Etty Yaniv, Detached from the Celestial Sphere, 2015-16, mixed media sculpture, 8 x 8 feet
Flowing with Material
Artist Residency at the Sam and Adele Golden Foundation
By Etty Yaniv
The first time I pushed a cart full almost to the brim with jars of acrylic paint, gesso, gels, and grounds down to my studio at the Golden Foundation Residency, a brief thought crossed my mind—am I too greedy? Emma Golden, who runs the Sam and Adele Golden Foundation Art residency, assured me I was not. This is precisely what is unique about the Golden art residency—its unbounded access to painting material. The license to experiment with an unlimited quantity of high-end paint can be overwhelming at first—how do I best strategize this genie-like wish fulfillment for a period of four weeks? Once I figured that out, it became utterly liberating. I quickly realized that for me this is not about making a body of work but rather about opening channels and playing with materials. The wonder of discovering new possibilities through materials in the context of my overall body of work guided me here.
The way we as artists perceive our engagement with material is central—whether we see material as a means of reaching a preconceived artistic objective, or, to the contrary, if we follow the flows of material to bring a work of art into being. I identify with the latter; unlike objects, materials are things that flow—closely engaging with their properties through painting, drawing, or sculpting unleashes their life force. I find much affinity with anthropologist Tim Ingold’s argument in (2010) “The Textility of Making,” Cambridge Journal of Economics, that “the forms of things arise within...flows of material. Rather than reading creativity ‘backwards’ from a finished object to an initial intention in the mind of an agent, this entails reading it forwards, in an ongoing generative movement that is at once itinerant, improvisatory and rhythmic.” Like Ingold, I see “thinking” and “making” as existing inside a process of growth, a perpetual beginning. The process of thinking through material has been at the core of my work from the beginning. At the Golden residency, it was particularly intense because the unlimited access to paint material and limited amount of time required me to come up with an immediate and clear work rhythm.
Etty Yaniv Studio at the Golden Residency
As soon as I got in my studio there, I needed to establish a clear spatial organization. Enabling a functional flow of movement in a workspace is important for any discipline, but it is especially crucial when you work, as I do, on multiple pieces requiring different approaches to two or three-dimensional processes. Moving in a space between different stations, just like flowing with diverse materials, creates a rhythm in the body and mind. Each process—pouring paint on a large canvas on the floor, painting on a small canvas on the table, or sculpting a suspended mobile—involves a different surface, gravity, and body posture which together lead to varied rhythms in counterpoint to each other. Time sequence is another key component in creating a work rhythm. To begin with, the notion of “Time” in relation to any art residency is compelling—leave your everyday life behind as much as you can and fully engage yourself in studio work. For the most part, you, the artist, get to define your own time. In a way, it is like living in a bubble, relatively secluded, and focused on what you want to get out of this experience as a continuation of your previous work, but also, simultaneously, as a rupture. It was precisely this balancing act between accumulated familiarity with processes I have honed over years and the encounter with possibilities afforded by new materials that made the experience at the Golden residency so thrilling—how this rhythmic process unfolds over time, and how flow and tension would be reflected in the things we call “painting” or “sculpture” or “installation.” Viewers often ask me how long it takes me to work on a piece and my answer is broad—it runs the gamut from a sculptural installation which may take more than a year, to a small-scale painting which may take a few days or even hours. Time is an inherent and visible element in any “flow with material” process. It shows on each layer where you as an artist join the materials in unravelling their potential—glossy and matte, translucent and opaque, textured and smooth, layered and thin, colorful and monochrome, stiff and soft, weathered and fresh.
The Sam and Adele Golden Foundation Residency Program. Photo courtesy of Sam and Adele Golden Foundation
My sculptural installations consist of dense and highly textural clusters of reused material—my own recycled drawings and paintings, pieces of previous installations, as well as found material from my daily life like plastic from shipping and discarded electronic parts. Paper, plastic, fiber, and paint are the main constants—the balance between these materials keeps shifting and evolving from one body of work to the next in response to specific sites and the flux of my daily life. Patterns from nature and urban environments—growth, decay, renewal—constantly appear in my work as abstracted landscapes of ephemeral yet resilient environments filled with hidden narratives. You need to shift your gaze and body to discover these narratives and once you do, they become like hidden clues to a larger open-ended story. I have learned through the years to become more generous and provide bolder cues for viewers to build their own stories. Bodies of work build on each other, both literally as I reuse parts of previous installations and more abstractly as ideas and processes evolve organically.
