Interview: Zazu Swistel
Luca Curci talks with Zazu Swistel during FUTURE LANDSCAPES, third appointment of BORDERS Art Fair 2020, at THE ROOM Contemporary Art Space.
Zazu Swistel is an artist and trained architect living in Brooklyn. Her work displays the slippery logic that derives from recalling and hiding thoughts, memories and truths. What results is a cathexis of manipulated space and objects – further contorted as they are fetishized. Colour and skewed perspectives are often devices of time, intending to transcend reality and confuse imaginations. Influenced by philosophy and language, her titles are a poetic device to the whole work. Reflective of ‘coercive humour’, the titles present an ironic sensibility that is extremely necessary under the world system’s control and modes of political dominance. Although she often experiments with minimal line drawings and diagrammed language, Zazu’s primary medium is wax pastel and acrylic drawings.
Luca Curci -What is art for you?
Zazu Swistel – A drug – it’s a serious addiction. It gives me energy but also drains it. I think in today’s world, as artists, we are often so frustrated by the standards, the laws, the systems by which we are forced to live and conform to. Art offers methods of representation that are alternatives to these rules. Instead of control and organization, I crave a stranger world – one that is more open, loud and wild; a world that accepts and supports its own unpredictability and fluidity. Art is an attempt at this option as a counterculture and is, at least to some degree, recognized and accepted. In this sense, for me, art releases a strange and unusual behaviour and with that offers some relief. So again, it’s something like a drug – it’s subliminal.
LC – What’s your background? What is the experience that has influenced your work the most?
ZS – I’m originally from New York City but went to school and lived elsewhere in the United States for about eight years. I took a couple of studio art classes in college but wasn’t always understood in that environment. For instance, I was once in a figure-drawing class and instead of participating as a student, I volunteered to pose as the model; the act of copying reality didn’t seem logical to me. I ended up in architecture school where so much of the discipline is about representing manipulations of the real, using both digital and analogue apparatuses. I’m not thrilled with computer technology for my own art, but studying it opened my mind to the idea of conceptual spaces that simply hold ideas and nothing more. It’s hard to say if there is any specific experience that has influenced my work most – so much of the process is insensible that I often find myself questioning my own work upon completion. However, I am hyper-aware of my surroundings and growing up in a city that is known for its brutal vertical landscape has clearly influenced me greatly.
LC – How is being an artist nowadays?
ZS – To some degree, I’m used to this. As an artist, I already spend a lot of the time isolated and alone – working and thinking about interpretations of politics and culture. But it’s true, in the last year, everything has been pushed to an extreme. I know a lot of artists like myself who spent most of the summer protesting with the Black Lives Matter Movement or locked in computers with communities trying to advance social issues, such as affordable housing here in New York. It’s been frustrating at times but has also created new social bonds as well. I’ve met a lot of new people – of course, not their bodies but at least their faces and minds. It’s been a highly creative year, despite the pain.
LC – Which art themes do you pursue? What is your preferred subject, if there is any?
ZS – The work I’m showing navigates the severity when the mind is enclosed in compulsory or territorialized spaces. Similar to that of the dream world, these drawings straddle a thin line between images of emotion and contortions of reality. I have a desire to portray the mesmerizing, but often that represents a tormented or claustrophobic state that arises when being driven by the unconscious. What often results are spaces of self-referential cages. Sometimes I think of them as dungeons or prisons. This is the sort of bizarre translation of phenomenology that I really do prefer.
LC – What is the message linked to the artwork you have shown in this exhibition? How is it connected to the theme of the entire festival?
ZS – Although the works I’m showing aesthetically seem more conceptual, in my mind they are obvious representations of today’s reality – being trapped or bounded more literally indoors or more metaphorically in an inequitable world system. From a more ecological standpoint, I never represent a natural landscape purely outdoors. Although we still have such outdoor environments, the Anthropocene has attempted to control and dominate them so dramatically that they are never purely free or untouched. Our exploitative behaviours have left all soils, oceans, trees, etc. forever changed by human hands.
LC -Do you agree with our vision of art and what do you think about the theme of the festival?
ZS – Although I don’t usually display my other mediums, I have many that I work in for the sake of the process. In that regard, I really appreciate your diversity of artists and their mediums, especially your emphasis on performance and fashion, which don’t often have a traversing venue. As a trained architect, I found the theme of this festival extremely interesting. The festival seemed to involuntarily focus on different forms of scale – from the singular idea of identity to the objectival body to more expansive cities and landscapes. It’s such an important method of analysis.
LC – What do you think about ITSLIQUID Platform?
ZS – It’s a real service to artists. I am always navigating either my local art scene or internet-based art scene, which is great, but it’s not often that my works are displayed internationally. It’s such a great opportunity to be a part of the world’s global diversity and this platform understands that through its mission.