For the past seven years Ringling Underground has been bringing a mix of exhibition and live music to Sarasota. This Thursday, March 2nd, Ringling returns with its second Underground of this year, featuring an exhibit in the Ringling Courtyard titled: Action in the Manicure: Works by Nail Pop LLC & Porn Nail$. This exhibit features two regional artists, Rosemarie Romero and Erin Hart.
Romero is the founder of Porn Nail$ Salon, a mobile interactive installation and performance piece that doubles as a queer-feminist nail salon. Born in the Dominican Republic and raised in Miami, Romero’s art incorporates kitschy Latinx Caribbean themes that interlace with a desire to celebrate diversity, sexuality, and the human connection.
Hart is the founder of Nail Pop, a radical nail art company that focuses on community collaboration and working with local artists to make everything from nail decals, to stylish dust masks for the nail artists themselves. They’ve worked with many independent and local brands, their most recent collaboration being with Care Bears, celebrating the brand’s 35th anniversary.
Nail art has exploded in popularity in recent years. While single-color paint jobs and the ever-classic French Tip manicure never really went out of style; bold, bright, and blingy nails of the 80’s and 90’s, primarily birthed out of communities of color seemed to be on their way out in the 2000’s in favor of a more natural style. However, celebrities, and the rise of social media in the past five years have changed all that. Platforms like Instagram, Tumblr, and Youtube have allowed artists to share their work, while sites like Etsy and Kickstarter create spaces for new artists to sell their products and raise money for projects. Suddenly nail art that might have once been considered crazy, or even tacky, is everywhere and for everyone.
Leading up to Action in the Manicure, we sat down with both artists to hear more about the exhibit, their background in nail art, and what this art form- once relegated to the shadows and mystery of the salon- mean to them.
What first got you interested in nail art?
Rose: When I was doing my MFA in Creative Photography at UF (University of Florida) I was doing a lot of collages and paintings that focused on the female nude and femininity. So that sort of technical overlapping and focus on femininity led me to start doing simple nail art designs, very basic stuff. But I found that there was something really intimate and connective about doing nails and the space that is created in a salon between the artist and clients and I decided I really wanted to pursue it.
Erin: I’ve drawn and painted ever since I was little, so I’ve always drawn on everything, including my nails. I’d do them for different holidays and sometimes my mom would pay me to paint hers, too. In 2006, I went to school and got licensed to do nails as a full specialist. I didn’t start really developing my nail art until after I had heart surgery in 2010. I needed an outlet and I needed my friends while I recovered, so I’d invite them over and paint their nails.
Both of you started out with mobile salons, and Rose the mobility of your salon is central to your project. What appeals to you about the idea of a mobile salon?
E: I’m still primarily mobile, but I spend more and more time in my studio experimenting and doing editorial work. I started out working in stick and mortar salons/spas, but I really like having control over my schedule and clients by having a mobile salon.
R: Porn Nail$ is inherently an interventionist project. Part of the idea of it is to invade space and bring the experience and intimacy of being in a salon to people who might not ever walk into one. But it’s definitely a guilty pleasure of mine to think about having a stick and mortar salon. If it ever were to be, I’d love it to be a multi-purpose community space for performance, shows, stuff like that.
Speaking of intimacy Rose, you speak about Porn Nail$ and salons in general being a space where juicy gossip and intimacy emerge over the encounter. Erin, you talk a lot about building community in your work. How do you feel nail art can build intimacy and bring people together?
R: I feel like salons, and in the same way barbershops are a space where people come to share their personal stories and engage in cultural exchange. There is an intimate connection that happens in salons when you are working on someone and they are sharing with you about their lives. And I feel like salons in particular are places where historically women have and still do feel free to engage in conversations that are more raunchy, more free, more sexually explicit and to just, make jokes and have a good time. That’s part of what I’m trying to do with Porn Nail$, to make people feel more comfortable with their sexuality and sex in general.
E: Rose is definitely right about nail salons being a place for guests and artists to experience a closeness that I’ve never experienced doing other services. You’re face to face the entire time, holding their hands and taking care of them. Receiving a nail service can be a very disarming experience, so it’s important to be a good listener. Most of my clients are other artists that I collaborate with in the community here in Tampa. Anytime I find a local artist I like, I’ll offer them work designing decals. I think giving people work and a platform to express themselves is a great way to build community.
How do you see nail art empowering others? What empowers you as the artist about nail art?
