New York, Sept. 2011: In Mid-August, I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Brooklyn-based artist Jade Fusco, who recently returned from a six-month stint in Berlin, where the newly founded gallery L’Atelier Kunst(spiel)raum exhibited Fusco’s first solo exhibition. The works shown in this first show titled I Just Fell Asleep, were constructed with a range of vibrant and muted colors, in order to create other-worldly dreamscapes that explore themes of intimacy, space, and the subconscious within the constructed world of DMZL (pronounced damsel), which Fusco imagines as both an alter-ego and muse. Below are excerpts from that conversation, during which Fusco and I discussed her work, art school, plans for the future, and what exactly DMZL is.
Jade Fusco, Untitled, 2011; Courtesy of the artist and L’Atelier Kunst(spiel)raum
Collin Munn: Could you start by talking about the first solo exhibition of your career, I Just Fell Asleep, which you just had at L’Atelier Kunst(spiel)raum in Berlin, and about what it was like filling such a large space with entirely your own work?
Jade Fusco: I was so happy to have as much freedom and trust as I had invested in me, because I just had complete control and free reign of whatever I wanted to do in the gallery, so there was definitely more pressure in that way, because I had to think about how to organize my work for the first time, and how to curate my own work, in my own show.
CM: So no one from the gallery worked with you in a curatorial capacity?
JF: No, it was completely up to me. So I had to struggle with how to make a concept arise from the pieces that I had, and how to create more pieces that would contribute to some sort of whole; to some sort of cohesive thing that could be something that you could experience, because I really did want it to be some kind of immersion. In the end, it came together really nicely. The most interesting part for me was creating the relationships between my works, because many of them were often isolated; either just drawings or characters, and I didn’t really imagine them in any kind of context or setting. So providing a setting for them to interact in was really interesting, because they came alive, and sort of developed these characters and personalities that played a key role in the final experience. They had more importance, for me at least. I would look at them, and sort of respected each individual piece more seeing them in this whole.
CM: For the concept, were you working on a cohesive series of drawings and paintings before you were approached to do the show, and how did you come to articulate a concept concerned with dreaming and sleep?
Jade Fusco, Drifting Off; Courtesy of the artist
JF: There were a couple of pieces that I made exploring dreams and sleeping and the intimate realm of the bedroom and the bed; being in the bed between the sheets within those four walls where you fall asleep and just completely surrender to your own depth, or darkness. Like with that sheet that you saw, with all of the columns running up and down it, I had made that during the school year and I think that sort of sparked this idea of creating more pieces that were part of this realm. However, I didn’t know that the show was going to be about sleeping or dreaming until about a couple of weeks in. I was just making a prolific amount of work to get ideas flowing, just to get myself inspired, because I get inspired by the work that I make, you know? I sort of have to lay it all out before I can start building it into something. While works started to fit together, each piece was still its own individual thing or element.
CM: But is all the work in that show considered one series?
JF: Sure, yeah, now in retrospect, I see it all as belonging together I think.
CM: Is there more from the series that you didn’t show?
JF: I put absolutely everything in the show. At first I wanted to pare it down, and make it sort of a very succinct presentation, like a tightly chosen spectrum I guess. But then everything sort of kept contributing. Like I would pick up one piece that I wasn’t going to put in the show, and then I would just find a perfect place for it, and it would sort of provide the link between two walls, or it would provide an entry into one of the rooms, so they ended up sort of placing themselves in some way. Yeah, so everything ended up in the show.
CM: So I imagine the opening was stressful, considering you were making your solo debut as both an artist and curator at the same time. Did viewers interact with the space in the way that you imagined, and what kind of feedback did you get regarding your work and curatorial decisions?
Jade Fusco, Orb Dance; Courtesy of the artist
JF: Generally, I had really positive feedback, and it was really interesting to see how the presence of an audience would manipulate relationships between the works. I also had tons of questions, which was great, because I would come up with these new ideas with strangers that knew nothing about me or my work. They seemed to be really intrigued, and we would both get pulled into this sort of new interpretation of the piece, and we would come up with something new together, and that was fascinating for me, because that is how I want to work as an artist, as sort of a filter for what the audience or viewers see in my work. I want to sort of extract that, and put it through the function of my art, so that it is sort of this revelatory process. I want my practice to work in a very dialogical manner.
CM: Have you always approached making your work as this kind of conversation with your viewer?
JF: I have definitely experimented with that. I used to set up a drawing table on the street in Brooklyn, and make what I called “psychic drawings,” which are basically just spontaneous sketches that I would produce as I was talking with whoever came and sat down next to me. We would just talk and have a really casual conversation, but I would draw something while we were together; something that arose out of our encounter.
