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“Not in the Space, but of the Space”: An Interview with artist Musa Hixson

David Xu Borgonjon, Curatorial Fellow in Visual Arts, organizes and interprets exhibitions at Wave Hill.

Knowledgeable and self-effacing, Musa Hixson marries a natural feeling for materials with a voracious interest in world cultures. His forays into sculpture for community gardens are the most recent example of his dedication to making art that belongs where it is, that is, to site-specific art. Even closer to home, he’s recently cut a clean rectangle into one wall of his studio in Glyndor Gallery, with a plan to turn it into a living artwork.

David Xu Borgonjon: What are you working on right now?

Musa Hixson: I’ve really just been responding to the environment. I walked through the greenhouse, feeling the space and analyzing the plants, and as I moved through it I decided to draw on what’s available. It’s winter, so there are many fallen branches. I’ve begun to work on weaving these branches into an installation, working with the pod or seed-like shapes I’ve used before.  I’m also working on a living window, placing plants that can survive indoors into the frame made by the drywall.

DXB: You’re often inserting life into the built environment.

MH: The idea of growth is always in my work, whether that’s physical, spiritual or mental. I think of art as a living thing, and so here I’m trying to reflect that by using plants, so that the work can grow over its lifetime.

DXB: With your sculptures in gardens, you were doing the opposite, putting inorganic objects into a natural environment.

MH: Traditionally, I’ve tried to make art not in the space but of the space. For example, in a community garden, I try not to obstruct the view of the garden. But I want to work with something that really highlights that space, drawing attention to what’s going on around it. I’m in the process of trying to bring that relationship closer, and one of those things now is living material in the sculpture in the outdoor space, but also in the indoor space.

DXB: Geometry is the art of organizing space. I feel like you always come back to the circle or sphere, as in your works Law of Growth or Vision Pod. Can you talk about your interest in these pure forms?

MH: I had some instructors who came from a minimalist background, but also another who was Ghanaian. So I’ve always been interested in the relationship between indigenous cultures and minimal forms. And I felt that the circle was like a repository for scientific study and indigenous knowledge. It might be used to represent omnipotence or the deities, but it’s also the planet, the stars, bubbles, fruit… All these naturally occurring phenomena get shaped into circles by surface tension and gravity. And often, those oval shapes, what I call pods—or sometimes vision pods—can hold several seeds. Those ideas of growth and the full circle fascinate me.

DXB: Can you talk about your actual process for making art? Where are the steel balls from?

MH: Often they’re ordered from China—I prefer to juxtapose organic, hand-wrought materials, like soil or rope or plants, with highly manufactured ones. That balance is tantalizing to me. I’m a history buff, so I love understanding the origins of things. How were we creating things originally, what images and objects did we make?  And then I using weaving or knotting, which contrasts with this futuristic, ultra-modern technology. When I put them together, that feels good. It feels progressive.

DB: The rope, or string, or line, that’s like the other half of the equation, together with the spherical object, holding them in tension.

MH: Well, I don’t think about tension as much as I think about contrast, and interrelatedness. I started needing ways to tie things together, literally, so I’ve fallen in love with different methods: how to weave, how to tie knots. I don’t draw from any particular culture, but rather from what people have in common, and how I can stress that universally. Those craft techniques all had their roots in the utilitarian!

DB: One final thought. You like to work big. And not just big sculptures, because you’ve also gone ahead to found a non-profit, the Brooklyn Arts Incubator. Talk to me about scaling up.

MH: Well, I want to make people look at nature. When I’m sitting in the studio wondering what part I play in the environment and the changes on the earth, I know I want to force people to think about their surroundings. Working big, and using organic shapes in the sculptures to reflect the environment, that’s all part of it.

On Sunday, March 22, “(Re) Vision Project,” our final Winter Workspace Workshop, consists of a series of hands-on explorations through mapping, sharing and drawing. Join Hixson in imagining ways to bring life to your neighborhood through art as signs of life peek out from the soil. 

Pictured at top: Hixson whittles at a found branch, before he considers its placement into a woven sculptural work in his Winter Workspace studio. REGISTRATION FOR THIS WORKSHOP IS NOW CLOSED.

Pictured above: Musa Hixson, Vision Pod 1, 2011. Steel, Soil, Rope, Acrylic, Soil. 12 inches x 6 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

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