R: With Porn Nail$ I feel like so many people have been able to experience this intimate salon setting. Porn Nail$ has been a way to bring people together and show them this [nail art] is for everyone. I’ve had boys come with their fathers to get their nails done, men who have never had their hands touched like this or nails done who were willing to come in and explore something and felt safe to express that with me. Because of the mobility and pop-up nature of the salon, it turns something that is hidden away into something with no walls and no barriers; it demystifies the salon experience. People come and feel like they can play with gender, play with the signifiers, and express themselves in a way they might not feel comfortable elsewhere.
E: For me, nail art allows me to be self employed, I get to choose my hours and my clients, there aren’t many jobs where you get to maintain that kind of control while still being creative and making money. I’m very lucky to be doing this for a living.
Both of you describe your projects as feminist. How do you see nail art as a feminist expression?
E: It’s probably one of the most diverse industries and we’re all here to make a living with our art. Giving that sort of autonomy and agency to people is feminist to me.
R: Outside from what I’ve said before about the salon being a place where people feel free to open up and express themselves, there’s this expression in Miami called Chusmeira, which basically means like radical shamelessness. And it’s this word that’s used when women sort of break traditional gender roles and norms of how they should behave and present themselves. It’s used a lot in the Latinx Caribbean community when, for example, a woman dresses too flamboyantly or acts a certain way. So it’s something that is put onto women from outside them and something stigmatized and with nail art and the space that’s created for women in a salon to express themselves however they’d like…it’s not quite an inversion of the word, but pushing these boundaries is something I keep in mind.
What’s your favorite kind of nail art to do?
R: I am all about glitter and rhinestones. I love sparkle, give it to me! I also like doing more eccentric stuff, nail piercings, things like that. And I really love using this Latinx concept in my work called “Mal de Ojo” and basically it’s like when someone looks at you with jealousy or like maliciousness and so to ward off this evil people wear eye designs called “nazars” and I love using these eye designs in my work.
E: Anything extremely intricate or ornate, the kind of nails few people have the patience to sit for!
Can you describe a little bit of what we can expect from the exhibit at Ringling Underground?
E: This year I’m collaborating with Care Bears, so you’ll see them included throughout the pieces. Each set of nails displayed is it’s own tiny universe to explore. Rose and I will be offering nail art manicures to the guests on a first come first serve basis. It’s going to be really cool.
R: As Erin said, we’ll both be doing nails in the courtyard, first come, first serve. We’ll also both be doing custom nail sets that will be on display and mine will definitely be playing off of the architecture of the building itself. I’ll also be bringing my Porn Nail$ aesthetic with me, rose garlands and Rococo objects decorating the courtyard.
Thanks so much for talking to us! We can’t wait to see the show!
Karen Arango is an independent photographer, videographer and black and white gelatin silver printer. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Photography and Digital Imaging from Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, FL. She also completed the General Studies photography program from the International Center of Photography in NYC.
Please tell me where you grew up and a bit about your background.
I was born in Colombia, and I moved to the United States when I was 9 years old. My family, parents and two siblings, was in danger because of the war going on in the country, therefore, we immigrated to the United States. When we arrived to this country my parents separated and my mother ended up raising us three alone.
Can you recall the first time you used a camera?
I can’t recall the first time, but I do remember using the old school cameras that my parents had brought with them from Colombia. They were film cameras and I must have been 10 or 11 years old when I got to use them for the first time. All I know is that around 2010 I used a panoramic camera with 110 film, and I took a photo of my brother and his friends while in ROTC in high school, I still have that photo and the cameras with me.
When did you know that photography was what you wanted to do?
I always loved art, I think almost every child does. I was lucky enough to have an art class at my school in Colombia and my parents had the means to get me art materials. In high school I decided to be an architect, and after doing the AutoCAD program during my junior year of high school I realized that it wasn’t for me. When I decided to study something more unconventional at the time, graphic design some friends and family members would tell me that I would not be able to live out of design or art but I was persistent with it, my mom supported me. I got certified in Digital Design, and after seeing Ringling’s campus and photography program, my boyfriend at the time suggested that I study photography. He would tell me I was very good at it, and I never believed him because he was my boyfriend and I thought he was just saying that. It seems like he knew me well cause since the first day I began studying photography, I fell in love with it.
What are the biggest challenges for you being a photographer?
Self motivation, I think that as an artist I need to keep myself motivated all the time, mostly to do personal work. Then finding a balance between personal and commercial work and keep the spark in my own art. It’s important for me not to let it become an obligation because I’m making money off of it. When your art becomes your means of income it can become dull and you can forget why you started doing it in the first place, but I think that as long as there is a line between commission work and personal work and we stay motivated to do our personal work, then it can be extremely magical.
What inspires you?
Life, experiences, family, friends, strangers, light, colors, compositions, music, traveling, love, nature, helping others, making mistakes, taking risks and the unknown.
