Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Les Mangles y Les Cuirales, Dirt Palace Interview with artist Andrea Pérez Bessin

Les Mangles y Les Cuirales - Statement

My artistic practice focuses on generating visual language around queer non-binary bodies through syncretic explorations of science, alchemy, Christian iconography, my immediate surroundings, and influences derived from Puerto Rican culture. Within these fields, I often find synchronicities in elements that are at times contradictory. Much of my process involves translating these elements as shapes and symbols that merge with the figure to synthesize fictitious devotional images. The resulting image places the body as a site for disidentification where the binaries that previously held these elements in opposition vanish, allowing congruous and discordant symbols to coexist. I create anthropomorphic amalgams that defy essentialist notions of gender and sexuality. This particular project Les Mangles y Les Cuirales is meant to highlight and honor queer modes of existence. The installation revisits mangroves as sacred queer ecosystems. All organisms within these ecosystems refute through their existence the idea of a gender binary. The red mangroves and the exuberant soft corals that reside at their roots exist in symbiotic relationships similar to chosen families. This project is a celebration of the abundance, resilience, and creativity present in queer communities.


Dirt Palace staff, Pippi Zornoza in conversation with Andrea Pérez Bessin

P: You originally received a degree in biology. Can you talk about your transition from the world of science into the world of art? Also your practice is very research based, i’m wondering how this is connected to your past work studying the natural world.

A: I find the natural world fascinating and I enjoy how science aims to provide an understanding of the natural world, but personally felt as if I had to really narrow down my area of focus to excel as an academic researcher in a scientific field. As I was nearing the end of my biology degree I took an introductory course on visual arts and it sparked the idea of wanting to pursue a life in art. It was an unusual idea to have since I had no concept on how to do that. I even told the professor teaching the class that the course had made me think about switching disciplines to which he promptly responded “don’t do it” and with that I got all the encouragement I needed to move forward. Previous to that course I had never taken any art classes, but I always enjoyed drawing and finding creative outlets in my spare time. Not really knowing how to shift trajectories, it occurred to me that there were some gaps in my understanding of art so I went back to school and got a BFA in Printmaking. Initially I had set aside my skills as a researcher not fully understanding that art and research were not mutually exclusive, gradually my science interests seeped into my art practice and now they are fully converged. I enjoy the freedom that art has granted to my research, I can focus as much or as little  as I want on any given topic and my research skills have also been practical when exploring new mediums in my art practice. 

P: Les Mangles y Les Cuirales at the Dirt Palace uses mangroves as it’s primary ecosystem. Mangroves are so fascinating, not only because of their adaptation to low oxygen conditions and salinity, but how they literally build their own ecosystem. They are also in need of protection in many areas. Can you talk about the mangroves and your connection to them? 

A: I agree, mangroves are entirely fascinating. In Puerto Rico, I grew up seeing and admiring mangroves along the coasts of the island. When I was living in my early 20s I would walk by docks near mangrove forests and spend a good amount of time observing the life that happens at the roots, their flowers, the shape of their propagules. The importance of mangroves as protectors was something I understood from an early age. Not only do they protect the organisms that inhabit their roots, but they protect the coastline from erosion. They do form unique ecosystems, even islands. Red mangroves such as the one depicted in “Les Mangles and Les Cuirales” produce viviparous seeds, seeds that are never dormant.They uniquely adapt to the challenges that the environment they exist in presents them and they serve as an anchor for others. Mangroves are very adaptable, but they are vulnerable too. I appreciate the mangroves in my community and it is important to remember that they need protection too.

P: Les Mangles y Les Cuirales translates in english (I think!!) to the Mangroves and the Queers. You draw meaning in the symbiotic connection between the corals living in the roots of the mangroves to chosen families. In your cosmology the landscape is also a character choosing kin and offering protection. Can you talk about your connection to the land? To family? How this metaphor developed? 

A: I think a lot about roots and memory and about synchronicities of shapes. Neurons are in charge of memories and their extremities resemble plant roots. So roots have become a symbol of connection to the land and to memories of the land. I love my homeland and I love the vegetation that grows back home. I grew up with my grandmother growing all sorts of fruits and herbs in a very small patch of land and living in awe of all the things the land would offer. Living away from home has strengthened the things I do love from my homeland, and the vegetation that grows back home is one of the things I miss. As it pertains to chosen family, I tested the true viscosity of blood by coming out to my family and subsequently lost contact with my family. That lack of connection makes it hard to return to my homeland for both practical and sentimental reasons, but it gave me first hand experience in reimagining and restructuring what a family can look like. Shared DNA means very little when compared to the love and support I receive and give to the people currently in my life. That is what I aim to emphasize when establishing an analogy between chosen family and mangroves, organisms that are not related existing in community and to mutual benefit. 

P: There is also an element of wordplay here, no? 

A: Yes, Spanish is a very gendered language so I used ‘Les Mangles’ as a way to omit the usually masculine gender by which mangroves are addressed in Spanish. Same with corals, except I did a minor adjustment and fused the word cuir (queer) and coral as an overt nod to the community I am paying tribute through this work. 

P: The 3 soft sculptural figures in your installation are so otherworldly, They have eruptions from their bodies, tentacles, a singular nose with no other features. I was wondering if they were inhabitants of your imagined ecosystem, or if they were visitors.

A: They are inhabitants of the ecosystem. They are in a different medium as the mangrove depicted, but part of the ecosystem all the same. I was looking at a lot of soft corals and nudibranchs, again all organisms that operate in direct opposition to the idea of a gender binary. So while these are not directly representing one particular organism, they have forms extracted from looking at these organisms. I love the intricate exuberance of all these creatures. 

P: The translucent colored vinyl that you sewed together creates a brilliant effect with light. When I was photographing your window, I was captivated by the blocks of color projecting on the walls the way a cathedral window might project color and light. You mention that you are currently researching stained glass windows. Much of your current work is illuminated in some way (I’m thinking about ORCHIDACEÆ PNEUMA). What has brought you here? 

A: If I were to pinpoint the origin of this focus I would have to attribute it to a complicated relationship with Catholicism. I know a lot of folks, queer and not, have a complicated relationships with religion and I am not unique in that way.  A lot of religious artifacts in Christian traditions are beautiful and ornate, but as a queer person these objects are not meant for me. A source of inspiration is the visual language present in Christian iconography, especially medieval imagery. Stained glass windows in cathedrals had the original function of being a didactic tool of the church. Stained glass windows illustrated stories present in the Bible for the illiterate folk attending the church. They are still captivating, but one can only imagine the unique ethereal feeling of tinted light shining through them at a time before technology and when windows in most homes were rather small. I love that light passing through a tinted filter still has the capacity to be visually compelling. I was recently photographing some work in a forest and noticed that the sunlight going through the ferns was projecting green light on the forest floor and it was so enthralling. I felt silly for not noticing that before. 

P: Can you talk about the devotional aspect of your work? I’ve always been attracted to the word devotional because it seems to transcend religious & spiritual implications because of its other meanings (from Webster Dictionary - Devotional A) the act of dedicating something to a cause, enterprise, or activity : the act of devoting B) the fact or state of being ardently dedicated and loyal). The devotional (vs the spiritual - dealing with the spirit ) can be grounded in the body and the spirit, in the sacred as well as the mundane day to day, resisting the binary. I mention this because your work is so grounded in non-binary visioning.

A: I enjoy this analysis of the function of the word devotional. I try to be intentional with language and I often research definitions and etymologies of words. Creating art is a devotional act, it is my brain connecting ideas with the body to generate these images. While these images do take a lot of their aesthetics from religious iconography, it is not me directly making up my own religion or a search for a spiritual life. Instead, I am redirecting and repurposing my spiritual tendencies towards the devotional act of creating. I don’t necessarily see a clear division between the spirit and the body so I am always trying to gain an understanding of the body I inhabit. I dedicate a lot of time to observing.  The sequence of events that happen at a cellular level in even the smallest action are nothing short of a miracle. While all these events are not strictly miracles in the sense that a lot of the actions can be explained by science, there is a point where there is no answer to the “why?” that science tries to answer and I think that is the miracle I am trying to refer to.  I also spend a lot of time in nature. I like to get distracted by my surroundings and be captivated by the smallest details. So a lot of my process involves being very present in my surroundings and my body. Again to use the word, I am devoted to finding the sacred in the mundane and that is what I am trying to depict in my work, bodies and plants and all sorts of organisms contain all sorts of miracles that we often take for granted. I think there is a devotion in queer existence, there is a dedication of time and energy to interrogating the self that is tied to the body and the mind we inhabit. I also think it is interesting that the word dedicate is present in both definitions of devotional because the word devote is in the first two definitions of the word dedicate, the words are inextricably linked. 

