A garden oasis and cultural center overlooking the Hudson River

Material Culture as Visual Language: An Interview with Elana Herzog

Phoebe van Essche was a Curatorial Intern at Wave Hill through mid-February, 2019. She worked closely with the 2019 Winter Workspace Session 1 Artists, and sat down with of the artists in the program, Elana Herzog, to discuss her work, process and experience during the residency program. Phoebe is studying curation, art history and visual culture at Bennington College in Vermont.

From January to March of this year, the halls of Glyndor Gallery were bustling with the sounds of our Winter Workspace Residency. Wave Hill’s Session 1 artists-in-residence for 2019 included Melissa Calderón, Nandini Chirimar, Elana Herzog, Christopher K. Ho, Shervone Neckles and Armita Raafat. Our galleries and Sunroom space were converted into their artist studios, transforming our exhibition space to one dedicated to the creative process. The artists have six weeks to spend wandering the garden, admiring the Hudson River, and channeling their surroundings into a creative project. While it sounds like a long time, it passed in the blink of an eye. The Visual Arts team at Wave Hill has reviewed applications for the 2020 cohort of Winter Workspace artists, and by the time this post is live, we’ve notified the future participants in the program.

As an intern, my time at Wave Hill landed in conjunction with the first session of the residency. I found a kinship with the artists in our short-term, high-intensity experience of Wave Hill and the Glyndor Gallery. I found some time to sit down with 2019 artist Elana Herzog to talk about our time here, her work, and how the Wave Hill residency has influenced her practice.Winter Workspace Drop-in Sunday

Herzog’s work considers material culture as she creates a visual language that engages attraction and repulsion as aspects of aesthetic experience. Her work is a mixture of site-responsive interventions and intuitive explorations, as she navigates construction and deconstruction. Herzog’s past work includes the staple series, where she used thousands of metal staples to bind found textiles into industrial surfaces. When they are finished her installations are a mix of this fine repetitive work and playful experimentation. To quote her website, she “delights in the dematerialization of form, only to embed those broken-down forms into larger contexts like museums and institutions to see what meaningfully joyous havoc they will wreak.” We spoke about meaningfully joyous havoc and more in our short interview.

Phoebe van Essche: How are these pieces different then, from those of the past?

Elana Herzog: A lot of what I’ve done in the past has been labor-intensive in that it’s made through a very repetitive process – like the staple pieces you’ve probably seen images of, which have that kind of obsessive quality. This [Wave Hill] project in some ways resembles that—it’s labor-intensive too. The use of embroidery references a certain craft that it doesn’t really exemplify; it’s not like I’m mastering embroidery. The staple pieces were much more de-constructive, and these new pieces are perhaps more constructed, although on some level I do de-construct aspects of their components, maybe making you aware of them in different ways…The other [staple] pieces were always kind of characterized by the sense that they had no structural integrity, and were very ephemeral. Maybe these are less so…I mean the other [staple] pieces were pretty culturally specific because the sources of the materials were culturally consistent. These are more of a collaging of different references, more eclectic…They try to establish relationships between different cultural references.Winter Workspace Drop-in Sunday

PVE: Textile has a very rich history in cultural identity and creative expression, but also can be a representation of class differences and class culture. When you choose fabric, are you making conscious decisions with these things in mind? How do you make those decisions?

EH: Well, I have always said that attraction and repulsion are both things that I am motivated by, and that I like to inspire in the viewer—you know, discomfort, as well as appeal. I think that ideas about taste—good taste/bad taste—create a sense of incompatibility, which I think is largely driven by class, as in the way we associate good taste with “higher quality” and superior production value. I like to invoke those distinctions in a way that challenges their ability to determine aesthetic experiences. I am very interested in aesthetic experience overall, and I always want it to be an aspect of a viewer’s perception of my work. Even when I use something that I think is hideously ugly, I use it in a way that is intended to generate beauty.Winter Workspace Drop-in Sunday

I’ve come to have a more complicated view of what textiles transmit as I’ve learned more about them. For instance, the idea that textile design and production has, historically, been a form of creative expression is a bit simplistic…I would say that it’s heavily moderated by tradition, and determined by the demands of the industry, commercial production and markets. Pretty much everything I’m working with now is produced commercially. When I was researching Russian textiles, I saw a lot of related folk art and a lot of icons. I think that most of the people who worked on these things, whether they are making textiles or painting icons, are doing what they have been taught to do in a faithful way. Not necessarily innovating, not questioning…

PVE: Almost like a ritual practice.

EH: It is a ritual practice, but it’s also their job. A lot of it is about repetition, craft, and inherited wisdom. It’s only occasionally that you see that thing that makes you pay attention. I think that applies to just about everything.

Note: We’re also pleased to share that there will be a forthcoming article about Elana Herzog in Sculpture magazine.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>