“Mortem//Papiliones” featured works by artists Joseph Grazi and Indira Cesarine, including sculpture, drawing and photography revolving around the themes of life, death and the butterfly. Works by Joseph Grazi included Garden Sculptures 1 & 2, juxtaposing taxidermied bats and dried butterflies on wood, as well as several works of pencil on paper, including “Garden Party”, “Lions” and “Shrine.” Works by Indira Cesarine included Papiliones 1, 2 & 3, macro photographic visuals of a variety of butterfly species she photographed in Costa Rica, juxtaposed with her series Barbed Wire (Khmer Rouge Security Prison 21) 1, 2 & 3, which were photographed on site at the notorious dictator Pol Pot’s security prison in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The Exhibition was on view from June 9th – June 30th at The Untitled Space. (Press release)
Interview with Joseph Wolf Grazi
Congratulations on your exhibition “Mortem//Papiliones” at Untitled Gallery in Tribeca. I enjoyed the show and the harmony between your work and Indira’s. Can you talk about your approach/process?
My approach and process to this work is basically the same approach I take towards exploring man’s relationship with nature in general. I try and take aspects of nature like skulls and bats that normally induce fear in people and approach them in an aesthetically pleasing and hopefully beautiful way. To make something nice on the eyes and emotionally pleasing even if the sum of its parts would normally be disturbing. To try and prove that even fear can be beautiful.
Fear is a strong emotion that can affect people’s behaviors. What’s your biggest fear and why?
I would say my biggest and most primal fear is the shark. Not that I’m ever in the ocean much, but there is something about a massive shark coming up from the blackness of the deep ocean, almost appearing out of nowhere, and taking you. The helplessness of being in the water and so far out of your element and being able to do nothing about it.
As for the ‘why’, its probably because I saw “Jaws” when I was waaaay too young to see it. So I guess you could blame Spielberg. Outside of that I’ve never been attacked by a shark nor has anyone I’ve ever known, so I have no real ‘reason’ for being terrified, I suppose further proving the fact that the fear is primal-based and not very logical in a real world sense. (I did go cage diving with great whites as an adult in South Africa to face my fear… but it did NOTHING but made me a thousand times more terrified…
If you could choose your dream project without any constraints, what would it be?
I suppose my dream project would be some type of massive interactive exhibition that is more similar to Epcot Center or Universal Studios than a traditional interactive art exhibit. With like a million participants. It’s almost impossible to envision because every time I try my imagination gets too crammed up with imagery and forms a blur!
What’s next for Joseph Wolf Grazi? Any shows or projects coming up?
The next exhibition coming up that I am a part of will be the annual summer group show at Joseph Gross Gallery opening on July 16th. There is a great group of artists in that show, and I hope everyone gets a chance to come out!
Interview with Indira Cesarine
Congratulations on your exhibition “Mortem//Papiliones” at Untitled Space in Tribeca. I enjoyed the show and the harmony between your work and Joseph’s. Can you talk about your approach/process?
I generally start with inspiration for the theme or concept. Photography has always been a medium that resonates with me and I find as a photographer you can express so many things in the details.
For the butterfly series I shot in Costa Rica, I was inspired not just by the symbolism of the butterflies, of their representation of rebirth and transformation, but also taking them out of their normal context of being beautiful & pretty and allowing them to be viewed close up, as if under a microscope. I re-rendered them in post-production as mirror images, referencing the ink blots of a psychiatrist – emphasizing how everyone sees things and experiences them in a different way. What is beautiful to one person may be ugly or frightening to someone else – just the way the these butterflies can be at once pretty and yet up close we really see they are insects that could equally inspire fear.
The Barbed Wire series had a much more complicated story as I traveled to Cambodia to experience a culture outside of my own personal identity. I started out my trip traveling down the Mekong river in a small river boat and ended up eventually in Phnom Penh. I photographed my trip in a very personal way, and did several different series, most of which I have not exhibited yet. The first of the series which I felt strongly about sharing are these images of the Barbed Wires at the Security Prison 21 of Pol Pot – which I felt evoked many emotions on many different levels. The prison itself is in many ways as one would expect from the nature of such a history, but I felt that the emotion was very tangible in these barbed wires that framed the prison and that they told the story of pain and an experience of darkness that is impossible for anyone else to imagine.
I find it is an important part of my work to question the choices we make as a whole culturally – the systems that we embrace or reject. In some way these wires embodied the souls of the lives lost in that dark place – just as the butterflies embody the souls of lives transformed or that perhaps live again. The juxtaposition of these two series in some ways balanced each other – each looking at life and death in a profoundly different way.