Can you tell me about some of your projects?
I am currently working on a couple of projects. One is the Miss Behave series, which is about young girls born in the US and daughters of Latin American parents. I’m starting to expand on those series.
Another project I am working on is about women who were illegal immigrants and have been abused in the United States, and as a result they were able to get the Visa U. It’s something I just found out about and I think it is extremely important to talk about this. Many women, who have no immigration status, are being abused today and they are scared to say something because they fear deportation.
What is your dream situation? Is this a goal you’re working on, and if so, how’s it going?
Well when I was a child I wanted to be an actress. I’ve always loved performing arts, including dancing. I think everyone who knows me well knows how much I love dancing and every opportunity I have to do it, I take it. Deep inside I still would like to be a performance artist, but in some way I feel that I am connected to it, since I am behind the camera capturing the life performances instead of doing them.
In recent years, functional ceramics, a medium often shunted into the category of craft, has been accepted into the vast world of contemporary art. The February Ringling Underground features three artists living in Florida and exploring the medium of clay. Jenn Ryan Miller, Sharon Norwood, and Cheyenne Rudolph use ceramics to explore various themes. Their diversity will provide the Ringling Underground audience with a multi-faceted view of contemporary ceramics being produced in Florida at current.
For the first installment of Ringling Underground on February 4, 2016, Cheyenne Rudolph will be performing Lemon-Aider. Cheyenne, who received her MFA in 2014 from University of Florida, is both a ceramicist and performance artist. Her performances utilize subversive functional ceramics to explore childlike assumptions about domesticity and cultural expectations. Cheyenne graciously agreed to participate in an interview to provide the Ringling Underground audience with context about her performance, Lemon-Aider.
Please describe the piece you will be performing at Ringling Underground on February 4.
The Lemon-Aider is an interactive mobile beverage cart, designed as a traveling performance piece to challenge the collective assumptions surrounding gender identity for women. A nostalgic lemonade stand, the Lemon-Aider is a operated by a caricatured retro housewife, whose good intentions are peppered with indecorous insinuations brought on by the mechanics of operating the juicing device. This is not your childhood lemonade stand.
Why did you choose this piece to perform, and what are you hoping from the Ringling Underground audience in terms of participation?
The Lemon-Aider is a friendly piece, highly approachable, and participants come away with a more intimate encounter. The piece is mobile and flexible in how I perform it, as I make lemonade from scratch for one individual at a time. It is more like a conversation with a character than a timed performance in front of a live studio audience. Participants may watch as I demonstrate, or they may interact with me as I make lemonade.
When did you begin combining your ceramics with performance art?
I have a background in theatre, studying it briefly in high school and undergraduate school. As the art objects I made became increasingly ambiguous and absurd in their functions, it was necessary to explain their use. The element of control is important in how I design the work, so it was natural for me to demonstrate, and to essentially take over the use of the objects, so that now, I am the only user. It has blossomed into an engaging way to design and make work.
Where does a piece begin, the ceramics or the concept for the performance?
Definitely the concept is primary. As I have learned to design for my own engagement, I am liberated from making pedestrian-friendly functional objects, so I think of them as actors or overstated props in the performance. I think about whether I will be performing live or through video, which helps in how I design the work. I also think about the installation and visual context of the piece; because it will be informed by its surroundings and my own interaction, the object no longer has to carry the full weight of the concept. I can, in a sense, magnify my visual concept to installation proportions, letting the backdrop, the video editing, or my own script, bring in subtext. I then make the object with my preliminary performance idea in mind. After the object is complete, the performance may go through a series of trials and refinements, and at times, I need to remake the object to better suit the performance needs.
What is the relationship between the ceramics and the performance elements of your art?
The objects instigate, or provide the implications of the performance, yet in their complicated design and retro aesthetic, they draw the viewer in. They are designed to be appealing, as is my own costume, yet while in use, they become a source of absurd subversion. I am picking apart and drawing attention to the expectations placed on me, personally, and on women of a particular type.
What type of influences motivate your art practice?
1950s/1960s kitchen products, Chindogu and infomercials of the 90s/00s, parodies and satire, old SNL skits, calling attention to conventionally accepted, yet unjust paradigms. Lucille Ball, Amy Sedaris, drag performers, theatre scenic design techniques and methods.
Ringling Underground is series of one night only events combining live music and experiential artworks in the Courtyard. The artwork is curated by Natalya Swanson and Shannon Fortner organizes the musical performances.
Ringling Underground is always free for college students with a valid college ID. It is an extension of the Art After 5 program held on Thursdays after 5 p.m. After hours discounted admission is $10 for adults; $5 for children 6-17, children 5 and under and Museum Members are free.
