A Conversation with Denise Treizman
Dulce Lamarca Interviews Artist Denise Treizman
Installation view of MM_2 from Denise Treizman's solo exhibition, THE MARSHMALLOW METHOD at PROTO Gallery
I moved to New York in December 2017 after graduating from a BFA in Buenos Aires, Argentina. As a fresh new resident in New York City, I was both perplexed and amazed by the never-ending constant possibility of meeting new people every day. New York is without doubt an immensely rich and stimulating environment, and it was in this context where this interview project was born. I met Denise in the elevator of my apartment building, and it turned out to be that she lived there as well.
This interview is the first in what I hope will be a series. The project consists of interviewing, recording, and photographing different artists. The intention is to allow a casual conversation between two artists or just two human beings. I really see this project as an excuse to get to know people better and to ask them things that I wouldn’t have the courage to (or maybe even weird to do so) in the small talk of everyday.
Joining us for this first interview is Ana Saracho, a Spanish independent curator who has shown Denise’s work in Madrid.
Denise has become my informal mentor as an artist, and I also now consider her my friend. I personally think that in this interview some themes have come out that have not been seen before in any other publication written about her.
T: Denise Treizman (Chilean b. 1979)
L: Dulce Lamarca (Argentinian b. 1992)
S: Ana Saracho (Spanish b. 1993)
L: Primero te quería preguntar quién sos vos, cómo te definirías. Te podés tomar la pregunta con la profundidad que quieras pero básicamente es quién sos vos, cómo me responderías a eso.
I would like to start the interview asking: Who are you? How would you define yourself?
T: Qué difícil, se me viene hablar como artísticamente igual pero-
That’s a hard question, the first thing that comes to mind is speaking of myself as an artist but-
L: En inglés por favor. Si preferís español hablá en español, yo porque me dijiste que te era más fácil hablar de tu obra en inglés.
In English please. If you prefer to speak in Spanish you can, I was just saying because you told me you find it easier to speak in English about your work.
T: Sí, me es más fácil, en general.
Yes, it’s easier for me, in general.
Who am I... wow, hard question to get started [chuckles] No sé I’m like a… What can I say about this? [pauses] I would define myself as Chilean and Jewish. I, for sure, have a mixed identity. I was born and raised in Chile, my parents too. But all of my ancestors came to Chile from Eastern Europe, thankfully before World War II. So, this mixed identity comes from growing up with a lot of Jewish traditions. From being a minority, from having to explain to people what being Jewish is… (is that even possible?) [chuckles] Being Jewish in Chile is not as common as being Jewish in New York. On the other hand, obviously being Chilean defines me. I vibrate with things from Chile: soccer, movies, TV shows, food, Chilean popular culture in general... However, I am a little bit of a nomad in spirit too, because I feel like I don’t completely belong anywhere. I could see myself living in different places, adapting to different contexts.
I am an artist, but I didn’t grow up in a family of artists, or surrounded by art. I didn’t go to art school back home either. So, many times, I also feel a bit in-between two worlds: not completely fitting in the context of friends and people I grew up with, who have more traditional jobs and lives (they might think I’m a bit crazy but support that I’m pursuing my passion), but sometimes feeling a bit “too normal” among artists who have more adventurous lives. Not eccentric enough, I guess… Anyways, what’s normal? It’s all relative... and who says an artist has to be eccentric? In a way, we all are a bit just by choosing this profession.
Denise Treizman's solo exhibition at MEN Gallery in 2017
L: What do you think about the art you make?
T: It’s great! It's the best! [laughs] I try to think of art as a process. For me it’s more about the process than the final result, in general. I try to enjoy the process of making the art and I know that something good will come out of it. I am confident enough in my gestures, my materials and in my experiences making art that I try not to think so much about “How to finish this” or “How it has to look” but more to enjoy the process, which could begin when I find something or I buy something or when I connect to objects in the studio and have a moment of laughter even by myself, like “Why the hell did I just do this?” So, I really try to play, to enjoy it. In a way, I think that’s the only way I can make art. Just being playful ‘cause at the end of the day it's not that serious. Like, nobody is going to die or not if I finish or don’t finish the piece, so I try to approach it that way. I don’t know how to explain that without sounding unprofessional or that I don’t care, it’s not that. It’s just that I think something good can always come out. So, if there is an accident, let’s say a ceramic piece breaks, then there is a moment of “Oh no! it broke,” but then something will come out of it. Ultimately, I can try to make it again but that wouldn’t really be my style. I would probably make something to replace it that is actually not the exact same thing. So, yeah... I don’t know if that answers how I think about my art, it’s more about how I approach the making.
