Samara Golden draws you in and shuts you out. Sewing, stuffing, and cutting materials of personal industriousness—fabrics, pantyhose, found thriftwares, cosmetology heads—the props in her motley sets splay out against all manner of reflective surfaces, situating some version of you inside her bendy armatures of time, place, and movie-inflected memory. M.C. Escher meets Miami Vice, the campy slickness melting into your own face as seen in a broken mirror, a slab of reflective polystyrene, or live video loop that nestles your image among the ranks of friends and acquaintances lined up as sweetly mangy images of themselves. Golden is an architect of psychic spaces, generous in expanse, yet quietly sinister in intimation.
Her project for The Hammer Museum’s 2014 Made in L.A. biennial, an installation titled Thank You (2014), is an iteration of a lifelong sculpture started in 2010 that folds in the artist’s friends and personal encounters, generating its own continuation. Her first museum solo exhibition, The Flat Side of the Knife, marks her largest installation to date. It is on view now through August at MoMA PS1.
Samara Golden, The Flat Side of the Knife, MOMA/PS1, New York, 2014, Wider installation shot looking from 1st floor landing down into mirrored floor. Stairways, sofas, beds, tables, lamps, fans and instruments made of reflective foam insulation coated in resin. Video projection, Live video feed, Video mixer, CRT Monitor, 3 soundtracks. Photo courtesy of the artist
For this year's Frieze Projects at Frieze New York, Golden is constructing a subterranean installation named after a line from the 1969 song "Bless the Executioner" by British band Kaleidoscope. Always Smile at the Mask of Hate for it Covers a Sad Face is tucked directly under the 12 x 12 ft Frieze tent. Golden is using mirrors to expand this underground booth into deeper space. “It will be a visual and psychological place” she says, breaching the borders of physical allotment that are the hallmark of art fair hierarchies.
We spoke via email between her installation at Frieze NY opening May 14.
Samara Golden, Always Smile at the Mask of Hate for it Covers a Sad Face, 2015 (installation view). Image courtesy of the artist
Christina Catherine Martinez: What will be inside the Frieze space?
Samara Golden: Twenty-five life-sized stuffed figures that I sewed all myself with my home sewing machine. I handpainted details on them, as well as the couch and chair that viewers can sit on to look into it. Each side of the figures is made from different fabrics, so they're two-faced, and the designs on the fabric range from bacon strips to flowers to snakes, money to flags to alcohol to eagles... Christian worship stuff, Native American-style bead patterns… The walls are mirrored and so is part of the floor, creating a floor below the floor that is already below the fair.
Some of the figures have skeletons painted on them in transparent phosphorescent paint that will be visible by the black light emanating from the back of the piece. Sitting on the couch you'll see the one side of the figures below you in a reflection, and the other side of the figures in an even deeper reflection.
Samara Golden, Mass murder of the guides and guardians 2, 2014, 11 animals, fabric, paint, stuffing variable dimensions,
Image courtesy the artist and Crèvecoeur Paris. © Aurélien Mole
CCM: Where did the idea for the installation come from?
SG: I wanted to visualize this idea of stratification that seems endemic to this kind of enterprise. I wanted to show the other side of the fair, or for this piece to be in opposition to the capitalist psychology of the fair. I think of Randall's Island (where Frieze New York takes place) as a place of sadness. It was a potter’s grave at one point in history, and also house a large insane asylum…. also, having this piece of nature so close to the city throws the structures of civilization into relief.
There's this R. Cobb political cartoon from my childhood that affected me greatly: it's an image of a family having Thanksgiving dinner. You just see their legs and the turkey on the table and then underneath you see a cross section of the floor, then dirt and rocks, and under that you see piles of skeletons of Native Americans.
I guess my piece is in conversation with some of those ideas.
CCM: Your installations tend to be intensely phenomenological. Is there a personal aspect being refracted here?
SG: It’s personal in that it comes from me. I’m not exactly trying to make a political plea, or even get into rights and wrongs. I’m more interested in the psychic possibility of facing American history and really owning what happened. On a basic level it’s talking about the mistreatment and slaughter of Native Americans. This could obviously apply to many peoples, times, etc. It’s also acknowledging the fact that we live in a society that is built on the blood and tears of others. I guess I just wanted those feelings to haunt the fair.
When I was really young there was a deep idealism in this country, one that was very critical of capitalist ideals as a route to happiness. Civil rights, nonviolent action, a deep hope for humankind—these were things that existed in my own idea of the world. In our current culture it seems like those ideals are quickly muddied, manipulated, and clouded over by the idea that success and money are more powerful than anything. I’m not being very articulate about it at the moment. The piece is just trying to open a door to this conversation, to give those thoughts a place to sit and be.
ArtSlant would like to thank Samara Golden and Night Gallery, MoMA PS1, and Galerie Crevecoeur for their assistance in making this interview possible.