P: There’s a couple images on your instagram that I’ve been obsessed with. They are two soft sculptures almost like busts on a neutral colored fabric. The description says etching on muslin and counterproof sewn together.  Their faces look worn like old stone carvings but they are printed on  soft fabric.Are these part of your Reliquies series? They seem like outliers but also connected.

A: They are part of my Milagres series.  Milagros are another type of object that informs the visual language I am drawn to. These objects were presented to a saint as an offering for an answered prayer. They were wonderfully specific. If a saint helped with a particular organ or limb in the body, that one organ or limb would be depicted. So there are specific milagros arms, legs, eyes, intestines, even genitals. I have this book “Los Milagros en Metal y Cera de Puerto Rico” by Teodoro Vidal that has wonderful images of all types of milagros. As metal milagros they are very rigid, but making my own interpretations as soft sculpture allowed the forms to be somewhat malleable. They did give the appearance of being rigid and were a surprise to those who were able to experience them in person.  I had been working mostly in sort of earthy monochrome prints in fabric and paper previous to my current work, I just never documented or posted the work. I had arrived at these forms just as COVID started. They definitely were not a complete thought, but I shifted from these earthy monochromes to vibrant neons during the Summer of 2020. These pieces felt somber at a moment when everything felt heavy. While working on these Milagres pieces I was at home with my two year old and I would give her tubes of paint and roll out a big sheet of paper on the floor and she would just be the brush like a mini Carolee Schneemann. She would apply the paint selectively and then treat the whole piece of paper like a slip and slide. The joy she was having selecting and applying paint really inspired me to seek that kind of joy in my work. 

P: In addition to your installation and sculptural work you are also a printmaker! My first exposure to your work was through your cover Illustration and printing for Shey Rivera Rios’s book Naty and My Chaotic Stench. How does printmaking and drawing feed your installation work and vice versa? 

A: First of all, I have endless gratitude to Shey for the projects they have invited me to participate in. It was a huge honor to get to design the cover for this amazing book. When I think of mangroves as anchoring beings one of the people I think about is Shey, they work so hard to support and improve their community. I just feel very fortunate to have crossed paths with and get to collaborate with them.

My sculptural and installation works are more of a recent development and they were an evolution that had its origins in my printmaking work. I was initially doing prints on chiffon and putting plexiglass on top of it and then it occurred to me that I could engrave the plexiglass directly as is done with plexiglass drypoints. I started doing these tiny “stained glass” plexi pieces where I would engrave the plexi and adhere it to a wood frame. Around that time I got invited to a group show at a museum and the person curating the show suggested I do one of these recent stained glass pieces to put over the windows. When I went to the space to get some measurements I saw that the windows were about 7 feet tall and that my approach would result in an extremely heavy and unwieldy piece so I started thinking of alternatives and landed on the tinted vinyl. I had my partner who is really skilled at sewing to teach me how to sew because the best way to adhere the vinyl was definitely by sewing and I had no idea how to use the machine. Previously, I would mostly rely on hand sewing or ask my partner to sew some pieces together on the sewing machine when I was short on time. To be honest I had kind of a mental block about sewing for the longest time, when I was in middle school we took home ec and it was also a very gendered thing. I just saw in that class that I was being indoctrinated to be a homemaker and while I did not have a full understanding of why I did not like it as a middle schooler, I did viscerally reject the things I was being taught in that class. We had to sew a pillow for class and I was so bad at it that I think it hurt my teacher’s eyes to watch me wreck an innocent piece of fabric with my ineptitude. She just took over my project and I never had to sew again until recently. Kind of a tangent, but I just think it’s kind of funny that I rely so heavily on a sewing machine now given my past history with it. Anyway, I am figuring things out with my sculptural work and I would like to bring printmaking back to these pieces. Again return to printing on fabric. Just bringing a lot of printmaking elements to the work, most of the time I do want that, but time can be elusive. 