L: Era otra pregunta igual, está bien.
It’s fine, that was the next question anyway.
S: But it could be, the way you understand your art: not the final piece itself but it’s the process that you are interested in.
T: Yeah, but I mean, I can’t say that I don’t care about how the work will look because I make a lot of decisions that are even purely aesthetic or you know, formal… about colors and material combinations- and that’s gonna happen eventually but that’s not the ultimate goal of my work, or the way I want to make it. Does that make any sense?
L: What would be the ultimate goal of your work?
T: I feel some artists might have an idea they have to stick to. If it is a conceptual work they know exactly how they want to express the idea, or if it’s like a very delicate piece that you are trying to make, you will work until it looks like you want it to. But for me it’s different. I don’t really know what I’m making, I’m improvising. I feel that my job is to actually detect the moments where things are working. Like moments of... maybe unexpected moments when I see things come together. Instead of knowing what I’m making, it’s kind of the opposite. It’s like being in a permanent state of awareness. Perhaps something moves unintentionally or falls, and it could become the greatest thing, but if you are not paying attention you might miss it. During school, I was working with objects on the street, making ephemeral interventions. It’s a similar idea. You are walking and you see something that nobody else sees, or someone else sees it, but it means nothing to him or her. That same street moment, I try to translate it to my making process in the studio.
Photo Credit: Dulce Lamarca
L: No sé cómo ponerlo en inglés. ¿Hay algo que te obstaculice a la hora de hacer tu arte? En ese caso, ¿cuáles son esos obstáculos? O ¿Qué cosas encontrás como tu dilema (si es que tenés uno o no)?
I don’t know how to put this in English. Do you have any obstacles in the process of making? If so, what are your obstacles? Or what is your dilemma (if you happen to have one at all)?
T: Obviously I think every artist has obstacles. It’s not like “Oh I don’t have obstacles, I make the perfect art,” [chuckles] but I feel like whenever I have obstacles I use them to my advantage. So, the fact that I’m a little bit clumsy in the making, or I don’t calculate or measure… For example, [chuckles] with that piece [points at the sculpture Inefficient Relationship]. So that- maybe I shouldn’t be saying this, but that piece on the floor there, when I made the base I wanted to fit the black ceramic piece right into it. It was supposed to fit perfectly and then you know, of course, I miscalculated and it didn’t! Then Nick [the gallerist] was like, “How about we put if offset instead, like suggesting that it doesn’t fit.” I was like, “Yeah, that’s actually much better!” I am pretty sure that if it had fit perfectly I would have probably not liked it. I would have found a way to somehow twist it. Nowadays, artists can hire people to do the things they cannot do, if you want to build something, etc., but for now, I think the fact that I don’t know how to fabricate certain things, or that I don’t have the patience or the consistency to finish the things in a “proper” manner is part of my way of making and I use it to my advantage. It’s in the core of the kind of work I make.
S: Do you think you can work in a space you don’t like at all?
T: I wouldn’t probably say no, and I would try to make it work, but in general, I don’t like how my work looks in a very raw space. I feel that it gets lost because the materials already have this character of being old and worn out and kind of unwanted. So, unwanted material plus unwanted space is a bad combination. I definitely feel my art works better in a more pristine environment.
However, last year I did a project in a raw space, actually it was called “Are You Raw?”. It was only installations and performances during Art Basel Week in Miami. It was kind of challenging because it was a raw space; it was an abandoned post office, with brown walls and bricks. So I ended up proposing an installation using only a silver paper shred and transparent tape. I liked how it turned out because I found a material that contrasted the most with the space. So, it was cheap and useless like “Why do we need this metallic paper to exist in the world?” kind of material, but it worked really well. In a space like that, I don’t think a found object would have worked. What I did though, had the same essence of something kind of useless and ridiculous being repurposed.