For instance, Inversion (2022), my recent site-specific installation at Palazzo Mora in Venice, Italy, is a precursor to my explorations at the Golden residency. In Inversion fragmented, clusters of repurposed material spilled from the tall ceiling, suspended in midair, and flowed down the curved walls of the old Venetian palace to create a topsy-turvy landscape based on source-materials referencing the Venetian Lagoon, ranging from bathymetric maps of the seafloor to marine organisms. With hindsight, it occurs to me that the intensive use of paint as an anchoring sculptural form in Inversion marked a crossroad shift that would spiral and lead to my work at the residency. In the dimensional work at the residency, I utilized deconstructed wall-based installation pieces on modular canvases I had made more than five years earlier. They were hung from the ceiling with wires, their dense fragmented forms spilling out of the canvas frames. I was eager to continue building these mobiles while exploring the new materials available to me.
Etty Yaniv, Inversion, site specific installation, Palazzo Mora, Venice, Italy, 2022
Unlike Inversion, which started from a response to the history, architecture, and ecology of a specific site—an upside-down Venetian Lagoon in tribute to the palazzo’s glorious ceiling paintings—the later body of work germinated from an early memory. Daphne, one of my beloved dolls, literally lost her head and, to my horror, white cotton wool-like stuffing had protruded out of the hole. The essence of this violent image of disembodiment appeared in the first mobile I had made in my studio. I developed it further during the residency into a whole series, an approach that seems to be natural for me. The title in this case came immediately: The Return of Lost Objects, based on a poem by one of my most favorite poets, Wistawa Szymborska—instead of “the return of memories at the hour of death, I order up the return of lost objects”(“Still Life with Toy Balloon”). The rest of the mobiles evolved in relation to one another. Each started from this piece of deconstructed weathered canvas which evolved into a new entity at the residency and is still transforming in my studio today. Starting a body of work with a seed of an image, an idea, or a text, related to an experience or a place, keeps recurring in my process.
Etty Yaniv, Inversion, (detail) site specific installation, Palazzo Mora, Venice, Italy, 2022
In Detached from the Celestial Sphere, for example, the idea came from seeing the Jerusalem Prism at the Oriental Institute in Chicago, becoming obsessed with it, then discovering that two other identical prisms are in the collections of the British Museum in London and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. The Jerusalem (or Taylor) Prism are the annals of the Assyrian king Sennacherib, which were found in three clay prisms from c. 690 BCE (inscribed with the same Akkadian cuneiform text). The six-sided baked clay artifact excavated in today’s Iraq constitutes a document, or rather a propaganda text, hailing Sennacherib’s victory in eight military campaigns against peoples who refused to submit to Assyrian domination, including the third campaign, which refers to the Judah Kingdom and the massive deportation of its people. The grandiosity of this dubious historical narrative in the form of this modest ancient artifact left for posterity, its reference to displacement, and its acute relevance to our time, pulled me in, and I could not stop reimagining this roughly 15 inch high hexagonal prism as a 96 inch high sculpture. After designing and fabricating a modular wooden structure that gives the illusion of floating a few inches above the floor, I started working on modular canvases, coalescing thousands of pieces of material, painting, and photographs in conversation with the text. Not only did this mammoth structure take over my whole, humble studio at that time, but I also worked on it without any designated venue for showing it. Luckily, a great opportunity to exhibit it came from the unique gothic-like Harold B. Lemmerman Gallery at New Jersey City University, where I placed the hovering prism with its dramatic shadows under a huge chandelier, adding another layer to the texture of this historical narrative.
Etty Yaniv, Morning by the Pond, 2022, Acrylic and collage, on canvas, 8x8 inches
Unlike the genesis of Detached from the Celestial Sphere, the process and imagery in the small-scale paintings I painted at the Golden residency came from a much more immediate experience. They evolved out of my excursions around the pastoral residency premises in rural upstate New York. A hidden pond along the path behind the barn, open fields, and forests in different stages of fall foliage from flame-colored leaves to bare chestnut-brown branches, a rusty wheel from a disassembled old agricultural machine, long sunset dramas, and bright stars in clear nights—all entered my imagery, layers, and textures. Color came more and more to the forefront in defining the pictorial space. It became bolder and more adventurous.
Place, conversations (with my fellow residents, workshop instructors, and the residency organizers), and above all unlimited materials, integrated into a deep experience throughout my four weeks of art residency at the Sam and Adele Golden Foundation. These days, when I reach my hand out to get a paint jar from a shelf in my studio, I often get a sudden flashback—rows of paint containers in that top floor of the red barn in New Berlin. I sigh with a faint smile and keep flowing with my materials.
Etty Yaniv works on her art, art writing, and curatorial projects in Brooklyn, New York. Her work includes paintings and immersive dimensional installations which merge photography, drawing, and painting. She has exhibited her work extensively in solo and group shows at galleries and museums nationally and internationally. She is the founder and chief editor of Art Spiel, a visual art online publication. Yaniv holds a BA in Psychology and English Literature from Tel Aviv University, a BFA from Parsons School of Design, and an MFA from SUNY Purchase. She is currently teaching graduate classes at the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts.