Immersive Studio Visit (VR)
Immersive Studio Visit - Victoria Manganiello (Part II)
Mar 27, 2018
Last month, Eazel was invited into the studio of Victoria Manganiello, a New York-based textile artist who creates woven paintings and installations. She is known for spinning, dyeing, and weaving her own canvases using materials she creates herself from natural ingredients and found objects she happens upon in the urban environment she inhabits. Her work has been exhibited around the world, and she teaches as an adjunct professor both at New York University and at Parsons School of Design.
Eazel: Victoria, earlier we explored your thinking and work process as a textile artist. Segueing from the ‘how’ to the ‘what’ of your work and process, it would seem that maps and geography serve as paradigms that guide you as an artist. How do you think about and employ these concepts in your work?
Victoria Manganiello (VM): Sure. I think of maps and geography as a way of identifying aspects of our world that have remained constant over time, as well as contextualizing what it is that defines us as humans. They’re a visual starting point for my abstraction.
So when I think about a mountain range, I’m thinking about how it may have affected the way the people on one side of that mountain interacted with the people on the other side. These concepts inspire me to contemplate why we are the way we are, as well as all the other big questions we’re asking ourselves as we're falling asleep.
Just like any other artist walking around the world with a particular set of questions that she’s curious about—not necessarily intent on answering them—these are concepts that continue to inform my work process. I suppose they’re also how I connect my work with nature.
Eazel: Congratulations on your recent participation in the Function to Freedom: Quilts and Abstract Expressions group exhibition at Sara Kay Gallery. What was it like showing your work next to that of visionaries like Yayoi Kusama, Helen Frankenthaler, Grace Hartigan, Elaine de Kooning, Lee Krasner, and Louise Nevelson?
VM: It was extremely exciting. The abstract expressionists that I was exhibiting with are people that I've admired greatly over the course of my own artistic journey. So it was quite an honor to show work next to theirs.
And Sara has a very impressive background in the art world—both from a business perspective, as well as in her work with artists. Her mission to support female artists and collectors really resonates with me.
Eazel: What was Sara’s thinking behind the selection of work for the show?
VM: It was a group show that included all the abstract expressionists you mention, and there was a vague suggestion that during the time these women were painting they may have been influenced by 19th century, hand-made quilts—by their form and function.
By hanging the paintings and quilts side by side, Sara created this conversation. Including my work in the show was, perhaps, a nod to the future. I'm a woman and a painter, and a textile artist making something that looks very different, but is born from the same traditions and cultural expectations.
Another common thread was the idea that these two sets of objects—the abstract expressionist paintings and the quilts— were both created by women. I think Sara was calling attention to the fact that they were both made by women who were ignored as artists at the time when they were making, yet one category would eventually be recognized in the annals of art history, while one would not. The textiles don’t even get associated with their makers. This idea is somewhat analogous to the relationship between textile art and painting that my work evokes.
After the exhibition closed Sara invited me to fill the gallery with a show of my new work, along with a small recreation of my studio. It’s a sort of an exhibition/ residency. I have to say that I'm thrilled to have exhibited in her space in these two ways now.
Eazel: We read all about the Mordant dinner parties that you organized around the world. What was your thinking behind the work and concept?
VM: Like with most of my work, the concept was born from the intuitive process of making. As I mentioned earlier, I get a lot of my colors from natural materials—and many of these materials are food items, such as pomegranates, avocados, onions, turmeric, sumac, etc. These are all things that can give us a permanent color in fiber. So while experimenting with dyes in my studio one day, I became aware of the smell of delicious dinner all around me and realized that I was basically cooking. So it got me thinking about how to transpose the experience to a social setting.
Ordinarily, I’m applying the color I get from this process directly to fiber after extracting it from the dyestuff. This is how I apply color to my paintings. But I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be interesting if I put the food right there and we consumed it—leaving color behind?’ So I started cooking mordant dinners for friends in my studio, and eventually I connected with filmmaker Kristin Kremers who is now conceptualizing and producing a film about the project and the larger conversation about food and fiber. Together we’ve conducted three Mordant dinners in New York (hosted by Li Edelkoort) and one in Sofia Bulgaria (hosted by Generator Sofia). We intend to continue them around the world for the film.
While in Bulgaria, instead of weaving the cloth and cooking the meal myself like I did in New York, I worked with a local weaver and a local chef. And it ended up looking extremely different from the cloth from the New York dinners. And so there was just this interesting thing considering how can the people around my canvas make a difference on its appearance and what are the differences and similarities between these two groups of people coming from two different places.
In some cases I made bowls out of dyed ice that melted over the course of the meal or served with plates that had holes in them or slotted spoons. So there were these curious sort of incidental interactions between the dye cloth. Worth mentioning is that there is a difference between a dye and a stain, and this where mordant (the project’s name) comes in. Mordant is a French word meaning to bite and it is a fixative chemically bonding the fiber to the dye.
Eazel: In closing—and returning to this connection between abstraction and your work as a textile artist—tell us about your four-month-long experiment of visiting the MoMA once a week and sitting in front of the same abstract painting for an afternoon—Mark Rothko’s Untitled No. 51.
VM: The reason I started the experiment was because I wanted to explore how abstraction could have an impact on me and I had always enjoyed Rothko’s work. It’s both abstract and yet very popular. I wanted to understand why.
I was expecting for the experiment to be personal; however, actually sitting in front of a painting for two to three hours at a time where people normally spend 20 seconds at most ended up being almost performative. I learned a lot about viewership, and the experience became something of a therapy session for me. I would use the large, colorful space to explore what I was feeling at the time of any given sitting. And nobody was ever in the room with me long enough to become aware of what I was doing.
Reflecting on the experience, I don't know if it would have been the same with something that had images or symbols I could recognize. It was the abstract nature of the work—I believe—that afforded me a space in which to project my own feelings and story.
Eazel: The performative aspect aside, it would seem like the experience opened you up to abstraction as a means of introspection. Do you think anyone can have this kind of experience with this type of art?
VM: Absolutely. I think that if we can let go of the intimidation factor associated with abstraction, it can be a really powerful tool for anyone to look inward and get to know and understand themselves and the world around them. It’s for this reason that I'm drawn to working with with abstraction—not just because I want that to be something my viewer can experience, but because it’s something I'm experiencing while I’m working.
I want my work to be open and accessible to interpretation, so that when you encounter it and see color, you recognize color. Or if you see texture, you recognize texture. I want the viewer to be able to place her own story somewhere in between. It’s in this sense that I see something that’s abstract as more open and accessible.
On View & Upcoming
Jefferson Library, Underground Gallery (New York, NY)
Kimmel Gallery (New York, NY)
Current - June 1
Crown Heights Brooklyn
New York City