To Gleam installed in the Historic Downtown Post Office, Miami, FL for the group exhibition Are You Raw? Curated by Young Artist Initiative for Art Basel Week
S: ¿Qué hay de distinto en esta exposición respecto a otras que has tenido?
How do you think this exhibition [THE MARSHMALLOW METHOD] is different from the others you’ve had?
T: The space is pretty interesting because it is a mixture between a formal gallery with some white perfect walls and other areas that are more raw and industrial, with bricks, pipes… It is the biggest gallery where I’ve had an individual exhibition so far. So, approaching the space was challenging. I wanted to treat it as a whole but find moments of pause or negative space too.
Inside each installation there are separate components. Each component could be a piece on its own. So, it becomes something like a huge installation, with a middle size installation within it, with a smaller one within that one... It’s almost like a Matryoshka doll, you know what I mean? For example, there is a ceramic ring hanging over a pile of glitter which could either be considered as one piece or as two separate pieces, or even as a component of a bigger piece. For me any of these options are equally valid. I’ve always thought of my work as fragments of some sort. I can really see this happening in this show.
Also, in this show, I have incorporated more ceramic pieces, and in a way that they really feel more integrated than before. I’ve always wanted to treat ceramics in the same way I treat a found object, but when I had fewer of them, it was harder.
S: Más presencia en cantidad pero menos importancia.
More presence in quantity but less importance.
L: Yeah, more integrated as a whole.
T: Yes, like I don’t want a hierarchy to exist between the ceramics and the other kinds of materials that have less value because they are discarded or cheap.
L: ¿Qué cosas te inspiran? Algo que no tenga que ver con el arte visual pero que influya tu obra de alguna manera.
What inspires you? I mean, any other things that inform your art in general?
T: I think maybe sports inspire my work? [pauses thoughtfully] It sounds weird but, I play a lot of tennis, I go to the gym and I see fitness balls, and stuff... Sometimes I think of my work as some sort of obstacle course or something. I am inspired by the objects that exist in those kinds of environments. I like gyms. There, I can see a lot of materials that have a very specific logic or purpose. Things like hula hoops, ropes, balls, colorful weights, rubber bands… But then I can completely mess with them in my work… sports clothes and materials are also very bright, I think that’s maybe a connection too... So, it’s not necessarily the gym culture that attracts me, it’s more the stuff that exists there. I think of the gym as a playground for adults.
S: Luego son objetos que implican energía, que requieren cierta utilización y que eso implica energía. Las instalaciones no son estáticas, hay momentos de tensión.
These are all objects that imply energy, because they require people to use them in some way. Your installations are not static either, there are many moments of tension.
T: Energy could be a word, but another word that I like to use even more is potential because I feel that a lot of things in my work have the potential: to explode, to fall, to lean, to tilt, to break or change.
L: Me interesa saber más sobre tu interés sobre los idiomas. ¿Qué es lo que más te interesa de aprender otros idiomas? ¿Qué idiomas sabes y cómo es tu historia con eso?
I know of your interest in languages, you speak quite a few. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
T: Well, I grew up learning English and Spanish because I went to a bilingual school and then- I don’t really know how it started... I guess I took French because (this is stupid I don’t know if I should tell you this but I’m just gonna tell you), the World Cup was in France, Chile was going and my father was gonna take us. The funny part is that I ended up not going, but the good thing is, I learned French! [both laugh] So that was the first additional language I learned.
The rest of the languages I learned in a more experiential manner. Whenever I travel I know I can get by with English and Spanish in most of the world, but I’m interested in connecting with the local people, and I feel that the only way to do that is through their language. That was the way I learned Portuguese, Italian and Hebrew. I guess I just don’t have any shame in trying to talk, even if I do not entirely manage the language. For instance, I learned Mandarin because of an art project. I was in Shanghai for a residency and I needed to find materials on the streets. I realized I couldn’t do this without knowing a word of Mandarin.
