Reclaim Her w/
Whiskery Squid (Memoirs)
ADÉOLÁ OLÁKÌÍTÁN (O) IS A WRITER AND TRANSDISCIPLINARY CURATOR WORKING BETWEEN LAGOS AND NEW YORK. THEIR PRAXIS IS INVESTED IN POETICS, MARGINAL TECHNOPOLITICS, AND QUEER SPIRITATIONS. THEY WROTE AND COLLABORATED WITH ALEXANDER SI ON THEIR ARTIST BOOK WHISKERY SQUID (MEMOIRS), PUBLISHED BY 24EBROADWAY.
M: MARIA DURAN SAMPEDRO (M) IS AN INTERDISCIPLINARY ARTIST LIVES AND WORKS IN BROOKLYN, NY. HER WORKS EXAMINE THE EFFECTS OF A LOSS OF INNOCENCE, MEMORIES IN THE FACE OF BODY TRAUMA, AND THE DIFFUSED BOUNDARIES OF INTIMACY AND INTRUSION. “RECLAIM HER” WAS HER FIRST SOLO EXHIBITION WITH 24EBROADWAY.
ALEXANDER SI (A) IS A NEW YORK-BASED MULTIDISCIPLINARY ARTIST, CURATOR, AND PUBLISHER. HIS PRACTICE CONCERNS THE MODERN CYCLE OF MEDIA PRODUCTION AND CONSUMPTION AND THEIR LONG-TERM EFFECT ON MENTAL HEALTH AND SELF-IDENTITY. HE CURATED MARIA'S SOLO EXHIBITION RECLAIM HER & COLLABORATED WITH OLÁKÌÍTÁN ON WHISKERY SQUID (MEMOIRS). HE ALSO PRODUCED THE “DIALOGUE” SERIES, AND TOOK PORTRAITS OF HIS TWO FRIENDS.
O: Dear Maria, looking forward to this conversation with you.
your work touched me, made me feel light. You’ve done a very necessary work of refiguring innocence, strength and vulnerability in a bold way; one might see it as subtle, but in each are bold representations. How are you feeling these days?
M: Dear Kiitan, thank you for asking. So much has happened lately. I open my eyes in the morning, waiting for another overwhelming smack in the face barrage of confusion and uncertainty. This past week though, I have felt more hopeful than in a long time. Uncertainty still looms, but glimpses of clarity and order from the new administration and new year have eased my thoughts. I know that until accountability for violent negligence isn't met in all respects, tension, inequity, and duress will remain. However, I feel a calming breath of freshness in believing we can be better and let go of hate. I’m hopeful though we’ll all roll up our sleeves to do it.
O: I’ll like to talk about the place of ‘resolve,’ a better word for me than ‘healing’ when I’m not sure that I have arrived, or will ever arrive at that. One of the things I appreciated about engaging your work is your insistence on the importance of process. And how can you not? It is all so present in your sculptures, how delicately they are rendered. If as you mentioned, this process of creating this body of work was a “cathartic experience of relief,” I wonder how your body, through touch figured into that? (P.s: Share with me how the actual carving, mold-making, the very physical aspects of studio work on these sculptures made this a fruitful experience for you. How did it help you?)
M: I have longed to find a different word from 'healing' for some time now. One that wouldn't ring of pollyanna, a deterministic time, or would make me sound like a blind optimist. And as we know, fully ridding the self from trauma is not possible. Thank you for finding 'resolve'. I think I found catharsis, or it met me when I finally cast at least four of my girls from my piece The strength and vulnerabilities of innocence, and I saw them standing. They were still very raw, with their little limbs precariously attached, but there they were standing on their twisted little feet. I don't know if it was the intense labor of making them or the thrill of seeing them replicate the figure I drafted with so much care and for so long, but it hit me: I was them. I saw that I had struggled immensely, quietly, but I was still here when many were not. And it allowed me to see myself not as a victim, shrouded in shame but as a survivor, undefeated.
As I set out to make my first girl, I wanted her to embody the effects of a loss of innocence and embody how I hurt. But I never expected to see myself in a positive light because of it. Because of that thing that had placated my self-regard for so long. It was strange because no one had decided to tell me about their trauma because of my girls yet. Still, their multiplicity told me so, and it made me hear again the stories I had heard in passing. From that wincing off-kilter joke someone made, or those knowing looks as someone witnessing something like that in a movie, or someone diving into their drink hearing something of the sort at a party. My girls let me realize that there were more like me out there, each with their odd little defects and their different experiences of trauma. A lost finger here and a sunken cheek there availed by the randomness of a bursting bubble or a difference in a mix's viscosity. This resonated to me with me the cruel possibilities of living and pulling stronger through them. I could see myself in a kinder light and know there are other nodding faces that deserve to do so too.
O: You wrote that when casting the mold in various materials, you permit “mistakes to occur to garner a specific past and identity in each replication, and indicate wounds of abuse.” The thing about fractures and errors and willingly letting them appear is a motif I think we both share. What was it for you to arrive at a decision for letting them be so in their final form?