CM: Do you still do that?
JF: No, but I am going to start doing it again. I want to do it in Washington Square, and build like, I guess, a kind of cult of personality or something.
CM: So you want to become like the “drawing lady” of the park?
JF: (laughing) Yeah, yeah, exactly. So that was interesting, because what I would do was go back and interpret the drawing for them, like what I saw in the drawing. Often times it would coincide with a conversation they just had, or things they had been thinking about, or words that had been occupying their thoughts or using to describe some things in their lives. So it was cool, because that was something new that arose from our encounter. Often times, I take ideas, and making drawings or making projects is my way of experimenting with these ideas. Essentially, every drawing or artistic thing that I pursue is a projection of ideas that have been inspired by other people, or by things that I have read or come across in my life.
CM: What are you reading right now?
Jade Fusco, Beuys; Courtesy of the artist
JF: Right now, I am reading about Joseph Beuys. I am reading this book I found in the library by John F. Moffit called Occultism and Avant Garde Art: The Case of Joseph Beuys, which is fascinating, because I actually feel like there are a lot of parallels with my own work, because he talks about a lot of artists who are inspired by the Occult, and so I just have these knee-jerk moments, where I am like “oh my god, I think about that too, I do that too”, you know? Because essentially, or I guess the thread that goes through everything, is that it is a process of discovery and it’s a process of trying to channel something from another realm, or something, I don’t know what to call it, spiritual, or from pure consciousness, or whatever it is, something mysterious, and trying to provide some sort of method for interacting with that. Basically, it’s almost like art as a way to understand the mysteries of this sort of ethereal dimension that I am interested in.
CM: So you kind of look to Beuys and his interest in the Occult as one of your main references?
JF: He’s someone who definitely inspires me more with his ideas of providing a contact, or I guess it’s more like a portal, or maybe more like charging art with this energy. That idea, I love. His work as well, I also love. I recently saw that work of his at the Hamburger-Banhof, one of his big pieces with the lightening conductors, in the west wing. Getting the chance to read him and see his work, really excites me a lot. He definitely wrote about his own work throughout his career, because he wanted people to understand what he was trying to do. He didn’t want it to be shrouded in mystery, and he was a professor, so he was, I think, very open with his ideas. Also lately, I have been really interested in Niki de Saint Phalle, I really love her. She is amazing. I especially love her Tarot garden, which is a bunch of big beautiful sculptures for each card from the tarot deck, and they are giant sculptures that you can climb into, which is really inspiring, because ultimately I want to create things that are really big, that people can interact with. I definitely want to get into big sculpture. Essentially, I want people, when they encounter my art, to feel creative and to feel like they have something to contribute, or at least understand that there is something about my work that is trying to express an element of everyone’s humanity. Because I think that every individual work I create is something like a fragment of that, it’s some sort of fraction of universal ideas, feelings, hopes and dreams. So I guess, in the end, I imagine all of the various projects I do to be parts of the kaleidoscope when they all come together.
Jade Fusco, Rear; Courtesy of the artist
CM: So you imagine all of the work you create as forming a broader singular project?
JF: I do feel like I’m working towards something.
CM: Something finite?
JF: Hopefully not, because this is what I want to do. I just want to keep making things, and keep exploring, so hopefully I will just keep making until I can’t do it anymore.
CM: I don’t think you have mentioned this before, but when you started university, did you know you wanted to be an artist?
JF: No, not really.
CM: So when and how did that transition happen for you?
JF: It sort of happened at the end of my freshman year, when I started really drawing again, like all of the time, because I felt like I had discovered my own style. Because before, I always knew how to draw what I saw, but it was never really fulfilling, because I wanted to invent things, I wanted to create something new. I wanted to really be able to enter a world of my own making. At the end of my freshmen year, I started doing tons of these drawings, and tacking them up all around my room, arranging them into these interesting shapes, which I thought were cool, but I was still intimidated to make people pay attention to it.
CM: Was there someone who pushed you towards realizing that you were making things that people should and would pay attention to?
JF: I think it was when I took a class with this professor Keith Miller actually. That pushed me to really invest in a project, you know? To explore my technique and my ideas. I started on a scroll that was like three by thirty feet long, but I have only worked on about nine feet of it so far. I really just wanted to make a complete world. So I guess, that was kind of the birth of DMZL, but I just started drawing on this world, I guess I just sort of winged it. I made these landscapes, and little figures and creatures that all kind of set in there. Suddenly, I started drawing in a way that I had never really drawn before, because I wanted to make something that was epic and permanent, but I knew I really couldn’t screw up. So I just really took my time, and drew all of these little creatures, and invested hours into that semester, which I felt like was my first major work.