You can read more about the Barbed Wire series here, it was first exhibited at the (un)SCENE art show during Armory arts week,
More about the butterfly series and exhibit Mortem//Papiliones (which means death and butterflies in Latin)
You can feel the pain in your Barbed Wire series. Can you talk about the history behind the Security Prison 21 of Pol Pot?
The Barbed Wire series was photographed at the site of notorious Cambodian dictator Pol Pot’s Security Prison 21(S-21) in the capital city of Cambodia, Phnom Penh.
The prison of the Khmer Rouge was notorious for its cruelty, and many of the prisoners were tortured to death, starved to death, or buried alive in the “Killing Fields” of Cambodia. More than 25% of the population died during Pol Pot’s four-year reign from 1975-1979, which is considered one of the most extreme political genocides of the 20th century. Urban dwellers, many of whom were highly educated individuals, were forced to move to the countryside to work in collective farms and do forced labour. The combination of malnutrition, poor medical care and labour caused the deaths of what is estimated to be as many as 3 million people. Hundreds of thousands of people were also forced to dig their own mass graves where they were buried alive. The Security Prison 21(S-21), also known as Tuol Sleng, which translates to “Hill of the Poisonous Trees” was one of 150 execution centers in Cambodia, where an estimated 20,000 prisoners died.
Visiting the site I was struck by the symbolism of the barbed wires that surrounded the prison. To me they represented the essence of cruelty, the barbaric nature of genocide itself, in every spoke of the wire which was used in captivity to suppress human freedom. Over the course of my trip to Cambodia I was photographing quite a few different themes, and these wires in particular struck me. For me it was these small details that really seemed to have the essence of darkness – I can’t imagine what the conditions would have been like when the prison was actively in use. These wires seemed to tell stories of the pain of that time.
A couple of weeks ago you had a TED Talk featuring BuzzFeed science editor Jennifer Hughes in conversation with particle physicist Ben Lillie at this art show. How was the talk and how does this relate to your work?
The TED Talk at the gallery (The Untitled Space), themed “SciConvo” was on science and culture. The talk was presented with the latest exhibit of the gallery on display, Mortem//Papiliones, featuring work by artists Joseph Grazi and myself. The conversation style talk or “Salon” touched on subjects revolving around science and its relationship to culture.
We were invited to host the talk, and the exhibit Mortem//Papiliones was quite relevant and complimentary in relationship to the theme of Science. Although it was not the subject of the conversation, it did seem to inspire some interesting comments from the speakers over the course of the talk.
Read more here:
What’s next for Indira Cesarine? Any shows or projects coming up?
Right now I have a lot going on. I curated our next exhibit at the gallery featuring artist Jennifer Caviola aka CAKE – she’s a renowned street artist, which opened on Tuesday, July 14th. It was a full house.
Read more about the exhibit here: http://untitled-space.com/jennifer-caviola-aka-cake-exhibition-the-untitled-space-july-14-23/
I have the next print issue of The Untitled Magazine hitting stands in 30 countries in September, which features exclusives with some of the most influential women on the radar today. For each issue of Untitled, which are thematic, I oversee all production, personally cast the issue and photograph many of the subjects featured, as well as interview them. It’s a very hands on project that is very intensive – each issue takes 6 months to 1 year to produce, and they are all collector’s issues. The issue coming out in September is themed “Girl Power” and features over 100 women, all photographed and / or interviewed by other women. I personally selected not only the talent featured but also the other female photographers and journalists and worked with them closely to create the issue which really is one of a kind!
A few of the exclusives in the issue include:
James Bond actress Naomie Harris, Masters of Sex star Lizzy Caplan, Games of Thrones star Sophie Turner, Star of Mission Impossible 5: Rebecca Ferguson, Actress Ruby Rose, Tennis champ Ana Ivanovic, Musicians Banks, Charli XCX, Marina & The Diamonds, Carly Rae Jepsen, Kimbra, Nervo, Say Lou, Tove Lo, Supermodel Lydia Hearst, Fashion Mogul Lauren Santo Domingo, Street Artist Swoon amongst many others. The Issue will be celebrated with an event during New York Fashion Week in September 2015.
To coincide with the all-female issue of Untitled I am curating an exhibit at The Untitled Space featuring 20 female contemporary artists which will be an opening late September / Early October.
Aside from that, I’m working on a series of video sculptures, which will likely be exhibited in early 2016, a photography series of images I shot in New York nightclubs in the late 80’s / early 90’s of club kids and other characters, which will also be exhibited next year, and several book projects. There’s also a TV show up in the air – we’ll see – not sure if I have time for that.
Interview by Jamie Martinez
Photographs by Jamie Martinez and The Untitled Space