M: I think I touched on this in the previous question, but it also occurred in the making of The strength and vulnerabilities of innocence. it happened when I had finally cast a couple of girls, and I could hold them in my hands, soft and rough. Traditionally, when casting sculptures from a mold, the mold's positive or cast sculpture needs to be 'chased' after that initial cast. In this process, excess seams are removed, little pinholes are filled, and surfaces are smoothed to perfection (notably if you work a little bluntly and with inexactitude like me). However, when I finally saw them, I noticed that each had different 'mistakes' in them. I could differentiate them all and still see them as independently beautiful. Realizing that the same defects that governed them and made them imperfect are the textures and the same reason that made each stand out. Perfection seemed then like a lie.
Like that mask worn to forego others' discomfort and our countenance with our inner selves. Each imperfection seemed like a scar from their pasts that they endured to stand next to each other. So my careful or hasty casting process and the lack of control that rests in mixing materials and projecting an exact result seemed to mirror life's blows. Erasing these would hide them as survivors often do. Holding them small and delicate, bordering on their existence, defied my own expectations of their physical viability. However, these little mistakes held the opportunity to make visible the traces of traumas endured and the inevitability of fragmentation and struggle that follows.
O: The painterly expression in On the Line, as you hinted, offers you a different language than making sculptures. As a psychic snapshot of the aftermaths of trauma, the complexities really do come together in a really poetic form that stays true to the experience of memory in the body and surviving. What freedom did you allow yourself in making this narrative?
M: I find painting a far more daunting task than making sculptures because of the immense freedom it allows. Sculpture is governed by tacit physical laws. Weight distribution, roundness, flatness, scale are limitations objectively delineated. Toggling with these principles imbues the work with meaning. The scope and possibility of the work is narrowed under very concrete physical rules. While in painting, a narrative or symbol or feeling can be manifested in an infinite number of ways under numerous tenets, such as color, composition, format, line variance, repetition, value, gesticulation, and more. You can fit a life's entirety in a blank square, but not without losing it, probably. So I imposed on myself limitations or rules for the creation of 'On the line.' I had a narrative cemented in my mind that I wished to express through histories implanted by layers of paint, symbolic imagery, and suggestive planar cues. Now, the theme behind the painting had a torrential emotional charge I could draw from. I allowed myself to channel this torrent to help guide and soak each movement as I worked. Having no threat of the painting falling on itself, prickling me with its textures, or growing too much to fit it through my studio's door, I could freely draw from these emotions and themes uninterrupted.
O: Still dwelling on the forms you work with, what would you say sculpture offers but the painting does not?
M: I think that sculpture can attack the senses in a more elusive way. It challenges the conception more overtly. Its physicality is borne occupying time and space, it is subject to decay at times, and subject to being cumbersome. For these reasons, I think sculpture contests the materialization even more to its witnesses. So while the stakes may be more significant ( what to do with this enormous blob/jaggedness/swell? Can't flatly stack it in that corner with the others). Witnessing a genuine and staunch great sculpture begs for awe. Fantastic sculptures find their place and stake their existence by wrestling their materiality. Sculptures have to boldly assert and in this way can fixate the senses undeniably.
MARIA DURAN SAMPEDRO
INSTALLATION VIEW AT 24EBROADWAY
MARIA DURAN SAMPEDRO
ON THE LINE, 2020
ADÉOLÁ OLÁKÌÍTÁN, ALEXANDER SI
WHISKERY SQUID (MEMOIRS), 2020
ADÉOLÁ OLÁKÌÍTÁN, ALEXANDER SI
WHISKERY SQUID (MEMOIRS), 2020
M: Dear KiItan and Alex,
I can’t exactly know what these pages describe, but they have struck me deeply, as they resonate with my own clamor. The identification I felt and the wing of art as subjective has given me the confidence to dangle with impertinence. I was left with only gratitude after reading and experiencing Whiskery Squid, someone expressed the intimate anger and bloom that I felt with rare lyrical jabs and electric mark. When I opened the book, perhaps because of the little leaves that adorn it and the photographs that sprinkle it, it gave me the impression of holding a portrait of someone. Someone filled with ideas, passions, and a past wet in its heaviness. I noticed the pages were unnumbered, no capitalizations existed and a grey thread wound it together, among other little idiosyncrasies in this seeming diary. But this book was crafted by two, and it is heavily tinctured with a sense of plurality. How were these aesthetic decisions decided upon? Did they aim to reflect anyone’s presence, whether that of Kiitan, Alex, or a more boundless self?
O: Thank you so much Maria, for such generous attention and observations.💐 This work came after my long pedantic argument about boundedness and boundlessness, especially at time I was noticing a lot of the talk around collectivity repeat an implicit politic of self-erasure. In one of the lyric essays, The I fails to unself, I write around this, hopefully, conclusively. But to answer your question on what might have come forward as an aesthetic decision, I remember telling Alex that Ok. So look, memoirs are essentially moments and I don’t think those are purely of one person even when they are auto-biographical. In it you find other voices speaking. Alex took a position almost as that of an ethnographer, searching for resonances, which was an interesting experience is seeing a glimpse of an external perception.