So, in search of materials, I went to stores with my little dictionary and would try to communicate. The people in the shops couldn’t get what I was trying to say, and they would usually call another person in to see if he could understand, and then I would always find myself surrounded by a group of people trying to decipher my words! At the beginning, I didn’t like the idea of buying things instead of using the found, but soon I realized it was the same kind of process. One day I was in the street and I saw a huge plastic sign from a store called Lawson, which is a convenience store in China. They were getting rid of this amazing iconic sign, and I’m like “I need it.” I went there to grab it and the instant I get there, a guy that picks up trash also gets there. So I say in chinese “How much is it?“ and then we begun a ridiculous negotiation for the piece of trash. I ended up buying it from him and he understood what I said, but he was still confused because he didn’t understand WHY I wanted that sign.
L: Bueno, es un poco también cómo funciona el arte. Si lo pensás, de alguna manera te vendió un readymade [se ríe]
Well, that is how art works in a way. If you think about it, he sold a readymade to you! [chuckles]
The multi-component MM_3 in THE MARSHMALLOW METHOD at PROTO Gallery
L: Yo sé que hablaste de tu proceso y todo pero ¿por qué haces arte? ¿por qué haces arte vos hoy?
I know we talked about your process, but why do you do art? Why are you doing art today?
T: I sometimes ask myself that question, but then I realize I can’t see myself doing anything else. I see and think about things in an artistic manner. Even if it is a non-art experience, travelling, shopping, walking… I see materials and think about what to do with them if they could live in one of my installations. I like the social space that the art world provides. I don’t mean the social activities like going to an art opening, but the interactions between people that art generates: among artists, even with strangers. I mean, some interactions are ridiculous, “Should we put the tape one inch higher or one inch lower?” or spend two hours like “Dulce, should we put the ceramic there or should we…?” It’s kind of nonsense, right? But I love it! Which other profession would allow something like this to happen? I guess it’s a way of communicating, not something specific, but starting a conversation that could go on forever, change in time, be abstract and be nonsense.
Art is a genuine passion for a lot of people. So, if you encounter those people, you meet people that you wouldn’t ever meet, like I met you two. You connect at a different level. I don’t know how to explain it; it’s like a deeper connection, like similar to when you play sports and you befriend your teammates. We are all in the same boat, so there is some kind of solidarity that I don’t think is common in other fields.
L: ¿Qué cosas te marcaron en tu vida? No tiene que ser nada muy profundo, quizás ni se ven en tu obra pero están presentes de alguna manera igual...
Are there any life events that have marked you? It doesn’t have to be a big life event, maybe something that is not even visible in your work but has influenced you...
T: Maybe the first time I ever came to New York? I think I was fifteen. I was overwhelmed with the museums, but even more with broadway shows. It was like a mind expansion, freedom, my first time realizing that there were jobs different to sitting in an office, that you could make a profession out of a real passion.
Also, it’s not life changing but I’ll tell you, so I was born with- my right thumb was a bit deformed, like inwards and I wasn’t going to be able to write and stuff, so I had surgery, you see? I was like two or three when I had the surgery and the doctor told my mom “She is going to be an artist.”
L: Really? Why?
T: I don’t know.
L: Are you kidding me? That’s the end of that story? I want to know why! [laughs]
T: I don’t know! Me too! [laughs]
L: Well, I guess there are some things we’ll never know. And, last question… I think I know the answer but, I just want to know... what’s your favorite color?
T: PINK! [both laugh]
About the Artist:
Denise Treizman (Chilean b. 1979)
Multidisciplinary contemporary artist. Born and raised in Chile, currently based in New York.
She holds a MFA in Fine Arts from the School of Visual Arts of New York. Her work has been exhibited both nationally and internationally: in Germany, China, Spain, Argentina, Chile; San Francisco, New Jersey, Chicago, Miami and New York within the US. She was awarded the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation Fellowship Award for Latin American Artists and has participated in artist residencies at Vermont Studio Center Residency, Berlin Collective/APT Institute Residency, ACRE Residency, Triangle Workshop and MASS MoCA Assets for the Artists Residency.
In 2015, Treizman was awarded a studio membership at the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts Studio Program in New York City, where she currently works. She is represented by PROTO Gallery.
Her practice combines real-world found objects, store-bought consumer materials, studio ceramics, drawings, paintings, wall sculptures and installations.
Denise Treizman at PROTO Gallery, Photo Credit: Dulce Lamarca