Denise Treizman is an artist born and raised in Chile, currently based in New York. She has an MFA in Fine Arts from the School of Visual Arts. Treizman has been a resident at the Vermont Studio Center Residency (Robert Sterling Clark Foundation partial fellowship), Ox-Bow Residency, Nars Foundation, ACRE Residency, and Triangle Workshop. She was also a fellow at the Artist in the Marketplace program from the Bronx Museum, culminating with “The Bronx Calling”, a biennial exhibition at the Bronx Museum. Her work has been exhibited in several cities of the world, including Santiago (Chile), Buenos Aires (Argentina), Shanghai (China), San Francisco, New Jersey, Chicago and in New York (USA). She has recently been awarded a membership at the Elizabeth Foundation Studio Program.
My work repurposes found and ready-made objects spontaneously encountered during my daily life. These materials become part of sculptures and whole room installations that are endlessly in-flux. To investigate the relationship between the ready-made and artist-made, I occasionally include crafted clay components that blend into the found elements. Precariously constructed sculptures result from a process that embraces chance, explores material relationships and mostly uses what is at hand. Conceived in a playful and intuitive manner, the work examines ideas of informality, improvisation, and new forms of abstract assemblage.
Utilizing the excess from society, my work emphasizes an overly consumerist culture where things are easily disposed of. Through mark-making and sculptural gestures, I attempt to own objects that lie on no-man's land: publicly abandoned yet unclaimed and overlooked by most of the people. Working both on the street and the studio, I ask the viewer to examine how worthless materials can present themselves as unexpected art experiences.
Q&A with Denise Treizman
by Sidney Mullis
When did you begin to work with publicly abandoned materials and objects discarded on the street? What drew you to these materials initially? What keeps you working with them?
In 2010 went to NYC for a month, to do a summer residency at the School of Visual Arts. It was my first time spending time in the city, not being a tourist. Right away, I was impressed not only by the amount of trash but also by the quality of some discarded objects. To me, these objects were not even close to reaching the end of their lifetime, yet to their owners they clearly had. I struggled to understand why they were simply put on the sidewalks, instead of passed along to someone who could make a better use of them. I was fascinated by the way objects would seamlessly blend into the streets but at the same time alter the cityscape. New Yorkers (and maybe Americans in general) were familiar to this landscape; nonetheless, to me it was alien and I couldn’t help noticing it. The way things were just left on the street, placed on the sidewalks, leaning against trashcans or fences made me conscious of placement and arrangement…but also made me think about displacement, lack of space and how replaceable things are these days. I keep working with discarded materials because I live in a city where they are everywhere! I think I would have to walk blindfolded to stop paying attention to them!
Are the histories of the materials you work with (beyond aesthetic appearance) important to you?
When I work with a material, I think about where it is coming from, how I found it, what emotional tone it can add to what I make with it. All those things hint at stories, but stories that I don’t want to complete myself. The discarded things that I use are mostly generic objects or materials that could belong to anyone. I have noticed that I tend to avoid materials where a personal story is too evident. What does interest me a lot is my personal journey with the material, the interactions I had while dragging it to my studio. Also, the journey of the material itself; from its production, to a home, to the street, to a material that lends itself to me grabbing it to then alter it with my gestures. When I pick up something I think about the possibilities that the material offers, and that could be in terms of the formal aspects it can add to the work as an aesthetic experience, or in terms of the meaning embedded in the object and what that can bring to the work.
What has been your most interesting or outlandish material acquisition?
That is a hard question to answer! I don’t really think I could pick one or a few specific things. Once I have incorporated something I found into my work, it already becomes precious to me. I must confess I have a storage unit where I keep most of these objects: taxi bumpers and car pieces, broken umbrellas, inflatable balls, pieces of metal, swimming pool noodles, and many other things. These things that have been previously been used in my assemblages and installations become “raw” material again. Nothing is carefully packed and stored as one complete “artwork”. These objects have the potential to be used again in different ways, and when used, they will contain traces and marks from their past existences as works of art. I like that idea of the work containing materials that treasure their history as objects, but also as part of my in-flux process. In a way, the work doesn’t want to stay still and has the potential to infinitely become something else.
Has your process of finding your materials been largely unrestrained and unfettered? Have you found yourself in any sticky situations from mining for your materials in public spaces?
Finding my materials is something that happens spontaneously, as part of my daily life. I could be on my way to the studio, home, or somewhere else and I stumble into an object that I consider potentially attractive. Then, I must decide; do I have the time to take it somewhere now? If it is big enough, will I be able to keep it in the studio? Can I just walk or take the subway with it? If it is something smaller, I will probably just take it with me and later on decide whether it is worth keeping or not. The main issue with removing objects from public space is how to handle them and take them where needed. Sometimes people look at me, ask me a few questions, but it is not that out of context to interact with trash in NYC. On the contrary, I was in Shanghai working on a two-month installation project. Finding available materials there was a whole different story because the city was so clean and organized! I once found a huge plastic sign from a convenience store on the street. As soon as I decided to take it, a guy that recycled trash for a living grabbed it first. I really wanted that piece, so I had to offer him money for it; it was a whole negotiation process where I failed to lower his price. They guy didn’t understand why I wanted that object, but he was smart enough to know that I wanted it really badly!
