20 September 2010

Interview with Noemia Marinho, artist

This is the twenty-sixth interview in the “Where are we now?” project. That means we are now half way through the one-year series! This would be a great time for you to go back to the INTRODUCTION AND INDEX to see if you have missed any interviews, take a look at my conversations with those guests of most interest to you, leave some comments, or suggest future interviewees. At this stage, I am looking for people who are well established in their fields; articulate thinkers whose names are widely recognized. I’m especially interested in creative workers in film, dance, and architecture. So please enjoy, leave your comments at the end of this interview, send me some names, and share this series with your friends!

Interview with Noemia Marinho
at Trinity Presbyterian Church, Rye, NY
25 July 2010

Here is Noemia’s brief biography.

IA: Why don’t you tell us about your work? You do painting, you do installation type of work, you do multi-media?

NM: I do many things because what interests me is things that are being discharged, thrown away, as a matter of fact. So, I’ll give some examples so you can understand. For example, we had glasses, and then eventually they got broken, so I would collect those glasses. Because I see them as so transparent and shiney; I almost see them as material. If you think it’s a raw material, you would say, OK, let’s recycle it, because then that material can be transformed into another glass. But I like to keep the idea that this glass served many people, as a vessel to drink water, juices, or whatever. I like the idea of whatever this thing was before. So I was interested in these kinds of things, but not really in a destructive way like recycling.

For instance, I’m doing work with plastic. I’m using plastic, like food containers. Usually they are transparent. What I do is I put on water and approach to fire, but not to burn it, but just to heat. And it changes the shape of it. And I kind of mold it between the heat and water and I’m making sculptures. And this changes what it was, but not totally. Because sometimes it sticks, a few things of the old object stays there so you kind of recognize it. But the result is very beautiful, I think. Many of the things I do are very beautiful, in a way (let me explain); because their beauty is so complex. But I think beauty is whatever is honest in truth. This is what is beautiful. It doesn’t need to be pleasing to the eye, to be beautiful. But many of my things are pleasing to the eye.

Another work that I’m actually working on: I was walking in my neighborhood and there was this car accident. The cars were not there, but you could see by the glass on the ground. A lot of glass. So I went home, got a dustpan and brush, and got those glasses. I took it home, washed it, and I’m doing one piece. Because the glass broken is beautiful. Just look at it! It is beautiful. Now, I cleaned it, and I’m gluing it on, not on a canvas, but on another material, fabric. So, it looks good. To me it looks like maybe stars in the night or things like that. But then I add to it. When I think about the circumstances, you know, of the accident: was it death, or not, or hurt? So I’m going to write the title an explanation of where I got the glass, so when you see the piece, you see where I got the glass, in a message underneath it.

So I like those stories of real things and what happened to these things that are being thrown away. It can be anything. I’m doing so many things. I don’t have any problem with imagination. There are so many things around you! I’m doing with aluminum foil. When you bake, the paper gets all——there are spots, and sometimes it gets all greasy, but then I wash, I have certain things that I do to make it work. Sometimes I just have one piece that retains the spots, which are very interesting——you know these spots when you bake things. Sometimes I paint. I have a few pieces that I painted on used aluminum foil. So I like to use those things, and I feel like when I get those things, and almost like I rescue them, in a way, from the trash, from being destroyed or thrown away, and transforming it into something beautiful. This for me reminds me of what God goes. God did not recycle us, making another human being, but He’s using us, His materials, His metal, and out of this metal comes life. In a way that’s what I’m connected to.

IA: So you preserve the identity of the original object to some extent, you don’t completely obliterate it, but then you renew it, you give it a second identity, a new identity as something more beautiful, as something with thought in it. It sounds like they almost have a narrative about where they were, where they’ve come from, and then what you’ve transformed them into.

NM: Yes, yes. I like those stories. Like today, I have one piece which is an old key, very old, I found it on the streets. I was walking and then I saw this key. Not a very fancy key, just a regular key, but it’s been thrown away for some time. But then I got that key and I chose a setting for it. I have a series of keys that I’m making. This whole idea of key, you know, there’s so much meaning on a key. A key, you know, just the word, open up many, many things. But then when I see the key, for me, I’m attracted; there is some beauty into some old things, rusty and all. There’s something in that old object, also.