Cash bar provided by Modern Events at The Ringling.
Ringling Underground is a rain or shine event.
Share your Underground experiences on social media using the hashtag:#RinglingUnderground
Interview conducted with showing artist, Nathan Wilson. Taylor Robenalt and Tyler Staggs also on view during the night’s event.
Thursday, February 5, 2015
Ringling Museum of Art
8:00pm – 11:00pm
Ringling Museum starts 2015 with fourt mixed media artists: Nathan Wilson, Taylor Robenalt, Corbett Fogue, and Tyler Staggs. The event’s artist liaison, Natalya Swanson, conducted an interview with Mr. Wilson. More information on the event can be found following the interview below.
Nathan Wilson specialized in the field of mathematically inspired art at New College of Florida.
Conceptually, where does your artistic process begin?
Once I have completed my research on a body of data which promotes my imaginative and technical growth I begin to understand the variables and mechanics of that given system. I do not take credit for the discovery of natural forms and thus, I think my artistic process begins when I start augmenting the “perfect” forms that I have been researching. Without the knowledge of any descriptive geometric vocabulary most human beings can identify abnormalities in an object with rotational symmetries. Therefore, another part of my artistic process involves the disguise and vanishing of certain intended abnormalities through the manipulation of perspective. For many of my pieces there are special axes of perspective which yield symmetric two-dimensional projections. Experimentation with the expression of 2D projections through alterations to 3D structure and vice-versa is a large component of my process.
What initially influenced your decision to incorporate musical elements into your sculptures? In what way has this evolved?
I developed my idea for a multi directional speaker system after a collegiate study project, which focused on optics. I drew connections between the energy mediums of sound and light, which both manifest in wave fronts. If the physical orientation of lenses effects the dispersion or concentration of light sources, so should the physical orientation of loudspeakers effect the dispersion or concentration of sound in a room. To create a symmetric wavefront I designed my speaker cabinets using polyhedral geometry. “The Decagon”, one of my speaker projects, exhibits elements of sound focusing and sound dispersion by combining two polyhedral structures into a single volume. Through my studies I have worked to minimize the volume needed to house the maximum number of loudspeakers on a polyhedron with spherical curvature. Geodesic augmentation of the icosahedron provides the perfect framework to push the parameters of my sound devices.
What influence does architecture have on your artwork?
I believe that a door is closed in the imagination of a human being that only has exposure to cubic structures. I grew up in NYC and I can testify to the fact that after a while I just stopped looking up. Instead I found fulfillment in Central Park and at public museums. I was especially fascinated by the natural structures exhibited in the gems and minerals exhibition at the Museum of Natural History. Fast forward 15 years and I was writing a thesis regarding the applications of crystalline structure on the Arts and Sciences. Applications of periodic and quasi-periodic crystal structures are certainly present throughout Islamic architecture and design. The manipulation of perspective in the construction and decoration of these structures illustrates a clear mathematical understanding of tessellation in two and three dimensions. I am also inspired by the inventions and architectural contributions of R. Buckminster Fuller. Fullers’ applications of geodesics and tensegrity to housing and transportation are amongst many innovations concocted by this one individual over 40 years ago. I believe that technology has progressed to the point where we may be ready to implement some of Fullers revolutionary ideas. I also believe that there are still many undiscovered applications for the Sciences and Arts in architecture and technology.
Geometry is a strong element in your work. Can you discuss the relationship between mathematics and art?
I began studying geometry because I thought it would be a structured way to develop my physical vocabulary. Through my study of physics I have come to understand elements about the structure of solid matter and have come to respect the classical philosophies of shape. The catalogue of regular uniform polyhedra lists the symmetric the ways that 2D shapes can orient themselves about a single point to form a volume. My study of the crystalline atomic bonds in solid matter, which approximate polyhedral tessellation, has changed the way I view composition at all scales. Each form expresses unique characteristics such as surface area, volume, and dihedral angle, which I use to inform my decisions during the composition of my pieces. There are an infinite number of ways to subdivide a space and mathematicians have documented an impressive number of them. Mathematics helps me to break down large, complex forms into constituent pieces which I can handle easier. The more pieces I can break an idea into the greater level of detail I can articulate when I rebuild it. For me, mathematics is the language of form.
Has living and working in Sarasota influenced your artistic intent?
I am very grateful for the help I have received form my friends in the local arts community. I have them to thank most for the continued progression and evolution of my career in Sarasota. Through stage design I am hoping to work with local musical and theatrical acts. My work last December with Fuzion Dance Company was an incredible opportunity to push the functional parameters of my structures. The Ringling Underground presents a similar opportunity to explore the interdisciplinary possibilities of performing artists working with visual artists. I believe that collaborative projects, which source artists from multiple disciplines, yield the most dynamic results.
