Tique | art paper asks six questions to an artist about their work and inspiration.
This week: Sreshta Rit Premnath.
Lives in Brooklyn, New York
How do you describe your own art practice?
I make installations that place figure-like forms that I call “slumps” in a codependent relationship to the architecture that supports them. In my exhibition ‘Those Who Wait’ at Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver, the structures that support the slumps refer to the architecture of migrant detention centers in the US. The three primary materials I have used in this installation are metal fences, silver security blankets and the kind of thin foam that is used in cheap mattresses. I have stretched the security blankets across fence frames tro create two way mirrors that reflect gallery visitors and put them in direct relation to the work. The foam is cut and soaked in plaster, turning it into ghostly figures that lean on each other with the fence in between.
Which question or theme is central in your work?
I was specifically concerned with the way time is used as a weapon against people who are powerless. I feel, however, that people who flee a situation to make a better life are doing so not just for themselves but for many others – spouses, lovers, children or friends. Even when they are imprisoned by the immigration system they are not alone. They always wait for and with someone else, which gives them the strength and desire to persist. The figures in Those Who Wait lean on and support each other. In fact the fence, which serves as the membrane of separation also provides the support structure that the figures use to hold themselves up. This contradiction is elaborated in three text pieces in the show that are designed and installed like exit signs, high up on the walls. Each piece contains a pair of words: SUPPORT/SEPARATE, EXILE/EXHAUST and WAIT/WEIGHT.
What was your first experience with art?
I grew up in Bangalore, India, making art from the time I remember and cannot pinpoint my first experience. There was a family friend early on who decided to study art against his parents’ wishes and in retrospect I think this had a big impact on me. I studied at an alternative school that encouraged creative expression in many forms from visual art to music, theater and dance. My art teacher at that moment in my life also had a significant impact on my desire to make art a lifelong commitment. There have been many role models along the way who showed me how to be an artist and reminded me why I wanted to be an artist in the first place.
What is your greatest source of inspiration?
I don’t often quote Chuck Close, but I agree with his statement: “Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work.” That said, my parents are a great source of inspiration for me. They run a non-profit in India that does reforestation work on the fringes of a wildlife sanctuary, while also supporting the livelihoods of the indegenious community there and running schools for their children. While I make art “about” pressing social issues they actually make change. Yet, I find great importance and significance in artmaking, even if it isn’t the most socially efficacious activity.
What do you need in order to create your work?
Space, time and materials. Living in New York, space is expensive and time is hard to come by. I teach at Parsons School of Design and co-edit the publication Shifter in addition to making art. So I always find myself juggling these different needs. I find that I work best when I have a big project ahead of me and a site in mind. The site provides both an architectural and political context for the work and helps me plan a project in relation to that context. For my exhibition at CAG I built a 3D model in Rhino and worked through several ideas and iterations of the show. I don’t use sketchbooks much any more and prefer to work through preliminary ideas in 3D programs or photoshop. I then work through material tests to hone in on the technical, formal and sculptural dimensions of the work. The final project comes out of a long series of trials and errors.
What work or artist has most recently surprised you?
I visited Castello di Rivoli in Turin recently and saw the work of the Arte Povera artist Gilberto Zorio. I was surprised and moved by the way materials like salt and fabric act on each other and leave behind the artwork as a kind of trace or residue. A similar aspect of Hans Haacke kinetic and environmental art from the 60s and 70s – currently at the New Museum was full of life and playfulness. Both artworks are several decades old but still feel fresh. And then there’s Pope L. In his MoMA show he cuts and folds fragments of the gallery wall and insets lights and images, turning the museum inside out. He is often at the museum moving behind the exhibition walls and creating subtle interventions in the show. Pope L. is always able to retain a deep melancholy and complexity in his work while infusing it with humor and play – it’s very difficult to do.