Q&A with Lisa Stefanelli/trees
Q&A between Elizabeth Heskin and Lisa Stefanelli.
On the event of the exhibition of new photographs by Lisa Stefanelli at Heskin Contemporary,
New York, December2013-January 2014
Elizabeth Heskin (EH): This new series seems to be a significant departure from your previous
work as a painter. Can you talk a little about how this new series came to be?
Lisa Stefanelli (LS): This new series is a shift in that the pieces are photographs and
installations, and not paintings. They are images of what actually existed outside of my window
while I lived in a rural setting.
EH: This is somewhat of a romantic notion, that of making art from what you see outside of
LS: It is very romantic. It has taken time for me to find a way to work with the world which
actually surrounds us. It is the world our eyes and thoughts touch upon each day. In this case, it was the forest on the mountaintop I had grown up on in Eastern Pennsylvania.
EH: Can you talk about the primary subject matter, the forest, and the woods?
LS: Forests are primal to human beings. We live in daily unison with forests and trees and elements of the natural landscape. Even as city dwellers, we encounter these beings (trees) on sidewalks and parks. They have presence…and although they are often held captive by our roadways and sidewalks and oncrete,they maintain an undeniable autonomy even when
stripped of their dignity.
EH: How did the idea of using the forest as subject matter present itself? How did they actually “appear” in the pieces?
LS: The woods are a great source of wonder for me. I had a feeling that the woods of my childhood were going to give me something I could take away, as an artist. I only needed to be patient to understand what the “something” would be.
EH: There is the concept of ownership in this exhibition…”Whose Woods These Are”, borrowed from Frost.
LS: First, but certainly not foremost is the concept of ownership and possession…since the woods I used for this body of work were adjacent to those in which I had played in as a child. My husband and I bought a tract of forest which was at one point a dairy farm. We bought it from a developer who was planning a cul de sac development of 35 homes. We needed to
become familiar with the property lines.
EH: I suppose that’s not the foremost idea one considers when walking in a forest….
LS: Nor should it be. This concern of “ownership” while in the forest is almost an imposition. It is far from a modern concern, and there is plenty of evidence of this. There are property
pegs, metal stakes, which are placed along property lines. Often these stakes are wedged between rocks, or in the old “rock walls”, more like stone mounds that were made by
previous generations of farmers and homesteaders to mark property lines.
EH: So, the concept of nature not being a place free or all…free and untouched…that isn’t exactly the case.
LS: Not in this area of the world at least…and there are reminders everywhere. This may be where the dots come in.
EH: Yes, the dots. What is their role in this series?
LS: As a population, we touch everything. Is it to nurture, or destroy…or possess…or a combination of all of these things? Are we navigating the chaos or being obliterated by it?
Maybe the dots are depicting a chronicle of human experience? We do after all relate to our own experiences through nature. The concept of human invasion also became evident. The
seasonal color transitions seemed to have changed since I was a child…and this is depicted through the effects of invasive plants, which leads to thoughts of globalization, and climate
change. There is the footprint...which I interpret as stepping on, and touching, everything. The dots symbolize these things.If you allow, it can be upsetting, but there is hope.
EH: And where is that hope to you?
LS: My pursuits as an artist are about entanglements, and encounters and negotiating them in the hope of resolution. Coming “out the other side”, so to speak. Nature inevitably reclaims it’s own. It is unfortunate that we challenge her resolve so often. Nature has to prove its resilience to us time and time again. Although we touch and disturb so much of the natural world, it survives, to a certain degree. And often we are reminded that we are simply visitors.
Andrew Moore, “House on Walden Street, East Side” (2008), from Detroit Disassembled: Photographs. Queens Museum of Art.
EH: The “dot” is a mark often used in contemporary art. John Baldessari, Yayoi Kusama, Damien Hirst…not to overlook the historical role of pointillism…where do you see these pieces in this dialogue?
LS: Baldessari’s use of the dot is to “level the playing field”, so to speak. The dots, sort of annihilate the subjects in his pieces. Kusama’s dots were more self-obliterating…a managed madness.The dots in my new series “A Season of Litanies” are exactly what the title implies. They are litanies…lists…or prayers…multitudes of them that simply hope for the best as prayers and acknowledge the grievances as litanies.
EH: What artists influenced this work?
LS: A tree is a beautiful and fascinating thing…and many artists find them, irresistible. Robert Smithson’s “Dead Tree”, Roxy Paine’s “Imposters”, are some of the many I admire.
There are the photographers who have touched upon trees, beginning with Brett Weston and moving onto so many more…Andrew Moore, Thomas Ruff…and those who looked at nature other than the trees…the Karl Blossfeldt images have had a enormous impact.