Sarah Viviana Valdez is an artist living and working in Tampa, FL whom I met through mutual friends, and as a fellow Ringling College of Art & Design and New York Studio Residency Program alum. I’m intrigued by Sarah’s art practice, her evolution as an artist, and the direction her projects are headed. Recently Sarah had her first solo show at Gallery 621 in Tallahassee, FL, of which incorporated painting, sculpture, interactive ‘stations’, and googly eyes. With all the projects Sarah is currently involved in, I felt it absolutely necessary to contact her for an interview as her creative energy and dedication is refreshing and inspiring.
KLL: You have a very multifaceted art practice; how did you come to that process?
SVV: Peers have always had a huge impact on me. During undergrad school at Ringling I was heavily influenced by my classmates exploring a variety of methods, materials, and conceptual ideas. While there I applied topics such as educational systems, institutional aesthetics, traditions within portraiture, and interactive environments. In school it seemed more about processes and failures involving ideas. Everyone was feeding off of each other; it was a very fruitful environment amongst the small Fine Art majors. Naturally everyone needed to expose themselves to every medium since they seemed so enticing; it was a time to start being playful and we all learned a lot from that. I moved to Tampa post graduation, first living with my parents with little to no income. During this time, I had a six month break from school peers. Supplemental income allowed me to play with tools in a way that set aside the embedded history and its contemporaries. That transition helped manifest a language with myself, and understand where the work was coming from outside of the institution. After meeting a group of creative freaks in Tampa, I started to blend into the guerilla noise scene, and explore within a multifaceted DIY culture. My art practice is a result of my curiosity and desire for constant productivity, leisure, and play within order. It wasn’t until the institutional context was gone that I allowed the process of producing with a structural multifaceted framework, due to the nature of my new environment.
KLL: Recently, you had your first solo exhibition in Tallahassee, FL. Please describe the exhibition space, how you coordinated the show, and why you chose the name Where Current Can Flow for the exhibition title.
SVV: I found Gallery 621 online because they posted an open call for solo exhibitions a year ago, which I was diligently searching for at the time. I was unaware of the art scene in Tallahassee, so I researched Railroad Art Square which made the space intriguing — I would get exposure with family participants, according to the director who said Friday openings get at least 3,000 foot traffic, including families and students from FSU. The family aspect sold it to me; I wanted to plan a simple interaction with groups of people I’m barely exposed to with my artwork — Gallery621 was able to provide that interaction.
Planning an entire solo show is a challenge, especially when I never visited the site before the show. The gallery director, Cynthia, who is wonderful and extremely open-minded, responded to my email requesting information in regards to the layout and measurements of the space. Cynthia sent a detailed map and encouraged the proposal.
The proposal was a response to my current situation — an artist working a cubicle job and feeling very restricted by it. My experience with routine at work is absurd, where self identity is hardly encouraged and motivation is prescribed. The design of the office environment has an effect on its workers, putting them in a routine trance — the objective within the interior design is so specific to the potential each individual is allowed to have –this really interested me. What if I flipped that around and experimented with different arrangements to encourage the opposite effect?Where Current Can Flow intended to create play within order in an unconventional layout, allowing freedom and privacy in an inhibiting space. In this case, the gallery was the inhibiting space for a month. The floor space was divided in three stations, workspace, leisure-space and recreation-space. Arranging the three stations let me investigate the way adults and kids work, how information travels, and the way they encounter an ambiguous station encouraging interaction. For this show I started with primitive materials such as tape and scraps of paper, a labyrinth, and carrots to-go. The intention with the title, Where Current Can Flow, was to manifest an enigmatic energy between the space and the participant, initiating a creative circuit. Since the show, I hope to continue experimenting with and investigating the design of spaces for a positive energy that enhances self quality per participant.
KLL: I’m particularly intrigued by the “stations” in the exhibition; please describe each in detail.
SVV: The entrance area started with cartoon hands, pointing to the left and right sections of the room. The hands divided the space in half, offering two choices, the work-space to the left and the leisure-space to the right. Since there were no additional wall surfaces hiding what both sections included, it created an open environment. The left side was the work-space — a floor furniture piece shaped like three circles including tiny wooden sticks, tape, and scraps of construction paper in a trashcan. These items suggested a simple interaction, with one objective, to decorate the rug collaboratively rather than replace these items each day, the resulting constructions/collages were left for participants to dismantle or add to over the course of the installation. The right side was the leisure-space, signified by a large rounded rectangle as another floor furniture piece. In the center of this rectangle was an assortment of edible carrots and beets stored in a container with damp sand. Produce was used to invite the viewer to leisurely indulge in eating a fresh healthy snack, or to take back home, whichever notion pleased them. The front center was the recreation-space — a large square labyrinth floor piece with the maze laid out from tape. Participants could walk on top of the piece to find a way in and out of the maze, embodying a mental exercise. All the stations allowed me and the participants to reflect on three different topics; work, leisure, and recreation coexisting in the same space with no dividends.