Since Thanksgiving was only a few days ago and you have an interest in overt consumerist culture, what do you think about Black Friday shopping?
I can proudly say that I have never seen the craziness live, which means I am not into it! In general, the sales that they do here in the US when there is a holiday have always surprised me. I grew up where holidays are associated to family time, resting time, traveling and also a day off for everyone, because all commercial stores are usually closed. Nonetheless, more and more these habits have spread and consumerism is global. We now have Black Friday sales in Chile, even though Thanksgiving is not even a holiday there!
I adore your Street Interventions in which you temper with “junk” right in the spaces in which you have found them – in the street! How do you go about conducting these interventions? How do you decide when detritus that you have found is worthy of an intervention or is to be left alone?
These interventions happen in a very spontaneous and improvised manner. Not everything I see is worth working with, I follow my instinct. I could be walking by and notice something that I want to intervene. That instinct could have to do with the object itself, with the environment surrounding it, or with something about its placement. Because these encounters are unexpected, I would have to go back to the studio to grab some materials and my camera, hoping that the object will still be there when I return. Sometimes, I decide to do the street intervention because it is something I really want to work with, but for practical reasons I won’t take it to my studio: it could be something huge or too heavy, or something that could have bed bugs…although that, I won’t touch on the street either!
How do you think your childhood in Chile has influenced your material choices and how you build your pieces?
I think a lot of the wittiness has to do with that. Also, the idea of solving “problems” that arise during the construction of my pieces with what is at reach. I think those things are very Chilean, although I can’t explain why to someone who did not grow up in Chile…This idea of slightly “beating” the system; I mean it in the sense of not doing things the expected way, maybe skipping a step to reach the same goal. As a child, I visited my grandparents who lived in Miami every year. Each of those trips meant accessing all these toys, stickers, glittery objects, neon color tape and so many other materials that we didn’t have in Chile at the time. I would take these “treasures” back home and save them for important occasions. I think when I moved to the US I felt a drive to incorporate a lot of these materials in the work…I now had unlimited access to them and later on I realized this allowed me to reconnect to my childhood memories.
You have many degrees from many different institutions around the world! What was your motivation to continue your education in Chile, London, California, and New York City?
It wasn’t necessarily planned, but it has worked out to be like that! Chile was where I got my first degree, which was actually non-art related. Then I realized I wanted to pursue art, but wasn’t really sure about how and where to get started. I took continuing education classes at Central Saint Martins College of Art in London. That was like my first baby step into art. Later on, I was aware I wanted to be a professional artist and get an art degree. I spent a year at the San Francisco Art Institute, which was great, but I realized New York is where I really wanted to be, so it made more sense to study there. That is why eventually I moved to NY get my MFA at the School of Visual Arts.
Would you say your first degree in Marketing and Administration from Universidad Catolica de Chile has aided your artistic practice?
I always say it is not the same to market a product you sell for someone else, than to market yourself, which is a much harder task! Nonetheless, I am grateful for having that first degree because it developed skills that help me organize myself and have a clearer vision of where I want to take my career. It has also allowed me to conduct some big projects that I couldn’t have handled otherwise. For example, in 2010 there was a huge earthquake in Chile. It was also the year of the Soccer Worldcup taking place in South Africa. I conceived and developed a fundraising project in which the soccer shoes of the Chilean National team soccer players were intervened by renowned Chilean artists. The works of arts were auctioned to rebuild a school and we raised over 50.000 USD. It was a big project with logistics, sponsors and marketing involved so degree was definitely handy!
Similarly, you have participated in many residencies! What is it about a residency’s environment or structure that you find augments your practice?
I think residencies are a great experience! They allow you to fully concentrate in making new work while everything else is taken care for! But the main thing for me is the people you meet: other residents, visiting professionals, staff, etc. I have met some great people with whom I stay in touch. It really allows you to expand your practice, to try something new without the pressure of your normal working environment. For example, this year I did two residencies where they had kilns, so I decided to explore ceramics. It turned out to be a great addition to my work. To me, it is not about the access to the kiln because I could find one in the city; it is about the openness to try something you haven’t done before, without expectations!
How do you sustain a creative and full life as a maker? Any advice for newcomers or the recently graduated?
My main advice is to be very proactive and don’t feel discouraged by rejections or take them too personally. This means: looking for opportunities, applying to many residencies and also trying to build your art community after school. Friends you studied with are great, but are already too familiar with your work. Fresh eyes and new exposure can open up more opportunities. To me, it is important to identify a few artist friends you really trust and will give you honest feedback and support. The most important thing for me is to be generous and supportive with other artist friends you admire. I am convinced it all comes back to you!
Any new projects or upcoming exhibitions you’d like to share with us?
Sure! I am thrilled to have my first solo exhibition in NYC at Cuchifritos gallery in April 2016. For this exhibition I will use discarded objects found in the gallery surroundings and the installation will be periodically changing until it closes. I will also be working on my first public sculpture that will be an interactive installation at Randall’s Island. It is part of FLOW.16 that will open in May 2016. Then in October, I will have an individual exhibition at Wave Hill’s Sunroom Project Space, in the Bronx. In this case, I will vacate my storage unit into the gallery and work with materials that I have kept to create a new installation with them.
Thanks so much for sharing your work and talking with us!
To find out more about Denise and her work, check out her website