Andrea Pérez Bessin (b. San Juan, Puerto Rico) is an artist and Studio Art MFA candidate at the University of Connecticut. Their work focuses on syncretic amalgams and fictitious figures of devotion as a way to speak about the instability of gender. They received their BFA in Studio Art from Rhode Island College and a BA in Biology from Brown University. Andrea currently lives and works in Newport, RI. Their work has most recently been shown in Newport Art Museum’s group show Digital Breath

Friday, July 2, 2021





JULY 2021






Andrea Pérez Bessin (b. San Juan, Puerto Rico) is an artist and Studio Art MFA candidate at the University of Connecticut. Their work focuses on syncretic amalgams and fictitious figures of devotion as a way to speak about the instability of gender. They received their BFA in Studio Art from Rhode Island College and a BA in Biology from Brown University. Andrea currently lives and works in Newport, RI. Their work has most recently been shown in Newport Art Museum’s group show Digital Breath.

My artistic practice focuses on generating visual language around queer non-binary bodies through syncretic explorations of science, alchemy, Christian iconography, my immediate surroundings, and influences derived from Puerto Rican culture. Within these fields, I often find synchronicities in elements that are at times contradictory. Much of my process involves translating these elements as shapes and symbols that merge with the figure to synthesize fictitious devotional images. The resulting image places the body as a site for disidentification where the binaries that previously held these elements in opposition vanish, allowing congruous and discordant symbols to coexist. I create anthropomorphic amalgams that defy essentialist notions of gender and sexuality. This particular project Les Mangles y Les Cuirales is meant to highlight and honor queer modes of existence. The installation revisits mangroves as sacred queer ecosystems. All organisms within these ecosystems refute through their existence the idea of a gender binary. The red mangroves and the exuberant soft corals that reside at their roots exist in symbiotic relationships similar to chosen families. This project is a celebration of the abundance, resilience, and creativity present in queer communities.


This installation showcases a state of mind that YSANEL has felt like she's been in for the last year and a half. She uses spanish language to state her name, forcing people to read it in its complete authenticity. The black fabric and bandanas bring depth to the space behind the clouds, reminding us of her distant reality throughout 2020 and constant defensiveness - protecting self, spirit and culture as tight as the sage wrapped in yarn that hangs, too. A black crown emphasizes the proudness of her Afro-Carribean roots and she plays with lighting to help center her words as it reads, "Mi Nombre es YSANEL". 

A young Afro-Carribean artist learned to “fly” through manipulating her materials.YSANEL started as a poet and became a public artist in her historic hometown of Providence, Rhode Island. She grew up in the South Side of Providence alongside a large population of people from Dominican Republic, where both of her parents were born and where most of her is family is from. Lucky for her, Providence was (and still is) entirely a melting pot of different diasporas so she learned arts & culture through both a personal and collaborative lens. She developed a voice for justice, especially racial justice and anti gun violence movements. Eventually her  interdisciplinary work began to soar from public art to music, and from sculpture to theatre.Today, she experiments with a personal collection about her identity that she hopes to share in the Fall/Winter Season of 2021. YSANEL performed as a background for Spike Lee’s Netflix Film called “She’s Gotta Have It”. One of her most known Public Art projects is a series of portraits on outdoor utility boxes of some inspirational women for a female empowerment project that was eventually featured in Providence Monthly’s August 2019 issue called The Faces of Street Art. In Early 2017, the City of Providence also awarded her the Public Art Fellowship, which backs up her newly gained knowledge in public art.


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.