KLL: Your work is predominantly vibrant and playful. I’d love to know more about the play element.
SVV: It’s second nature for me to be very playful. I’m constantly striving to take each experience nӓively like a child would. Of course my reflections on such experiences are different than a child’s. There is something about the immediacy approach, using new mediums to translate observations into images with no order or rules. It’s a constant reminder for me after being influenced by children. I have a younger brother, we are 15 years apart and he is now 10, Fernando is such an inspiration to this concept. It’s something I feel we shouldn’t lose as adults. I want to have that balance between child and adult when taking in new experiences, so I can make connections with our everyday life with play in mind. Our observations and conclusions shouldn’t have to be so structured. There is an energy that keeps allowing new connections to have an impact on us. With vibrant color and play it allows that to exist for me within the work.
KLL: What is it like living and working as an artist in Tampa, FL?
SVV: Tampa is a city where the general public doesn’t support the arts very much, having little knowledge about the underground local performance/art scene. Any rural, metro, or suburban city can have an ‘art culture’ exist; it takes a group of people with similar interests to make something happen. We just start spitting out ideas till something hits and actually interests all of us, but if no one ever produces them the results will be unknown. A group of people have to be okay with being intuitive with each other in order for the scene to progress locally. Breaking away from specific manifestos is important too. Such group decisions allow growth within the community. It’s a series of experiments: what else could be added, where else can we do it, who else can be involved? Working in Tampa is like any other place; to me it’s what you make it to be. Deserted spaces are useful pathways to transform into a happening. Such a space provides privacy, freedom, and choice of interaction. Tampa is filled with foreclosure homes for movie sets, bridges that hover the Hillsborough River that shelter performances, Curtis Hixon park with a power outlet and lights on till midnight, friends living in cheap housing in Ybor with no noise rules that allow events to get dirty and loud, storage units where mechanics test vehicles and the youth blow up speakers at the same time, Stoney’s a dive bar that get’s serenaded by loud bands bringing something back that was lost due to the pollution from nearby ports, and the list can go on…
KLL: How do you divide your time between your job and your art practice?
SVV: I work a full-time network support job that is unrelated to my degree and passion. It’s difficult to accept what needs to be compromised since a lot of my time is spent working 40 hours a week just to pay off my education loans. It’s like having two jobs — office job and studio practice job. It can feel discouraging at times, especially with Tampa not having a well grounded art community awareness. Awareness is not promoted well through the museums and galleries. USF Contemporary Art Museum has some of the better shows, but none include local art in Tampa. There is so much that is archived and has happened here and still not many people are aware of it. A lot of that is to blame within the scene too, due to rejection it’s natural to be enclosed with the smallness of the community, or allowing other scenes to diverge. We can make any place conducive to make art happenings. When there is less going on, it’s the boredom that brings similar people together to fill in that gap.
It has taken about two years to figure out my routine and balance my job, personal life, my dog Enzo, leisure, and art projects. I’ve had to sacrifice events, materials, and a certain lifestyle in order to keep making work. Continuing the work and being part of a community is all that matters to me. Nothing else makes sense in order to get through the day. When I get home there is so much to release after thinking in my dark cubicle cell. At my cubicle there is a stack of empty post-its that a co-worker gifted me. I use those constantly, writing ideas and lists of things to get done. When the shift is over they get stuck to my wallet or the back of my smart phone. My desk at home is filled with post-its. The notes are relative to review later on, a simple documentation of my processes unfolding. I also use my smart phone a lot for note taking, the camera captures weird occurrences encountered that later inspire certain pieces. The applications on my phone have been great in that sense, documenting immediate responses to my surroundings. That material has grown since acquiring the device, a lot more to reflect on though. I’d probably go insane not releasing my thoughts.
KLL: I love how you’re also interested in music and fashion; please describe your recent projects.
