insects, medicines and toxins. In your statement for Messengers and Promises you describe butterflies who feed off dung and fish carcasses for nutrients. Is there anything you are doing inside or outside the studio to metabolize the world around you, to maintain balance, or to alchemize an antidote to the psychic morass that is the mid-covid-landscape? 
KD: Honestly, for the first time in my adult life I have a car and that level of freedom has been keeping me going. To be able to take drives through Long Island, Upstate, and New England. Getting my feet elsewhere, breathing a different type of air, witnessing something physically new and processing that as opposed to the BIG PICTURE things we are all attempting to process helps me feel grounded. A big fan of forest bathing and salt water! Also reading up on plants as I hike and visiting one site multiple times through a season has been hugely balancing.


For more of Krystal you can find her on her website, and in past interviews with the Yale Herald and podcast, Tight Pencils