Vahge: Stay Gold
June 29th, 2011 by Robin Grearson
I’m multitasking at Curbs & Stoops lately, contributing to the blog and curating one of the shows that comprise the current exhibitions at the Curbs & Stoops Active Space in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Over the last few years, industrial Bushwick has been reclaimed by the city’s artists; lately even galleries are scouting warehouse space amid the meat processing plants and scrap yards.
The current show, Stay Gold, features five artists who live or work in Bushwick (Criminy Johnson, Don Pablo Pedro, Nathan Pickett, Quel Beast, and Vahge). It opened during the three-day Bushwick Open Studios arts festival and will close with another party on July 8. Somewhere between opening and closing–actually on the first full, sweaty New York day of summer–I talked with collage artist Vahge. She’s working on a series of 100 portraits (We’re showing five of her whimsical, small-scale works; she’s working on number 41, at last count). Vahge and I talked about the Stay Gold show, life in Bushwick, and the influence of the environment on her work.
ROBIN: How long have you been in Bushwick and what’s it been like so far?
VAHGE: I moved to Bushwick around 2007, and I think I’m cursed. I’ve lived three places, and every single place has destroyed itself around me. It’s either sewage, or floods….at this point, I just want a dry room to work in.
ROBIN: It rained last week, and your house flooded.
VAHGE: Right. So right now I have to think about where I’m living, and I just want to think about what I want to make. It’s sort of an idealized thought, if only I had a house that didn’t leak and I could just make art and not worry about sewage. I just want a garden, two hens, a small place to live. Or, I think I do. I’m kind of a nomad, actually.
ROBIN: Yes, I want that garden too sometimes. One comment I heard a few times about the show was, “It’s creepy…I like it.” How do you feel when your work is called creepy?
VAHGE: Creepy is one of the most used words in my vocabulary. Creepy for me is something that’s really positive and it actually makes me happy.
ROBIN: Do you think some of the struggle of life in Bushwick has permeated your work?
VAHGE: As soon as I moved here I made a big, huge piece, two feet by six feet. For some reason I got really excited about pipes, it wasn’t intentional. That piece came out kind of with an underground, basement feel to it. I’m assuming that’s because of Bushwick and my first reaction to it. But the portraits aren’t about that at all. So maybe in that piece I was trying to get comfortable with where I was.
ROBIN: What brought you to Bushwick?
VAHGE: Definitely art brought me here, because I was in Santa Fe, and it’s the most beautiful place ever, and there wasn’t much to do. I tried to show at places there but it wasn’t something they wanted to accept. Much of the art there is oriented to tourists, Native American landscape art–the opposite of Bushwick. I obviously didn’t fit in.
ROBIN: Do you feel loyalty to this place?
VAHGE: No, absolutely not. I’ve lived in a new place every year for the last 9 years. I’m enjoying it while it lasts but really can’t afford Bushwick anymore. I think I’m probably gonna move, but I don’t know where.
ROBIN: What did you think of the show?
VAHGE: I like that it was one little room, and I felt like it was about to explode, like all the work was contained within one room but it was, like, pressurized and could have been in a much bigger room. By having it in just one room, wherever you turned, there was incredibly creepy awesome stuff staring at you.
ROBIN: You’ve been in shows with Quel Beast in the past; he also pastes up art in the streets. Can you describe the pieces he made for this show, and do you feel they connect with our environment?
VAHGE: There’s this really grotesque sexual thing going on and there’s this enormous face confronting you, and you have to decide what to do with it. And in Bushwick, sometimes even in your house you can’t get away from the smell, the grossness of urban life. You’re on the subway and you’re confronted with people you can’t get away from. There’s a psychosis that comes out of that. You’re constantly having to deal with people’s misery and success and emotions all the time.
ROBIN: So all of the work in this show reflects where we live, in a certain way.
VAHGE: Yes, the show is filled with people’s insane emotional excesses purging, something being purged from this place. Here, you’re walking through rats and fights and sweaty people. It’s not a comforting place to live, by any means.
ROBIN: Sounds like you’re on your way out.
VAHGE: I think I’m okay around here for at least another year or so. I’d go insane if I was in a place with trees for too long.
July 8, 2011
Curbs & Stoops Active Space
566 Johnson Ave.