SVV: I did a fashion show called Gilded Rag with Katie Magruder, who performs as Fishwife, and Erin Hart, owner of Nail Pop LLC. It was our first time coordinating a fashion show and I really wanted to bring together our community in Tampa, and experience a happening through fashion. It was hosted at Cottage Sleaze, a true lair of Ybor housing used as a performance space. My friend Jasmine Huneycutt owns the place and performs asDiamond Hymen. A few friends have a name for their houses and use them as performance spaces; these spaces have changed the dependency with outdoor guerilla locations recently — It has changed the way sound occupies the space. Before, it was with limited equipment on the cement with a generator, now it’s a more controlled environment. The backyard, I think, used to be for milking cows — that’s where we did the fashion show — there is a raw cement opened building with a brick pathway leading to it, naturally ready for the runway. Jasmine also has a great amount of plants that added the Florida tropic into the scenery … oh, and there are even Roosters flocking around, showing off their red comb. The reason we did the fashion show was because there is a lot of Tampa music, but little of everything else. There are Ybor clubs and venues hosting mainstream pop culture, including Hip-hop and indie-rock — also the hair salons have formal fashion shows with an amazing influx of talent — there are the drag shows because Ybor has an upcoming gay pride scene, and then a few galleries that have opening receptions. Also, there is the DIY underground scene that includes noise, heavy metal, and punk.
I wanted to offer something different, aside from all the semi segregated scenes, and include something that had sculpture, performance, sound, and installation. The Gilded Rag show fit all of those points, and it still included music by using a tablet program that was very simple for my models to perform while wearing the clothing pieces. I also wanted to include more females performing that typically wouldn’t within our group, of course some of them already do. I selected a variety of girls, and was able to use two males, and put them in a position to perform and learn to be comfortable with their bodies and expressions. All the clothing was made out of plastic from shower curtains, LED lights, spray paint, free dumpster fabric — basically anything that we could get without spending our own dough, because we had a very tight budget to dress-up 12 models.
The music scene has been around my artistic career in Sarasota as well. I knew about the Tampa noise scene because they played shows at New College when I was in school at Ringling. Plus, in Sarasota, Matt Pierra, who has Roofless Records, coordinated Cinema Sounds — blending live cinema scoring with south-west noise music. I worked with Matt at Burns Court, and he was my introduction to DIY music in Florida. When I moved to Tampa, it was instinctive to become part of it due to my performance background. It was different of course — It’s like learning another language. Once I became confident writing and performing, the aesthetics and sculptures for i_like_dog_facesets started to mirror my art. Jimmy Sanchez and Daniel Kipp Whittaker, the guys from Skeleton Warrior, had this house off Branch Ave called the Branch Ranch Pervert Pit — they were the first to encourage me to start performing. I have Jimmy and Daniel to originally thank. Up until this year Cyborg City, a hidden secret amongst East Ybor, provided a space for my first sculptural performance involving a plastic inflatable Cyclops face — It is filled up with air from an industrial fan and I performed inside of it. Afterwards, I had a better idea for dog_face’s aesthetic, and it’s been interesting experimenting with outfits and environments recently. The same guys who run Cyborg City curate NO RAVE once a month this summer, at The Social Club in Ybor . There is a basement, it’s dark, and when it strikes midnight there is live electronic/industrial music from the noise scene.
I have released two digital downloads Cubicle Spell and Keep Rising From the Screen — both include digital sample sounds that have a creepy voice reciting words with a combination of panning bass — It first started with, “How do I deal with having a cubicle job?”. From there I created sounds for aggregate routers bouncing, clamping, encrypting, anything that included my job functions but giving it a soundtrack.
There are also a few festivals that happen once a year, getting everyone together to cram an ambitious amount of bands that perform over the course of 2-3 nights. The most notable one I got to perform for this year was International Noise Conference. Rat Bastard runs the event in Miami, FL at Churchhills Bar, and this year was the 10th anniversary. That guy has so much energy and loves everything about weird/noise music and gear. The event is held in February. This year Diamond Hymen attached a toy shotgun to her microphone, tossed one feather pillow into the air, and passed three cow hearts to three female performers included in the set — it looked like a slumber party occult ritual; it was fantastic. At the end of the night, everyone consumed feathers and where gagging them during their sleep.
I got asked to playfor the third Savage Weekendfestival hosted in Chapel Hill, NC, put together by Ryan Martin. It brought more Northern performers from Philadelphia, New York, and Providence, RI. It was the first time I’ve seen Humanbeast perform, and my jaw dropped amazed by Maralie Armstrong’s voice. The festivals have been inspiring just by experiencing the family vibe everyone has with each other, supporting the scene — its high-encouraging. I’m still new to performing within the scene, and this year has been the first time it has been exposed outside of Tampa. Cephia’s Treat Recordings released my first 15 minute tape Twisting Signals of Lightright before Savage Weekend. The cover is screen-printed with glow-in-the-dark ink on construction paper — trademark of the local connoisseur and archivist of the Tampa noise scene, Todd Lynn (Haves & Thirds). The tape can be ordered through his website.