IA: Has your imagination always worked this way? Have you always looked at discarded objects and thought about their stories and how to transform them, or is this a new way that you’re thinking recently?

NM: My background is not in art. I worked with cross-cultural training most of my life, so my background is in theology and cultural anthropology. That was my work. I also taught languages. But lately I got interested in art with one of my students. She painted with watercolors. She did beautiful work. I always came for the class and she said, “Look at what I’m doing!” I enjoyed it so much, she said, “Why don’t we trade sometimes? You teach me languages and I’ll teach you watercolors.” I enjoyed it SOOOO much; I thought, OMG, I should have been working with that for a long time. And I worked some on my own, but then I moved here, and I started to go to the city, see all the galleries. I kind of was thrown into this environment. So I started to read and think. One writing that changed my view on art was Kandinsky. I was given his book for Christmas. My husband gave it to me. And I read it. It really was amazing, how he saw art. And then another artist that I got in touch with through writing and seeing an opening that he was doing in the city: Robert Rauschenberg. I like that kind of thing. Because I thought: This is art, for now, that makes sense for me. Because——I still love watercolor, and I still work with watercolor; it’s not that I don’t think this is art: it is art, but it’s a different kind, or there is maybe another place and time, but not for me right now. What I consider my art (although I’m doing this watercolor), but my art, my message, what I want to say, is more contemporary. So, answering to your question, Have you always looked…? I was raised in Brazil, and my family, the circumstances of my life, we never had much, so I always used everything to the end. I always wanted to use things. I don’t like to throw away things. If there is a purpose for this, I want to use it. So I think this is part of my bringing-up. But now-a-days, since I started doing this, I ALWAYS see things this way.

IA: Everything is a potential work of art?

NM: Just about everything. Not every-, everything, but most things. Like, there was a TV, an old TV that we were supposed to donate or do something because we can’t use it any more, but I am very interested in disassembling it and seeing all of it. We are about to throw away an old lamp that we didn’t have use for it, because everything was broken. So I pulled it apart, everything apart, separated everything. And then I’m using the wire, what is inside? —the copper is inside. Sometimes they are thick, but sometimes they are very fine, beautiful things! Can you imagine?! So I put it with plastic and all this transparent plastic with these fine lines of wire. So I see those possibilities. I always see, everywhere I go; I always see possibilities.

IA: So you said that this is a very contemporary way of working; do you know of other artists who are working in a similar way? That they’re resurrecting old materials?

NM: There is one: Aurora Robson. There are many people working with recycled materials. I guess recycling is some sort of part of this new green thinking. Everybody is thinking green now-a-days. Actually, that’s not my motivation, it’s not the recycling, although I find myself doing that, in a way. Not really, because when you recycle you destroy it and use the material to make another one. So I’m not doing that, exactly, but I’m using things that could be recycled. So, there is this one person, which she does work with bottles, also, plastic bottles, most of it. Beautiful installations, huge, you know, and she cuts it and places it in different ways. It’s very interesting, also. But only——I’m not sure if she changes the nature of the bottle but just cuts it in different shapes and colors.

IA: So the fact that you are keeping trash out of landfills is a side benefit to what you are doing; that’s not the purpose; you didn’t say, rather than dumping them into the trash, you’ll make them into art?

NM: It’s a side benefit. Which makes me happy. I really feel happy. I feel like when I go and see a bottle on the street, maybe I get it. And I also, you know, I feel good that it’s almost like this should belong here, so I’m doing a good thing. I feel good.

IA: You’re making the world more beautiful and two way: you’re cleaning up the trash, and then you’re making works of art. Now, this other artist you mentioned who uses the bottles: Do you know if she has a spiritual motivation? Do you know if she, sort of, sees the metaphors of reclamation and redemption, or not?

NM: No, I don’t think so. She says, “There’s too much stuff in the world. I think art should just use what is——we should not do more things, but just use what we have and make other things, make art with it.” So she’s on to the recycling.

IA: But you have that other meaning as well, that you see it as a spiritual metaphor.

NM: It is, oh yes, I think it is spiritual. Also, because like these broken glasses. I put in eggshells. I painted the eggshells with gold. I love gold. You will see gold in many of the things that I do. So I put it inside. I put hot glue all around the glass where it broke, so it’s like this border, this golden border. And inside is the eggshell, I also painted with gold, gold leaf. It’s very beautiful, I think. For me, also, the broken in the eggshell which is a sign of life. For so many people who have been broken, not only Christians, and found life out of those brokenness. And so for me it’s inspiring. Not only Christian or spiritually, but just inspiring in itself.

IA: The nature of existence——you’re capturing that. So it’s more than metaphor, you’re not just doing a symbol, you’re not saying this represents that, you’re showing the way it is.

Now, What other artistic movements have you observed? Other trends that you see visual artists or installation artists using?

NM: Now-a-days it’s very difficult to see one trend. I read one book, and I have to say this is what really answered this question for me. The name of the book was Unnatural Wonders by Arthur Danto. He’s an art critic. He says that art took the place of philosophy. He starts with the piece “Brillo Box” by Andy Warhol. And he says, This is Art. And from that point on, art enters another historical period. It questions life. If you want to have a trend, I agree with him. I think art now-a-days questions life, in all areas.

IA: It goes far beyond being “just” an object to look at? It’s an object that is embodying questions, and views of life, and ideas of human nature, and ideas about society——is that what he is saying?

NM: Yes.

IA: So it goes beyond being an aesthetic object.

NM: Not only representation of an idea or a thought, but it replaces philosophy in the sense that it is questioning the whole existence of human society.

IA: And I would imagine, too (I wonder if he says this?), that the piece is not only the result of thoughts and questioning; it’s also the catalyst of more thoughts and questions as well. Because throughout all time, each work of part has been the result of questions and ideas on the part of the artist, but when it’s done, it’s just kind of there. And now the idea is to continue the conversation, to continue the questioning? I see that in music as well, and in other art.

NM: Yes.

IA: Who are some other artists whom you admire, who are working right now?

NM: I mentioned Robert Rauschenberg. I admire his work. I like the work of Vik Muniz (he's Brazilian); Louise Bourgeois; Richard Serra; Christo and Jeanne Claude; and Robert Ryman, among many others.

IA: How has your work been used in church? Have you had installations used in church?

NM: Basically my church (Trinity Presbyterian. When I moved in 2007, actually that was my first piece. It was Easter. I thought I would do some piece of art for the church. I asked the pastor if it was OK and he said it was OK. So what I did is I used canvas. I was supposed to put this piece for the Thursday before Good Friday. So it was the Death. I got a piece of large canvas and placed it, one Sunday before, like as a carpet for the people to come into the church, and the people all stepped on it. I bleached it a little bit before, so it would be more while. And it was raining, and it was kind of muddy, and so I had all these steps, the prints, the footprints. So I got one piece like that. And then I got another piece of canvas, and I put in the place where I wash my clothes, like in a Laundromat, and people stepped on it also. And I took a piece of wood, very old, and then a new one, and I nailed both together. I sprinkled some acrylic between the new and the old, so it looks wounded. You can see the reference to the wounds. And then I put these two canvases together, like the cross. I wrote an explanation, for people just thinking, “What is this dirty steps?” But I wanted to say that our dirty steps are there on the cross. So that was my first piece!

IA: And what was people’s response, after they saw the explanation?

NM: They liked it! Most people liked it and understood it in a different way. From that point on, I try to do one piece for Christmas or Easter or something, because I think there is always a message on the Cross and the Resurrection and everything. There is always something to be said in a different way that people can appreciate and think in a different way.

IA: It’s great that your church is supportive in that way.

NM: Yes. Now, I have a showcase through Redeemer; they have a fall showcase, which I’m going to talk about my arts, but also they have juried art exhibit in the fall, in which I will participate.

And Noemia also has a solo show at the moment; see the in the image at the top of this post.

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