Mentor Sonya Blesofsky invited the group to her apartment in Willamsburg, Brooklyn for her Art Ready talk, so we could experience where she both lives and works. “I wanted you all to see how artists can do a lot in a small space,” she explained. Since renting a separate studio is very expensive, many artists opt to set up studio areas in their own homes.
However, while Sonya spends a lot of time in this studio developing sketches and templates for her installation pieces, much of the actual work gets created onsite at the galleries and alternative spaces where she builds massive architectural interventions out of fragile, usually ephemeral materials. These have ranged from tin foil to cardboard, but one of Sonya’s favorite materials is vellum, a paper commonly used by architects, since her work is so connected to architecture.
Sonya began her talk by showing slides of some of past projects, which included a piece at Smack Mellon that reconstructed an old-fashioned boiler out of paper, a reference to the gallery’s former function as a heating and cooling plant. She also recently had a major solo show at Mixed Greens Gallery in May 2011, in which different sections of the gallery referenced various interior and exterior sections of a tenement building, all constructed out of materials like cardboard and paper. Her work is inspired by impermanence as well as perceived danger in the urban environment (as she calls it, “urban anxieties”). By building structures normally perceived as sturdy out of fragile materials, Sonya references things like buildings or freeways being torn down and rebuilt, stalled real estate construction due to economic recession, and fatal accidents at construction sites.
Sonya described some of the challenges of creating this type of work: “Unlike a painter, I can’t obsess over the finished product for as long as I want in my studio, before bringing to a gallery.” Though a lot of planning takes place ahead of time, Sonya’s work must mostly built in the gallery on the spot, especially since its delicacy makes it very difficult to transport (students were curious to see how each part of her work can be packaged in its own custom-made box, for safe transport). This need to build onsite sometimes leads to intensive installation schedules with multiple sleepless days and nights spent finishing up a project. When asked what motivates her to keep going in such a situation, Sonya responded, “I believe if I am presenting my artwork to the public, it has to be really good. It’s usually the little details that go in at the end that really make the work successful.”
Another challenge is that most of Sonya’s labor-intensive work must be destroyed after each show, if it hasn’t already fallen apart on its own by the end of an exhibition. For Sonya, wrecking artwork is a private and sometimes cathartic affair–another central theme behind all of her work that “everything ends.” However, since she is now represented by a commercial gallery, she has started preserving more small sections of her work, some of which have been purchased for people’s private homes.
In her small workspace area, students had a chance to see and touch some of the pieces that make up some of Sonya’s larger installations. She also demonstrated how she folds paper and creates templates for repeated architectural elements such as rungs of a ladder or fence. Though there are some repeating elements like these that she has learned to reproduce quickly, “which each new project, I have to teach myself how to make it and learn as I go,” Sonya said.
Students were very inspired by Sonya’s work, especially its overall message. Said one student:
“I thought using paper to create sculptures was unique….It’s ironic that she uses ephemeral materials to create structures that are generally supposed to be sturdy.”