TLD Featured Artist: Joanna Malinowska

Arts Contributor Ashlie Cotton recently spoke with Polish Artist Joanna Malinowska.

Joanna Malinowska - photo by Ashlie Cotton

Joanna Malinowska is a 2009 Guggenheim fellow who has shown phenomenal work at  Canada Gallery and, more recently, Ramiken Crucible Gallery. Malinowska received her B.F.A from Rutgers Univerisity, as well as an M.F.A from Yale University, and is most known for her work in video and sculpture. Earlier this year, The New Yorker magazine wrote of the artist’s December show at Canada: “Malinowska considers problems of authenticity and appropriation in sculptures that make punch lines out of art history.” I met with the engaging  and extremely humble artist last week:

TLD: When did you start “making” art?

Joanna Malinowska: I moved to the United States after high school from Poland, originally intending to study Cultural Anthropology. Then I started getting more into art, as it felt more experimental in America than it had in Poland. This enabled me to continue taking different Liberal Arts courses, but also many art classes, especially in sculpture.

TLD: Which artist has inspired you the most?

JM: Well, for many years it was the mythical Bas Jan Ader.  But it really depends. Last weekend, I spent a lot of time staring at Hieronymus Bosch’s  Garden of Earthly Delights , juts trying to figure out what is really going on in there. But I think I’m generally more inspired by non-visual artists like,  for example Olivier Messiaen, the composer…or by artists that unfortunately are  never credited, but presented as primitive or indigenous art.

TLD: What are you reading these days?

JM: I have been reading several books lately.  I just did a performance at the Sculpture Center that loosely referenced potlatch ceremonies of the Pacific Northwest, so I have been reading a lot about that. Also, I’m reading “Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes,” by Daniel Everett, that I discovered through an article in The New Yorker. Everett traveled to the Amazon as a Christian missionary to work among the Pirahã people and during the process has become a distinguished linguist and perhaps the only non- Pirahã person who can speak their language. The Pirahãs are very different from a lot of the other tribes in the Amazon, maybe not as “colorful”, without any elaborate material culture and spectacular ceremonies. But the thing is, they have a very unusual language, which according to Everett doesn’t fit within Noam Chomsky’s theory of universal grammar. The language is on the one hand grammatically primitive, on the other hand very difficult, with many whistle sounds, many tonalities and variations. Complex sentences don’ t really exist. However, the tribe is also interesting because they also have a vague—or rather NO—concept of time. They live in the present moment. Like, if you told them about Jesus, they would want to know if you had met Jesus. Or, they build things only for specific task, and not for future use. When they were taught how to build canoes for long term use, they abandoned them and forgot the trade. They built a basket to carry something, but it never gets used again—everything is for the moment.

TLD: What’s showing right now that you would recommend seeing?

JM: I love Canada’s current group show. Especially the work of Mathew Ronay, who is also a friend from grad school. He used to make tiny sculptures that seemed like strange, visual poems.  The newer work is much bigger, but still full of surprising combination of things.

TLD: What would you create if someone gave you an unlimited budget for a single project?

JM: Well, right now I am working on my proposal for the Public Art Fund – their “In the Public Realm” program, where ten people are chosen to prepare a proposal for a public space project within a$15,000 dollar budget. Then from the ten proposals 3 or less  are selected for production. So I have one week left to finish my proposal. At first $15,000 seemed like a lot of money, but the more I work on my proposal the more it becomes obvious that it’s not much at all; everything costs.  Like when I used to do a lot more video art, you would think, “All you really need is your camera, and you can shoot.” But it’s not like that, because everything costs—editing, lights, actors if you want to work with them. Every year when I do my taxes, I am actually surprised on how much I spend making art. SO, the question is hard to answer. I don’t know. A lot of my work is based on travel, so I would spend a lot to travel the world, I guess. I ‘m certain I wouldn’t make any diamond skulls.

TLD: If you were not an artist, what would you be?

JM: Cultural Anthropologist or Linguist. But really, I use my art as a way to explore the professions that I regret I didn’t choose. It’s a means to pretend to be in other areas of expertise.

TLD: If you could wake up anywhere tomorrow, where would it be?

JM: So many places. But I would like to go to the Aleutian Archipelago islands, which extend down from Alaska. I like the idea of the connection between Asia and America—a mythical bridge connecting the two countries.

TLD: In three words, what inspires you?

JM: …mystical visions and cosmic vibrations.

TLD: Can you talk about a piece you have created that you are especially attached to?

JM: I feel attached to art that I no longer have. I felt attached to the big Boli sculpture from the “Time of Guerrilla Metaphysics” show [Which showed last December at Canada Gallery]  for its potential magical powers. We were told by friends that my Boli sculpture was responsible for the recent earthquake in Chile.

TLD: Can you talk about a piece that you have created more recently?

JM: One piece, the wall piece [pictured below] from the Ramekin Crucible show, was created last minute for the show to “fit into” the curatorial framework of the show. I wanted to use feathers, such as in the Peruvian tapestries from the rain forest, but I felt I needed it to be more than that. So I decided to translate or paraphrase a Hans Arp piece using the feathers. I liked the notion of “reversing things.” The Dada artists very often quote non-Western sources – like in those fabulous dance costumes based on the Hopi  katcina dolls, made by Apr’s wife Sophie Taeuber-Arp, and now I’m remaking a Dada work using ancient, Amazonian methods.