A: Yes, the starting point when I was making these aesthetic decisions was to reconstruct a presence of Kiitan through objects and souvenirs that are close to her. Because the text and its subject already come from such an extremely personal place, I want to honor that source with my hands and my crafts. They also serve the purpose of driving the narrative and the reading experience forward.
M: The book has some dynamic or interactive aspects. One particular action, the coin scratchers, resembles the dynamics of memory. I couldn’t bring myself to fully intrude in whatever secret lay behind, knowing it could never be unrevealed or fully tucked away as if being made to remember something that we do not want to know. How did you arrive at this active metaphor?
O: Haha, I encourage you to intrude please! One thing I have always believed is you can come in to poems with your own subjectivity, if something calls to you. This was one of Alex’s interventions. The interactive poem you speak of started from thinking about how making love to another body revealed a sense of getting better. The poem formerly had two blocks of the photograph inserted to formally reflect the poem as a speaking body. It is surprising to me but sometimes, I tend to be raw and baring so it was interesting to have a somewhat filtered version of that poem. The photograph was taken really at a point I had thought the moment will never be the way it was ever again. So yes, I do think the reader journeys back to a past in that coin-scratching action.
A: That sense of should I or shouldn’t I is what I love to evoke in my practice. It’s a challenge and a question about one’s curiosity and voyeurism, that ties with the theme of self-discovery in the texts. My work usually takes the form as large-scale, site-specific installations that investigate the effect of media consumption and production has on mental health and self-identity. So to work on a more intimate scale and tackling/reinterpreting the journal as a medium has been a lot of fun.
M: Someone I adore once told me that violence and trauma rob us of our identity. So you pick up the pieces of who you are, little by little, as the memories that tear slowly fade and beat weaker and weaker. Do you think that writing has a role in the creation or understanding of our identity?
O: I love writing (and I genuinely can’t say why) but I am also frustrated by it. And to think because we’ve had it for as long as we do, we would have mastered it by now, as though it being ancient provides one who writes with a wizened process. I think the magic lies in even being able to sludge through the very arduous process of transforming thought to words. Writing does play a role in understanding ourselves because how else can I explain reading a book, and being so gripped at the heart by feeling so seen? I mean consciousness is very crazy right? Because this identity thing isn’t static, because an intense awareness of our subjectivity leads us to distrust sometimes, we always require that thing on the outside. Whatever that thing is, whether it was made by us or another, it can stand as reminders or a green light that shows yes you are this too. You are this and this and this, all these. Consciousness is so shaky too because it is built to inherently ensure possibilities. Sometimes the outside things (as art) can stand as totems, showing the things we could be. Art offers an exchange of subjectivities: So I read a line of poetry “Yesterday, I heard someone call out Sorrow & I did not turn my head,” and that could be me too.
(Line of poem is from 'A series of Small Miracles’ by Daniella Toosie-Watson.)
M: How do you think the visibility of internal strife that stems from trauma relates to itself?
O: I want to respond to this by way of what a friend(Michelle Angwenyi) had written:
One longs to explain oneself—
It is a scary thing about trauma, if it did not become visible externally, it could convince itself that it didn’t really happen.
M: I see that feeling dirty and alone after experiencing trauma is not uncommon. Ironically, knowing this can be quite freeing, as my practice and others like yours have made me see. However, I have feared that disseminating my own experiences will avail themselves to be lessened. And I don’t mean going into the gritty details, but as a word in your texts that stayed with me rings ‘truncated’. Have you ever felt this too?
O: Omg yes! (If I understand you correctly that disseminating your personal experiences might cause them to be lessened) If so, that is why I was so interested in the backend work of bringing that painting (on the line) to life. I have been very resistant to detailing because it felt futile. At a point I began to say that maybe this is stuff that shouldn’t be said. It took a lot of picking apart why I was instinctively resistant. But these things come back to haunt you don’t they? It happened sometime that I’ll be scrolling through twitter or walking the street and stop dead on the spot because memory intruded. It was such bodily reactions that made me realize OK. whatever pain or melancholy is attached to these memories wanted to get out, or at least be reduced, shared by another entity. That’s why the place of poems is so serious—that shit holds my hand.
M: So much was expelled in these pages, did catharsis ever arise in this endeavor?
O: For some reason my brain associates the word catharsis with more extreme images, like someone shaking and crying, and I don’t know what to blame for that. 😂😂
But to your question, a strong yes, Maria. Or as I like to say it brought resolve. I say a strong yes because I was once very cynical of catharsis in writing. And it was true for a while. I would write about things that happened to me and will never feel quite satisfied. Once I wrote about an experience on the page, became very irritated with the result, then flushed the page down the drain, and then found that to be more satisfying than writing. With writing, the page is a fickle materiality—no immediate sense of form to hold, something more tactile or more intense than words. I later on knew this frustration to stem from my dissatisfaction with the literal, not just words itself. This is why I low key envy musicians or artists with a much more involved and immediate act of creation. Every act of expelling thereafter had to transcend the thing itself; including having to prescribe a new language if I was going to speak at all. For me, there is no resolve without sublimation.