CM: So at this point, is that scroll finished?
JF: No, not really, but I would really like to go back to it, and I really enjoy working on it, because it’s almost like stream of consciousness writing, you know? It’s really a never-ending project though, because even once the scroll is filled, I could always go back and like color it, or fill every blank space. I think though that that was when I really hit my stride, and realized that I had something that was my own that I had never seen before.
CM: So you mentioned the birth of “DMZL,” could you explain what you mean by that? Is that the name that you create all of your work under?
JF: Well lately I have been signing everything DMZL, so at first I just thought of it as my pen-name, or like an alter-ego, but now I realize that it’s going to be something much bigger, and that it is essentially what I am calling this private art world, where my work comes together as DMZL, as like a DMZL construct. I guess you can think of DMZL as like a refraction of light. DMZL is like the projected image, its like my ideas are projected through me as DMZL. It is the artwork and it is how it will come together; it is the experience.
Jade Fusco, Marbles; Courtesy the artist
CM: Why did it come about that you felt that you needed this alternate personality or space to kind of encapsulate all of your individual works?
JF: You know, I don’t really know, it just really sort of struck me. This name struck me, and then the idea started to build and gather, and the more I talked about it, the more real it became. It started to grow, and began to make more and more sense, because in the end, DMZL represents my goals, what I want to work towards. So in that way, it’s sort of my highest self. If I could realize all of my dreams, this is how I would do it, and DMZL is the manifestation of that drive. It kind of keeps me going. It’s like my fire. Because all I want to do now is make art and just make it bigger and more beautiful. I mean, I want to make everything. I want to make tables, chairs, sculptures, merry-go-rounds. DMZL gives me something to work towards, and to work for. It’s almost like a deity or something that I have to make offerings to in order to please. It drives and inspires, so it’s sort of like my muse as well.
CM: So it seems like you are really excited about expanding your practice to sculpture. That’s such a broad medium though, do you have ideas of what kind of materials you want to work with?
JF: Well first I want to start with found materials and clay, but then I would love to move on to pouring large resin sculptures I think.
CM: So you have been in Berlin for the past six months, which is a city that has recently been constructed as this kind of artist utopia. Did you find making art in Berlin that different from working in New York?
JF: Well I went to Berlin set on making art, with the idea that it was going to be a very creative and prolific period for me, no matter what. I felt like everyone embraced me as an artist in Berlin, whereas here in New York, people are like “oh you’re an artist, I guess that’s cool.” I guess it’s kind of the same thing in Berlin too, but everyone is really curious about what you are doing, and are excited that you are working on something. And most people are very supportive, and very open to various kinds of collaboration. People in Berlin tended to ask a lot more questions, and acted with much more patience.
CM: Sorry to change subjects, but your work seems to be so narrative and perfomative in nature, have you been interested at all in including performance or theater into your work?
JF: I have thought about theater and performance a lot, and have done some acting here in New York, with this collective called The Collective. I try to do stuff with them as much as possible, but it doesn’t always work with my schedule. I really love theater though, and acting, which I used to do a lot more when I was younger. Like commercials, and plays, you know? I am really interested in introducing performance to my practice, because I think it is one way to really make this world come alive, and I have to be like the jester.
CM: In the absence of some kind of perhaps, didactic performance, have you thought about writing on your work as a way to provide viewers a deeper insight into your creative process?
JF: I have thought about, and would really like to, but I find it very difficult. I have been working on a text for a while that would help kind of contextualize DMZL, but it’s a slow process for me. Soon, I would really like to begin writing sort of manifestos and stories, that somehow weave into the world of DMZL. The thing is, whenever I go to write, I always would prefer to be drawing. I will be writing and writing, and then will just put it down and start drawing. I’m trying. It’s probably the biggest challenge right now. I think writing is really important, because I want to avoid the perspective of like, “if you don’t get it, it must not be for you,” because that’s not fair, people usually want to get it. In my recent exhibition, I was even kind of skimpy with the titles, but I realized that it does provide a point of entry, when you have a poignant title, or a small blurb about each drawing like “this is how you can think about this,” you know? I also don’t like words to limit the work though, which is why I think I have a hard time writing about my work, because I don’t want my works to be just this one thing. I want to write about my work in a way that allows it to breathe still.
ArtSlant would like to thank Jade Fusco for her assistance in making this interview possible.