Tuesday, February 12, 2008

interview • bari ziperstein

i heart photograph: i'd like to ask you about this picture, untitled (hallway). i’m wondering about the image in relation to modernism and minimalism. a lot of the forms that appear in the image look like early minimalist sculpture. what role does minimalism and art/architecture history play for you in making these photographs?

bari ziperstein: for the past two years, i have been creating a series of collages that deconstruct idealized domestic scenes culled from home décor magazines such as better homes & gardens and architectural digest. these works on paper function as studies for sculptural interventions on a grand scale. within these scenes i transform posh interiors into quirky environments by adding stark white architectural beams protruding, twisting and bending out of chairs, tables, chandeliers and the like. i realized the collages in three-dimensions and lived among them in an actual domestic setting: my los angeles 1920’s spanish style apartment. over fifty site-specific sculptures, made of foam core and plaster, mutated out of decorative and functional objects, rendering an environment that is overgrown, monumental, illusionary and artificial.

my artistic practice is engaged with the architectural history of los angeles and can be read as an investigation of how urban landscapes are defined by consumerism. the work has often related to ideologies centered on mid-20th century american capitalism and consumer excess. the sculptures are interruptive to the living space or plethora of proffered images of sterilized homes, which give themselves up to its environmental context, being formally determined and directed by it.

possessing an undercurrent of economy, my work has a trait one could trace back to minimalism, mondrian’s spartanity, malevich’s suprematism, tatlin’s constructivism or even modernism in general. the minimal and post-minimal artists self-reflective practice incorporated issues concerning the economics/fabrication of materials, phenomenology, and architectural site specificity. my work has developed out of this aesthetics shift, which enabled me to investigate the epistemology of sculptural production, process, and practice. in the essay “michael asher and the conclusion of modernist sculpture,” benjamin h. d. buchloh outlines three concepts, which are crucial to the transgression of modernist sculpture: “the notion of specificity, the notion of place, and that of presence.”

americans are fed utopian lifestyle imagery from upscale shelter magazines, which are a necessary cultural production to maintain the capitalist society. hoping we will always want more and never be satisfied. the exhibition in which the photographs were displayed in titled “(this isn’t happening) popular hallucinations for your home” is a manifested hallucination if american ran out of space to build and consume, resulting in architecture literally starting to sprout or grow out of our own mass-produced objects. you can’t plant architecture like a seed and watch it grow but i’m interested in infusing sculpture or architecture with a mechanics of growth or parasite qualities. what results is a photographic image or sculpture that is a manifestation of these surreal theories.

i.h.p.: speaking of the presence of modern(ist) sculpture, how would you apply this to the photo-documentation of the installations? photography often is simply seen as a method of recording sculptural presence, but your photographs--and this one in specific--seem a necessary part of the process, because they document an ongoing practice with a high degree of site-specificity. what role does photography play for you in the making of the work?

b.z.: i am interested in site-specificity that takes the ”site” as an actual location, its identity composed of a unique combination of constitutive physical elements. the overwhelming excesses of consumerism and a baroque sensibility collide in my treatment of frames on the wall creating a third space to negotiate. the simple wooden frames become holes from which the innards of the house spill forth; rectilinear blocks emerge from the walls. in both the photographic documentation and the sculptures in the gallery, my forms are angular but imperfect, suggesting the organic nature of both the builders and the house.

my interest in the investigation of site-specificity lead me to live within this environment for three months while completing this ambitious project often having to physically negotiate the space in odd and precarious ways. over time, i placed full coffee cups, incoming mail, and my purse on top of the sculptures resulting in the environment digesting the sculptures.

because the sculptures are temporary and site-specific, they manifest only as large format color photographs. it was essential that the photographs replicate the quality of a high-end magazine spread because the work is a comment on the utopian lifestyles proffered by home décor magazines. the photographs illustrate decoration consumed by architectural outgrowths—an interior design gone very much awry. the results were eight light-jet photographs exhibited in the gallery as framed objects alongside five site-specific sculptures.

i conceptually distinguish between which sculptures are props for the photographs and which sculptures are on display in the gallery, ultimately adding to the set quality of the final images. when simultaneously exhibiting both sculpture and photography, there is never a one to one ratio between either. if a sculpture makes an appearance in a photograph it acts as a mere prop and is discarded upon the completion of the shoot.

nea photography fellow grant mudford took the documentation of my site-specific sculptures. as a regular contributor to home and garden, architectural digest, and architectural record, he has the experience and aesthetic sensibility to make convincing images of my sculptural interventions. furthermore, he is intimately familiar with southern california architecture, having been commissioned by moca la to extensively photograph louis i. kahn and r.m. schindler architecture, and by the getty trust to photograph frank gehry's walt disney concert hall. my collaboration with mudford will continue as my projects require his services.
[photo: untitled (hallway) by bari ziperstein. 2006. take a peek at more of bari's work here.]

interview is a weekly column by nicholas grider that appears each tuesday on i heart photograph.