Tampa has its own slice in the pie as well which is Blood Fest — you never know where it will be or what’s going to happen. The sets are short, at different locations, sound tracking the urban landscape of Tampa. There are no limitations with locations to perform when it comes to a generator. It’s really hot and drippy; everyone has their own disaster of ‘blood’ that is poured on them before the set. This year was my first time performing for it. Also, artist Rosemarie Romero did another Porn Nails performance in conjunction with Nail Pop LLC and Action Research, at the Venture Compound in St.Petersburg, FL. The installation was great and the space is huge, surrounded by other industrial warehouses. There were music performances alongside the mobile nail salon concept, invading public spaces. So my ideas have translated in many different ways in Tampa. I’m having the constant desire to play and have fun with like minded freaks.
KLL: Where does your work exist in relation to the Digital Age, and how do you see this age evolving –our culture evolving and adapting to, or from, the Digital Age–?
SVV: I work a very technical job that changes everyday due to the progression of technology. It’s benefited me to understand how internet outages and other digital communication devices have an impact on individuals. Consumers expect it to work 24/7, with no flaws, without understanding what makes it function. We rely on the timing and advice of technology, to run and tell how life should be lived. The Digital Age has many affects on our culture, especially the way information is distributed and how products are marketed. The whole ‘You’ as the image for marketing is very strange, our own image/avatar is used to promote the use of these website companies, and it seems to have become easily adaptable in everyone’s lives. My work has gotten small exposure to strangers that know someone who knows another person, because it’s floating out there. I don’t really think people are ever unnoticed anymore, as much as we still like to think. Sure there are different degrees to being recognized but we are not alone. Also the Digital Age has expanded the way tools are perceived; the idea of editing has become more complex and its part of our everyday lives, with us not even noticing it. Because of all these programs, the amount of expression that is posted in the web has increased. Everyone is generating ‘something’. We are evolving as artists, because our filters are changing constantly with the rate of technology. There is also the politics of sharing in the Digital Age, the open source culture is having an impact on the way DIY is expanded in technology; people are sharing for free for others to amplify on their ideas with the intention to learn from each other. I think we are adapting slowly to technology, because the rate of technology is progressing at a fast rate, but our culture is not parallel yet. That’s where we need to be focusing, and it starts with understanding how our devices work because it’s now part of our daily lives.
KLL: Where do you see your projects going from here?
SVV: Right now I’m everywhere and in need to calm down. The next few months I want to focus on my sound performances with i_like_dog_face, and have better quality recordings. Ryan Martin (Secret Boyfriend) from Carrboro, NC owns Hot Releases records and he will be releasing a vinyl of dog_face. I have a lot to consider: The image on the cover, the content in the sound, how it’s recorded, what kind of atmosphere I’m willing to invade with the concept, etc. It’s an object that is distributed and the only control I have is the image and sound; the rest is involved with a basic frame that is pretty universal. It’s very exciting and all very new to me; Ryan is great and such a supportive person for the entire ‘noise/weird’ music scene. Also, recently many of my friends want to produce films, and a few have written stories for them and started filming already. One that comes to mind is Carlos Gonzales, a prolific performer for Russian Tsarlag,comics Slime Freak, and filmmaking. He resides in Providence, RI but is a true local from Tampa. He was in town over the weekend and we filmed one movie involving a Magician and another involving a Cowboy dentist. Carlos is a method actor and has a real immediate raw style with filming and editing. Sets include green tones and scraps of shiny trash melting off the wall surfaces. He uses a mini DV camera with built-in ‘cheap’ effects and edits with a VCR… Really excited to see the by product. I’ve been pushing myself so much to coordinate projects, such as dog_face performances, Gilded Rag fashion, and my solo show that now it would be nice to be used and directed. I feel like my performance and fashion will translate well when acting for films. Last of all, I’m moving into a cheaper housing situation which means extra cash flow and potential for a studio space, finally. Getting such a space has a lot of potential for the community in Tampa, not just for me. I’m already encouraging a lot of friends to get a space in the same location that was found on Craigslist — that’s if it’s legit. It’s good to have that break period and experiment with another form of art, for me at least it’s manifested a conversation within the community of friends, because not everyone is sticking to one thing anymore. Let’s keep the ball rolling, eh?
Sarah Viviana Valdez is a Kansas born artist who lives and works in Tampa, Florida. Valdez graduated with class of 2010 from Ringling School of Art and Design Fine Art department, and participated in the New York Studio Residency Program, Spring of 2009. You can view more of Valdez’s work at www.svaldez-es.org