Hi!! I’ve just moved in and only painted half of my room, also thinking of making wallpaper for some of it too. I’ve baked 2 cakes recently and have been screen printing as much as I can. One larger project that I'm focusing on right now is a graphic novel draft about personal spaces and a mysterious forest. I'm feeling very lucky and very happy to be here :)



Hey! YSANEL here - getting back into screen printing and experimenting with fabric. I've been vending at a lot of art markets this summer so I have been spending most of my time in the printshop at DP making pillows and prints for that. Slowly shifting my focus as i'm preparing for an exhibition at AS220's Aborn Gallery of a collection of my paintings :) Stay tuned... 


Hiiii, I'm LN (ellen). Looking forward to a summer of painting, printing, dancing, sounding, swimming, rollerblading, wandering. Also new to Dirt Palace and kinda new to Providence. Currently living with one foot out the door of Philly, but soon everything will be moved and recentered.

In June I went to Delaware to gather field recordings of the Brood X Cicadas which I edited with commentary for a radio broadcast -- one of which you can see up above! They were swarming hard. Most recently I co-led a visionary fiction workshop for engineering educators toward revisioning how engineering practice and education can dismantle systems of oppression within its realms. 


Hi hi! Imaynalla! I'm Kai and I'm new to the Dirt Palace. On Sunday I celebrated my birthday, packed my things, and moved here from the C.A.F.O in Lenapehoking/so-called Brooklyn. I've fallen in love with Providence and am beyond thrilled to be spending the summer here. Here's me with a pie:

In March I released a self produced EP, Katabasis, with my band Trophy Hunt. A follow-up LP is in production and should be released late summer/early fall.


Hello void! I made a comic about my California exile, it's published by Caboose Books. Recently an excellent short essay about "California" was published on Solrad. "Owl, Amoeba, Eyelash: Anneli Henriksson's California"

During the strange times of the last 16 moths or so I started making forms. That are also maybe kind of like journal entries co-authored by friends in anonymity (who are cosmic geniuses responding with love, candor and comedy). Or maybe they're like a choose your own adventure except with more philosophy than plot. They're all on this linktree and there's a new one, that will maybe be the last one for a little while. It's called Duck Weed. Over the winter I got to do a couple of covers for Megan Milk's books being published by Feminist Press.  And they're in print now! (or at least galley copies exist) I think that you can pre-order them here. They are super fun to read. I laughed so hard reading some of the stories in Slug that slime started forming on my face.  Anne Elizabeth Moore calls it "invertebrate pornography", which is what I speculate most people that I know want to be reading. 


RECTRIX performed live on AS220 TV
Special thanks to everyone at AS220 who made this happen!

More news on upcoming releases soon!



Back in March we did our very first group residency at the Wedding Cake House! Artists quarantined ahead of time and made a pod for the duration of the residency. Here’s a pic of our first cohort! Featured - Ryan CardosoMurphy ChangBonnie JonesIsabella KoenTaylor Polites, and Rue Sakayama. Also pictured is upcoming Work Exchange Artist in Residence Miranda Zhen-Yao !!! (photo by Rue Sakayama)

We’re extremely excited to host our next cohort this July!!! Lani Asuncion, Lois HaradaGaby Hurtado-RamosFaythe LevineRyan Lopes, and Anábel Vazquez Rodriguez,


An artist in residence live/work studio is opening up at Dirt Palace September 1st. The term is for 1 year with the chance to renew. For more info about the residency and what it entails  - email us at dirtpalacepublicprojects at gmail dot com




(To see an extremely motivational video about the plan featuring YSANEL  TORRES, board member LIZZIE ARAUJO HALLER & many folks we admire click here

The City of Providence Department of Art, Culture + Tourism (ACT) is proud to release the draft of our updated cultural plan. PVDx2031: A Cultural Plan for Culture Shift outlines strategies and recommendations for strengthening arts, culture and creativity in Providence and is ready for public comment.

To read our draft, click here.

To comment on the draft by August 1, 2021, click here.

The final plan will be released in the fall of 2021.

Have questions about the cultural plan? Please contact Cultural Affairs Manager Gina Rodríguez-Drix, to schedule a time to discuss:


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 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

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.